Former homeless students become first to graduate from new University course

A GROUP of once-homeless students has become the first to graduate from a new University of Chichester course intending to help them onto higher education degrees.

The class, most of whom have lived on the streets, celebrated receiving their certificates this week – and promised to continue on their learning journey. The pioneering initiative, which is the first of its kind in the UK, helps students without necessary qualifications to learn new skills and bridge the gap to higher education.

Among those graduating was Oli, who said he fell back in love with education after more than a decade out, having suffered from alcohol addiction. He added: “It’s very satisfying because I never dreamed I could complete something like this. It’s given us all a second chance.”

There are now more than 320,000 homeless people in Britain, according to Shelter, with those living on the streets twice as likely to develop mental health conditions.

Fellow graduate Saul was a runaway but, after completing the bridging course, is now starting a degree in outdoor education at the University. He said: “Coming to uni has helped my recovery and given me ambitions. I think the course has saved a few lives.”

 

The bridging course has been created in collaboration with homeless charities Stonepillow and the Bognor housing trust to develop and assess academic skills to ensure students are ready for the first year of study.

Backed by the Office for Students, it utilises the students’ lived experiences to develop academic reading, writing and research skills, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-belief. Honest and insightful links are made between themes like emotional intelligence, reflective practice, decision-making skills, critical thinking – and past, often painful, experiences.

Senior lecturer Becky Edwards, from the University’s department of childhood, social work, and social care, developed the project to help reduce barriers to higher education. “I couldn’t be prouder of the class,” she said, “their hunger for learning has been a driving force for their success.

“We are not going to stop here – this group have set the foundation for the future and we want this course to transform access to higher education for a range of people.”

 

Latest figures by charity Crisis show homelessness has increased by 60 per cent since 2012, creating a modern-day diaspora with no clear pathway back into society. For this vulnerable group, with complex needs ever exacerbated by barriers to basic services like housing, health, employment, and benefits, attending university is low on the list of aspirations and fraught with extra challenges.

This is a challenge known well by Fiona MacLeod from charity Stonepillow which supports homeless people across West Sussex’s south coast. This includes Chichester which, despite being named as one of the most affluent areas in the UK, has a growing number of rough sleepers.

Speaking of the bridging module, Fiona said: “What we have seen is that people who have stuck at the course and finished it have also shown a synergy to stick to their recovery. We’ve been collaborating closely with the University but, now the course has proven successful, we are looking at creating a longer-term future together.”

 

Rowena de Jong-Smith is from the Bognor housing trust, another charity which provided accommodation to some of the students on the course so they could continue to learn and study without fearing where they would stay day-by-day.

She said: “We are super proud of them and you can see that it’s given them all confidence, which is something many of them have lost. Education is hard enough for someone who’s been out of it for a few years, but it’s even harder when you don’t know if you’ll have a roof over your head at night.”

For more about the University of Chichester project, including how to get involved, go to www.chi.ac.uk/childhood-social-work-social-care/our-courses/bridging-course

More about West Sussex homeless charity Stonepillow is available at https://stonepillow.org.uk and details of the Bognor Housing Trust at www.bognorhousingtrust.org.uk.

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