Meet the Sounding Board: Part 1

6th June 2023

This summer we are celebrating a year of All of Us community for care experienced and estranged students. It’s been exciting being a part of this community and seeing it grow so quickly. Did you know there are over 600 of us on the online dedicated social network? If you want to join us, you can sign up here.

All of Us is a community built by and for care experienced and estranged students, and the Sounding Board is a group of current students and recent graduates who have helped shape the community so far. They have steered the way to where we are now from how we meet and engage with each other on and offline, to creating paid roles for students to help develop and grow the community and making suggestions for community events.

Over the course of a couple of blogs, you’ll meet some of our current and past members of the Sounding Board – who explain why this is a community close to their hearts and what they are up to in wider society to ensure recognition of and support for estranged and care experienced young people. Twitter handles and web links are included, but if you can’t use these or want to know more about anyone’s work, just drop Ira an email and we’ll pass your message on!

Introducing Sam, Ikra, Tina, and Isabelle…

Sam (@Sam__Gracee)

Having been an active campaigner for the rights and awareness of both care experienced and estranged students during my time at university, I was keen to continue this work in my graduate life. For so many, the support from family, both financial and emotional, is taken for granted and it is so important to recognise the achievements of the estranged and care experienced student community who have succeeded without this support.

I received an incredible level of support while at university and this is something I want all students who are care experienced or estranged to benefit from, it should not be a postcode lottery.

I work as a Promise Ambassador within a Scottish local authority where I ensure the council does everything it can to fully implement The Promise for its care experienced children, young people and families. A key part of this role is putting across the message that everyone has a role in supporting those with care experience; if you work in sport, a reception or in housing, you will come across care experience without realising it. I am fully committed to ensuring that The Promise is realised in full, and it is a real privilege to use my own living experience of these issues to influence this.

Ikra Shabbir

I am an estranged student myself and feel that it is really important to raise awareness of the issue, for both care experienced and estranged students. I feel there is a lot of work that can be done for us as a group and it is important that we are able to excel in Higher Education, in the same way that any other student is. I know that being a member of the Sounding Board with first-hand experience of estrangement will enable me to do this, and advocate for the change I would like to see.

I am a Sociology PhD student. My research is focusing on the support needed for estranged students in higher education. I am focusing specifically on estranged South Asian women students in higher education. I would love to know more about their experiences of receiving and seeking support. It would really help me to be aware of this so that I am able to understand what areas need to be addressed or are already working. I will also be speaking with professionals themselves, so I am aware of their knowledge and understanding of helping this group.

Tina Bhartwas (@TinaBhartwas)

I joined the Sounding Board to help create a community for estranged and care experienced students in the UK. As an estranged student I have found there to be a real lack of understanding in the higher education space about how to best support students like me. I am working on a Guide for Loved Ones to help partners and friends of care experienced and estranged students navigate day to day situations, difficult conversations, special occasions and holidays.

At University I have been an advocate for fellow estranged students and been a catalyst for starting conversations around support and change on issues such as lack of signposting during welcome week, difficulties living alone, studying online during the pandemic and improving communications. As a local councillor, I have advocated for our access to services and have raised the issue of lack of support for estranged people in Law with members of the Shadow Cabinet.

Last year I also wrote an article for Young Fabians about estranged student solidarity week and why it matters, including looking at what kind of issues estranged students face.

Isabelle (@IsabelleKirkham)

I was in contact with the Unite Foundation and Ira right at the start of them creating their online space for students. I had a chat with Ira about what needed to go into the initial design; stuff that works and pitfalls. I am care experienced myself but also an activist, writer, and theatre maker. Last year was the National Diversity Awards 2022 Shortlisted Nominee for the Positive Role Model Award: Age, Co-Founder of Reclaim Care Collective, LGBTQ+ and most importantly a big sister.

In 2022 I also co-founded the Care Experienced Movement, which I now co-lead and act as the safeguarding lead for. We are care experienced activists from all walks of life, with differing experiences of the system. But we all want to use our diverse lived experience of the care system to not only create and push for positive policy change, but to create a platform and support network for our community. We believe the care experienced community has not yet had its movement to push for real change and support each other in doing so, and that is why we believe this is a civil rights issue.

Then last month I was also on Channel 4 talking about the care system and what it is liked to be moved miles away you’re your family, home, friends, and support system, ‘Care system in crisis’ – Channel 4 News.

 In the next post we’ll meet some more past and present members: Artie, Nyomi, Sam, Shaunna, and Tony.