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'Combining army life and charity leadership', Fiona Ellison

Welcome to the Purposely Podcast with Fiona Ellison, Director of the Unite Foundation. In this episode, Fiona shares insights into the foundation's impactful work and her personal journey in the third sector.

As the corporate foundation of Unite Students, one of the major providers of student accommodation in the UK, the Unite Foundation focuses on providing scholarships to individuals, with a specific emphasis on students who are estranged from their families or have been in the care system. Fiona highlights the transformative power of these scholarships, which offer not just financial support, but also a sense of community and belonging.


During the conversation, Fiona also shares her personal experience as an army wife and the unique challenges that come with frequent moves, underscoring the importance of finding a supportive community in each new location. She describes how she consciously chose to keep her job and commute from Salisbury to London three or four days a week, despite the four-hour round trip. This experience motivated her to join the board of the Army's Family Federation almost 19 years ago, with a focus on challenging the outdated narrative of army wives being stay-at-home moms.


The Unite Foundation addresses the needs of students who are often overlooked by other scholarship programs. Shockingly, only 13% of young people who have been in care pursue higher education, while the number is in the high 40s for those who have not been in the care system. Financial barriers, a lack of role models or support, and other obstacles can make higher education seem unattainable for many students who have experienced care. Even if they do manage to attend university, they may face additional challenges and may not have the necessary support structures in place to help them succeed.


The foundation's research, conducted over a decade, shows that having a safe and stable place to live greatly increases the chances of students not dropping out between their first and second years, which is when the highest dropout rates typically occur. Safe and secure housing enables students to focus on their studies and engage in university life, creating social connections through clubs and societies. By addressing this fundamental need for safe and secure housing, universities can achieve a bigger ambition of widening access to education and enabling young people who have experienced care to access the same opportunities as their peers.


Fiona also dedicates her spare time to helping good causes, in addition to her role with Unite Foundation Fiona is Chair of the Longleigh Foundation. Another grant-making charitable foundation also dedicated to providing funding that enables a transformation in peoples lives

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