Stand Alone Charity has released the news that I will be departing from the charity in December 2023, after 10 years in my role as full-time CEO and 11 years after founding the organisation. Stand Alone is the only organisation worldwide to specialise in family estrangement and I am both proud and humbled to have led it, shaped it and grown it for this substantial period of time.
I want to thank everyone who has read or listened to my words, and who has acted on my drive to make the world a more equal and hospitable place for all adults who lack key family relationships. It is my words that started Stand Alone back in 2012 and it is words, spoken or written, that have driven it forward. Both in terms of the millions of pounds in funding I have secured, and the reputation I have built for Stand Alone as the 'go-to' organisation for knowledge and research in this field.
It is words that I will return to as I focus on one to one coaching for individuals impacted by family estrangement and a specialist online training for those supporting individuals based out of North America. I'm sharing this to be clear that I am not estranging myself from the field, and it is my ambition to retain a supportive role to the board of Trustees and whoever leads Stand Alone into its exciting next phase of development. Many of us have experienced very difficult endings to relationships, and I want you to know I am still here, and helping, albeit in a different format.
I feel it is also powerful to share that in my own healing journey from family estrangement, I have come to the point where I feel I want to spend less of my life talking about my family wounds in high profile spaces. I feel after a decade, it's time to move on to a different phase of my life and allow new energised voices and perspectives to take the spotlight. I feel this is part of healing and I'm sharing this for anyone that may feel stuck and feel that the pain of family estrangement is endless. It does take work but moving on to a different place is possible.
This charity started with me writing my own deeply personal story of family estrangement at Christmas time, and it has led me to tell that story in a multitude of settings to journalists, TV presenters, politicians and ministers. I am so honoured that the nation listened and that my openness has made such a difference. I have no regrets, and am only humbled by the responses these appearances have brought. I have touched on something so central to people's feelings of worthiness, normality and inclusion in society. Yet my message has been so simple - not everyone has unconditionally loving, close and healthy family relationships. Furthermore, it's OK to protect yourself from harmful behaviour, on whatever side of the estrangement situation you are on.
The charity is an online home for millions of people impacted by this issue and helps them to know that they do belong and are not abnormal to experience challenging and unsupportive family relationships. I could not be more proud that I have used my energy over these years to build that home.
Stand Alone's Impact
When I look at the impact work and feedback, I see that it is the simple things that matter. The creation of a website, research and online support of this kind around family estrangement has been immensely powerful and life-changing for so many people who previously felt isolated. So too was promoting the word 'estranged' which has helped people to somehow understand better what they are going through. It has also helped policy makers to create support for a situation that pulls on many disparate areas of disadvantage.
I'm also grateful that journalists now realise that reconciliation isn't always the answer to traumatic family relationships. The world seems to have appreciated that families are nuanced, complex and not always the safe havens we might imagine they are. We can always love people and have compassion for their struggles, but we can't always be close to damaging behaviours if we are to be healthy and functioning ourselves.
Yet, family capital is real, it is expected in so many areas of life, and it is immensely challenging to progress through society without it.
One of the most profound moments of my personal and professional life was visiting a group of men in a category C prison who had been part of a prison pilot of our support groups for estranged adults. Many were estranged by default due to the distance and infrequency with which they could see their loved ones, and many had struggled with maintaining family relationships with their partners and children after their crimes, some of which had involved their family.
The support groups we led for the men had been a way to be open, vulnerable and authentic, in an otherwise brutal environment where every moment felt defensive. Their accounts showed me that the simple act of sharing experience on lacking family has helped them forge true connections and relationships. These connections helped them to write meaningful letters to their relatives, or accept their relationships would be beyond reach and deal with the family trauma that had pervaded their lives. Their gratitude was both strange and touching all at once as I realised the impact of what I had started in this context.
Another incredible moment was in seeing estranged adults mentioned in almost all major parties political manifestos in Scotland in 2019. It was beautiful to see Nicola Sturgeon talk highly of our campaign to support estranged students. The time I have spent in Scotland in this job has been a real highlight and I am excited for the changes promised in the SNP and Green Party manifestos to come to fruition next year, where estranged young people will be given support in line with care experienced young people, and are, finally, really seen for their bravery and also their struggles.
The measurement of estranged young people in HE by UCAS and HESA that myself and my team have fought so hard for will, I hope, pave the way for greater change and understanding at government level for estranged young people in the years to come.
How could the third sector change?
I do want to stress that this experience of founding a charity has been immensely challenging. Being a young, female CEO in the third sector in an influential position has not been without considerable hurdles and sometimes needless discrimination.
For nearly a decade, creating, growing and maintaining something that I know is so needed and performing in the public spotlight has been a huge responsibility. The initiation has been rigourous. At moments, it has felt like walking a tightrope blindfolded with only my intuition to call on. I am grateful at so many crucial moments that my instincts and core values have served me well. In part, this is why we are still here today as a charity, eleven years later.
As I announce my departure, I want to say that I feel there needs to be significantly more support for people in my position to navigate the challenge of trying to create good in an organised way. This sector and its infrastructure needs significant examination and investment if it is to continue to play this important role in British society. And I feel the third sector is one of the brightest lights we have.
For now, I want to thank the wonderful Trustees, my long-serving team members and fantastic counselling team, who have stood by my side over the years and who have given their time and energy to help grow this organisation into the precious resource that it is. It is not only my leadership but their support and commitment that have turned the dial. I want to thank them for believing in me, working with me and my vision for the charity.
Leading my team and working with my board has been as much of a privilege as any of the on-the-ground work. I am confident they will help Stand Alone find a bright future beyond my founding years as leader.