A calming space to simply be : The Bristol SU Living Room

“..the SU living room space has helped with community feeling and with their various wellbeing activities are a good way to relax and take breaks.”  

 

Finding your place among a crowd of new people can be daunting, especially in the first few weeks of starting university, when many will have moved away from home and wish to feel they belong.  

Enter the Bristol SU Living Room, a space opened in 2018 by Bristol SU designed to provide Bristol students with an inviting, sociable and open environment in which everyone, no matter their area of study or academic year, can simply be. It is the first university-based initiative of its kind in the UK, developed with the help of Camerados, a social movement driven by an overarching belief in the power of human connection.   

There are now five SU Living Rooms across the University campus, including the original Bristol SU Living Room in Senate House, sandwiched between several floors of other student-led services, cafés and study areas – making access easy and visible to all. 

Students sitting at tables
Photo: Bristol Students’ Union 2019

 “This is one of many positive changes at the University that take a student-centred approach,” says Hannah, President of the Peace of Mind Society, which holds weekly ‘Positivitea’ sessions in the Bristol SU Living Room, informal get togethers where students can share in fun activities and, if they wish, vocalise their experiences in a safe, supportive group comprised of their peers. 

 “A lot of people find that the ‘Positiviteas’ give them some structure, a routine where they know they have to be somewhere to do something for themselves and other people. It’s about students looking out for other students. This space has given us a platform to be able to do that, where money isn’t a constraint because teas, coffees and the space are free, which means wellbeing support is available to everyone.” 

 The word students most use to describe the Bristol SU Living Room is “calm”, thanks to a distinctly laid back vibe that offers plenty to do for those who want to get involved, and a soothing sanctuary for those who don’t.  

Students sitting and laughing
Photo: Bristol Students’ Union 2019

 Students now have a home from home in which to relax, socialise with friends, meet new people, switch mental gears with one of the many books that line the shelves, find some peace in the dedicated quiet space, or just decompress on the sofa with a warm drink in hand, accompanied by whatever is on one of the multiple TV screens.  

In just one year, the initiative has already done much to counter the feelings of isolation and loneliness previously reported by students. More than 700 students visit the Bristol SU Living Room in Senate House every day. 

“People can really struggle to know where to go in between studying,” says Sarah, a Masters student who completed her undergraduate degree at Bristol in the days before the Bristol SU Living Room. “I would go home a lot between lectures because I’d otherwise be easily distracted from studying. This space really makes a difference to students’ lives because they can spend time in an informal space whether to just hang out or relax, build relationships with other students or go along to one of the drop-in activities.” 

“Love the SU living room in Senate- really great idea!” 

Facing facts 

  • Data from research undertaken both within Bristol SU and the University of Bristol previously indicated high levels of isolation and poor work-life balance among Bristol students, with 35% of students saying they rarely or never feel relaxed. Almost 1 in 4 students said that feelings of isolation and exclusion caused them stress often or all the time.  
  • According to the University’s 2019 Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey, 22% of Bristol students say they often or always feel lonely – this compares to 8% in 16-24-year olds nationally including non-students. 
  • Since the Bristol SU Living Room opened in December 2018, 63% of the student body has been involved and more than 250 events attracting over 5,000 people held in the space. 
  • 91% of those who have participated in some of the social activities said it helped them meet new people, while 90% said the Bristol SU Living Room improved their sense of community, and a further 88% said it improved their sense of positive wellbeing.  

 The bigger picture 

The lived experiences of people from all walks of life and every generation, coupled with a history of research on the subject, has shown that loneliness is detrimental to our mental and physical health. Community initiatives, befriending schemes led by charities and online groups are on the increase as society realises the importance of helping people to find their place among others.   

The Bristol SU Living Room took its inspiration from one such initiative aimed at encouraging positive wellbeing. Camerados is a social movement with the strapline: “the answer to all our problems is each other”. Camerados sparked a wave of Public Living Rooms in community centres, libraries, colleges and hospitals nationwide, in a bid to create a “comfortable place where anyone can come, on good days and bad, to be around people, make connections and enjoy being out of the house”.  

The organisation was instrumental in developing the Bristol SU Living Room, which has the potential to act as a model for similar Higher Education based initiatives elsewhere. 

Useful links

This case study is part of a series of stories sharing findings and student views from our Mental Health and Wellbeing Surveys 2018 and 2019. It’s a chance for us to share what we have done in response to what students have told us and to share what we’re planning to do.  See our webpage for further information.

Tis the season to… try something new

Stuck for ideas about what to do this December? Well look no further! If you’re out and about in Bristol this month, there are loads of events that you can get involved in across the city and the University! Covering everything from stargazing to sustainability to carol services, spend the last month of 2019 trying things that you’ll love.

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1. Wintertime in Millennium Square

Date: until 6 Jan

https://visitbristol.co.uk/whats-on/wintertime-on-the-square-in-millennium-square-p2360303

‘Wintertime in Millennium Square’ is a celebration of winter with a fun variety of events, including a spectacular lightshow created by artists Squidsoup who also designed award-winning lightshows for Burning Man Festival in Nevada, US and Christmas at Kew Gardens, among many others. You can unleash your inner ABBA at Bump roller-disco before cosying up with a hot chocolate or mulled wine at Apres Lounge.

2. Festive events with ResiLife and the Global Lounge teams

https://www.facebook.com/groups/359002554848575/

https://www.bristol.ac.uk/students/international/

ResiLife and the Global Lounge are hosting a range of events for students staying in Bristol. Meet new people and celebrate the holidays with fun, food and fairy lights.

3. Seasonal stargazing at We the Curious

https://www.wethecurious.org/PN/WinterStargazing

Date: until 6 Feb 

The event, which is part of a series of seasonal shows entitled ‘Planetarium nights’, invites guests to submerge themselves in space and step out of Bristol and into the cosmos. You’ll spend your evening 3D stargazing and understanding the mystical nature of our universe and existence – all from the inside a giant disco ball!

4. The Future of Fashion: Going Sustainable in 2020 at Beyond Retro

Date: 11 Dec

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-future-of-fashion-going-sustainable-in-2020-tickets-82618759935

This year, vintage fashion favourite, Beyond Retro have teamed up with Bristol 24/7 to host ‘The Future of Fashion: Going Sustainable’ – learn how to shop in ways that are better for the environment and twice as much fun. Get expert advice from a panel of fashion and sustainability specialists so that you can start 2020 in (sustainable) style. The event is free and sponsoring local homeless charity, Caring in Bristol, with any donations going directly to the charity.

5. The Harbourside Christmas Market

Date: every weekend until 22 Dec 

https://visitbristol.co.uk/whats-on/the-harbourside-christmas-market-p2307343

Located in one of Bristol’s most beautiful scenic spots, the Harbourside Christmas Market is the perfect way to spend a Saturday this December. Home to a diverse range of stalls featuring vintage, one-of-a-kind items from many of Bristol’s small and independent businesses, as well as live music and entertainment. The perfect place to explore cuisine from around the globe. The Market’s food stalls are a nod to the diversity of Bristol itself, containing street food cuisine from Tibet to Mexico!

6. RAG Craftmas @ Balloon Bar

Date: 12 December 

https://www.bristolsu.org.uk/groups/bristol-rag-raising-and-giving/events/rag-craftmas

RAG (Bristol Raising and Giving society) are hosting Craftmas – a wholesome afternoon where you can de-stress with like-minded people and display your inner artist. For Craftmas this year, you’re invited to join in and claim your spot as Bristol’s very own Star Baker by decorating cookies, as well as writing cards for elderly care homes around Bristol.

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Calendar still looking a bit empty? Here are some more December events that you may be interested in:

· 12 December – ‘Peep Show and Inbetweeners quiz’ hosted at The White Rabbit

· 14 December – Harbour Lights Festival 

· 14 to 15 December – Stokes Croft Christmas Market

· 16 December – ‘The Humanitarian Fundraiser’ hosted by UOB societies including Amnesty International Society; Jazz Funk and Soul society; and the Oxfam society Christmas.

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