My COVID-19 university experience outside of student life

I’m George and I’m studying BSc Politics and International Relations.

What volunteering I’m doing whilst studying

Whilst at university I’m volunteering as a Special Constable with our local police force, Avon and Somerset Police. In this role, I hold the same powers as a regular police officer and patrol alongside them by preventing and detecting crime to help keep the community safe. Engaging with the community through my volunteering has allowed me to engage with the wider community, which is great because I learn something new or exciting about Bristol every day. I volunteer at least 16 hours a month, however I recognise the importance of breaking the study cycle at university so often commit to more hours.

Police officers from behind
My colleague and I in Cabot Circus

How I balanced this with university life under blended learning

Under the blended learning approach, I used the best of a challenging situation to use the recorded lectures and reading requirements of my course to commit to more volunteering hours. Further, at times in the working week where I may not have been available in the past, I was able to help my local policing team, using weekends to study. My volunteering has helped me become more independent and develop my people skills. It can be hard to balance at times, but I have been learning to manage studying, social activities and volunteering under what is sometimes a stressful time.

Photo of Brandon Hill
Brandon Hill is a great place to go for a daily walk whilst in Bristol

Following the rules

While our university experience is different to what we’re all used to in the previous years, it’s for a reason. We’ve all seen the amazing work our NHS have done during the pandemic and would not want to put extra strain on our hospitals or emergency services who are having to deal with coronavirus cases. We all definitely would not want to put vulnerable members of our community at risk. So please stick to the rules and remember to social distance from course mates and other households when the lockdown period ends.

PROJECT:TALK Bristol – connecting our community in the COVID-19 pandemic

PROJECT:TALK Bristol have a mission to change the way Bristol views mental health by pioneering mental fitness. Below, members of the team tell their story of setting up PROJECT:TALK and their work to support students at Bristol during the pandemic.

PROJECT:TALK logo and committee members

George, PROJECT:TALK CIC’s co-founder and Bristol Society’s current co-president, explains how it all started

We established PROJECT:TALK as a Community Interest Company in March 2020. We set out to make it something everyone could connect with, beyond those in need of support.

Typically, mental health is only looked at in the context of mental illness. Only when things have begun to get on top of us do we start to navigate the challenges we face. At this point of need, things often seem overwhelming and a lack of resources only adds to the challenge. This shouldn’t be the case. We all experience mental health and we should all be empowered, inspired, equipped, and supported to own it.

Our work is organised into three main projects:

  • TOOLS TO:TALK takes charge of our training and peer support scheme.
  • WALK TO:TALK pioneers mental fitness through events and fundraising.
  • TIME TO:TALK takes care of our online presence and blog, which serves as a space for communities to share their experiences and ideas.
College green event
Our WALK TO:TALK event on College Green in May 2019

The very first PROJECT:TALK Society was formed in Bristol in September 2020!

Wiktoria, PROJECT:TALK Bristol Society’s newest committee member as Social Secretary explains the importance of our work in Bristol

The University of Bristol forms a crucial support network for over 27,000 students. Whilst in a key transition period in their lives, the pandemic has put all students’ mental fitness to the test. An uncertain and isolated world where lectures are online, bars are shut, and parties are forbidden has forced many to navigate mental fitness challenges like never before.

Sam, developer of our Peer Support Scheme, speaks of support during the pandemic

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we created the PROJECT:TALK Peer Support Scheme, a 1:1 supportive calling service, run by students for students. We have a team of 15 trained student volunteers, who have been providing free and confidential support for fellow peers since November.

“Volunteering with PROJECT:TALK has provided me with an outlet to have a positive impact on the wellbeing of my fellow students, at a time when it has been so easy to feel helpless.” – Peer Support Scheme volunteer.

We are now working in partnership with Queen Mary University London to set up a Peer Support Scheme for their students.

How can I access support?

If you’d like to access our range of mental fitness support in Bristol, visit our website. Our amazing volunteers are here to support you – the training they receive, their experience and similar position in life allows them to connect with our callers. We recognise that sometimes it’s hard to ask for help but students find great value in our support service.

“The scheme provided me with someone who understood my problems, in a relaxed, conversational environment” – Rob, a student who’s used our Peer Support Scheme

We’ve partnered with multiple peer support groups to form a central hub for peer led support. Every Saturday, we hold a mental fitness workout in collaboration with Talk Club Bristol Uni. We’ve also welcomed the UoB Grief, Terminal and Life Threatening Illness support group and male-identifying Talk Club group on board.

Now, more than ever, we really encourage you to reach out to those around you. Even just a simple ‘Hello, how’s your day been?” will make a huge difference!

Dog in photo frame
Our biggest fan

What else is PROJECT:TALK Bristol doing to support mental fitness at Uni?

We’ve got some really exciting stuff coming up:

  • As it’s currently difficult to travel, we’d like to take you on a cultural journey with food and drink. Our committee are working hard to organise online events with chefs from some our favorite Bristol bars and restaurants (let us know your favorites!).
  • Mental Fitness Yoga – keeping our minds and bodies active when it’s hard to get out.
  • We’re working with the Grief, life threatening and terminal illness support group to deliver therapeutic art sessions to students experiencing grief.

How can I get involved?

Join our society – you’ll get an array of perks, our monthly newsletter and even the opportunity to pioneer your own initiative! With both free and premium membership options, we want to welcome everyone into our supportive community.

Sophie, PROJECT:TALK Bristol’s marketing lead, tells us what it’s like to be part of the team

Even though I have not been a part of the community very long, I can already tell it’s the most supportive group I have seen. Not only do we want to raise awareness about mental fitness, but we also want to provide our members with activities during this hard time. We are trying to reach out and contact as many students as possible.

Where can I find out more?

Visit our website and join the University of Bristol Society. Find us on Facebook and Instagram, @projecttalkbristol.

‘It’s an exciting opportunity for anyone at the University’ : Isobel Edmondson on Global Lounge Language Café sessions

Name: Isobel Edmondson
Course: Second-year, French and Theatre
Both Language Café learner and volunteer, since the start of the 2020/21 academic year  

As a French and Theatre student, I always intended on attending the Global Lounge’s weekly Language Café sessions during my first year of UniversityI’m now in my second year, and while it still takes place every Wednesday afternoon, the venue is pretty different! Instead of meeting at a physical space, we move freely between virtual tables on a platform called Remo, communicating through cameras and microphones.

‘You can leave the session feeling like you’ve achieved something (even if this just means talking to people outside of your house!)

Despite this change, the experience is as rewarding as I hoped it would be. Before I’d ever even attended Language Café, I jumped at the chance to be a volunteer — and I haven’t looked back since. I would recommend this role to anyone who wants to improve in a language and facilitate others’ learning, because it is exactly this symbiosis that makes it such a rich and unique experience. I really appreciate the friendly and relaxed environment that everyone helps create. Whether you’re a volunteer or an attendee, it’s a space where you can make mistakes and still leave the session feeling like you’ve achieved something (even if this just means talking to people outside of your house!). 

‘It is an exciting opportunity for anyone at the University to meet new people and assist others’

I’m sure most people would prefer in-person interaction, but I believe that the Language Café team have made a great effort to simulate the original café experience and are always present to help with any difficulties we might experience. With a large variety of languages to engage in including (but not limited to) French, Japanese, Cantonese, Hindi, Spanish, British Sign Language, and English — it is an exciting opportunity for anyone at the University to meet new people and assist others in their language-learning journey. I also appreciate that these events actively encourage the sharing of cultures, revealing the University of Bristol to be the multicultural community that it is.

‘It is these moments of natural chit-chat and straying from the topic that has made this experience so memorable for me so far’

As a non-native French speaker, leading French discussions at intermediate level has certainly been a challenge, but I am grateful for it. It makes a huge difference to the confidence I have in my French seminars and encourages me to explore topics I otherwise might not have – which is always a welcome experience (my animal kingdom vocab was very much tested in a recent session!).

Each week is different; the number of people varies (both small and large numbers having their advantages), the pre-prepared topics change from week to week and meandering from the theme is encouraged, and likely! In fact, it is these moments of natural chit-chat and straying from the topic that has made this experience so memorable for me so far. On top of this, being a Language Café volunteer makes me feel well-prepared for my year abroad next year as I intend on studying and working in Toulouse; so I will be speaking French as my primary language every day. Maybe by then I will have been to an in-person event fingers crossed!  

So, whether you think this is for you or not, I challenge you to come to at least one session this semester and see for yourself. Hope to see you there! 

Language Café runs every Wednesday, 3 pm to 4:30 pm (3 February to 24 March 2021) on Remo. Go to the listing page to find the next upcoming event and Remo link!

Search the internet and plant a tree

This blog was written by veterinary students Hannah and Elspeth. They have successfully campaigned for the University to adopt Ecosia as our default search engine on all open access computers across campus.

During a time when it is essential to make changes towards a more sustainable lifestyle, we knew the University of Bristol needed to switch to Ecosia, so our campaign started. With the University declaring a climate emergency in 2019, and committing to carbon neutrality, the move to Ecosia fits with becoming a more sustainable campus.

Ecosia is a search engine, which uses its revenue to fund tree planting in twenty different projects across the world, where trees are needed most. This not only has huge environmental benefits but also social impact for the surrounding communities. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, preventing excess greenhouse gases building up in our atmosphere, they also…

  • Improve soil health helping farmers produce food.
  • Provide an income for communities improving access to education and healthcare.
  • Maintain habitats for endangered species, especially when planted in biodiversity hotspots.

Ecosia logo

We have been using Ecosia on our own devices and feel it is an effortless way for the student body and staff members at the University of to make a worldwide contribution to improving the environment. Having gained support from students and passing our motion at the SU annual members meeting, we felt motivated to make our idea a reality. We are both incredibly excited for this change, especially for it to be launched alongside Sustainability Month at the University.

If you want to learn more about Ecosia please come along to our launch event on Tuesday 16 February at 6 pm via Zoom – check out our Facebook for more details.

To download Ecosia on your personal device and contribute to the University of Bristol tree count use this link.

Let’s see how many trees the University of Bristol can plant!

Image of Ecosia student campaign team
Hannah Rose (Campaign leader and fifth year veterinary medicine student), Fred Henderson (Ecosia Project Coordinator), Elspeth Taylor (Campaign leader and fifth year veterinary medicine student)

The path to self-acceptance, resilience and happiness

This blog was written by University of Bristol Student Counsellor, Natalie Read. Natalie has been a counsellor for 14 years, working both at the University and in private practice. She’s worked with students and non-students of all ages, backgrounds, nationalities, all with different reasons for seeking support.

The importance of self-acceptance, resilience and happiness

We all strive for happiness but aren’t always successful in achieving this. If we’ve experienced hurt, rejection, failure and other similarly painful situations, we may naturally try to avoid these in future. This can lead to strategies such as overworking, pleasing others, perfectionism and other unhelpful coping strategies. Whilst well intended, these strategies are ineffective in the long-run and come with unhelpful side effects. Trying to be somebody we’re not or trying to control life is like trying to be superhuman.

Instead, working towards self-acceptance and acknowledging your humanness offers a happier and healthier path with greater odds of success. Self-acceptance is learning to understand yourself, your feelings and accepting that every human being has strengths and areas of development. You’re more likely to practice self-care, have self-compassion, give yourself opportunities for success and radiate a confidence which is magnetic to others. This helps you feel more optimistic about the future, improve relationships and, build resilience to overcome difficulties.

Student walking and smiling

My top five tips for achieving self-acceptance, resilience and happiness:

  • Go with the flow of life – like the weather, life naturally has ups and downs. Judging yourself or avoiding what you’re facing adds layers of difficulty on top. By acknowledging challenges are part of life and happen to everyone, you give yourself less of a hard time and navigate them more easily.
  • Build self-reflection – noticing your levels of energy, stress, productivity and happiness can help you respond rather than react to situations and make happier choices.
  • Understand feelings come and go – we interrupt this process with good intentions i.e. trying not to feel them or by judging them – what’s wrong with me, how long will this last? Acknowledging that feelings are a natural part of being human and finding an outlet for them can help.
  • Develop self-compassion – work on self-acceptance, a kinder inner voice and measure yourself by your effort and intention rather than the outcome.
  • Build resilience – identify any hidden blessings behind challenges- how you developed or strengthened something in yourself, moved onto a new path or attracted new people into your life. This helps you realise you are stronger than you think and prepare for what could help next time.

Student talking at the Harbourside

My advice for students who may be struggling during these uncertain times

Know that you are not alone at finding things difficult – this is a common misconception that comes up in counselling. Despite appearances, no human being is immune to facing struggles or difficult emotions. Opening up to someone you trust can help you to feel not alone and also helps them by giving them permission to do the same. Alternatively seek support from Wellbeing Access who will direct you to the most appropriate person who can help.

Being Human – the path to self-acceptance, resilience and happiness by Natalie Read is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and all major retailer websites.