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.

Meet Tony Cowley. One of the Security team helping to keep us all safe.

Keeping students and staff safe in residencies and on campus is no mean feat with a community of around 40,000 people and almost 400 buildings to care for 24/7. We talk to Tony Cowley, Security Supervisor, to clarify the role of security in residencies and why following the rules mean we’ll all be safer. 

Tell us more about your team and the different Security Services staff that students will encounter in residencies. 

I’ve been at the University for nearly two years now and I lead a team of Security Officers that provide an in-house security service across the whole university estate, which includes keeping over 370 buildings, 9 halls of residences and the students and staff therein, safe and secure, 24/7. We respond to everything from fellow student complaints to fire incidents to building access issues  no day is ever the same and dealing with such a large campus certainly keeps us busy! 

We work closely with Residential Life and Residential Facilities teams to provide an all-round service for students that respond to differing needs. As you would expect of us, we respond to matters that would be deemed a breach of student behaviour rules and regulations, which include criminality, drug use/possession, excessive noise (usually loud parties) and other anti-social behaviour. It is important that we respond accordingly and seek to reduce the harm that certain behaviours can have on the individuals involved, other students and the wider community.  But it’s equally important to remember our role in supporting our students and staff and helping to keep everyone as safe as possible. This new webpage sets out more about what you can expect from us and what we can’t do – a way to explain the relationship between Security Services and our students. 

Students may have noticed that there are also Security staff in blue or orange tabards at the halls (we are the staff in yellow and black). These are additional contract staff that have been brought in specifically to assist the residential teams with managing student gatherings that would breach government guidance and university rules around social gatherings during this pandemic.  

How can students help to keep themselves and others safe in residencies during these challenging times? 

When it comes to student behaviour and matters that might lead to disciplinary action, it’s really important for you to be aware of the rules and regulations that are helping to keep us all safe so that you can continue to live and study safely and successfully. You’ll find an overview of how students and your security team can best work together in a new agreement. So whilst at the moment you can’t have parties involving people from outside your household for example, there are still loads of virtual events and activities to explore and make new friends this way.

Keeping safe within your residences really does rely on each student playing their part to look after one anotherAs much as we would like to be, we can’t be everywhere at once, so your safety depends on you all doing your bit. All students would have received a ‘UoB: SAFE’ booklet within their induction packs at the beginning of the year, which offers advice and links to further resources.  

For all welfare and pastoral care needs, do contact your local Student Support Centre to speak to someone from Residential Life and use the wellbeing resources online.

What’s the best part of your job? 

The best part of our role here is the sheer variety of matters that we deal with, as well as the ability to help so many people within our community. We are often working in challenging conditions with limited numbers of staff, so we also need to support each other during the tough times and our teamwork ethic is key to these situationsThis couldn’t be more true as we all navigate our way through this pandemic, where we are trying our best to balance very unique situation at the halls. By all doing our bit we can help avoid further lockdown and restrictions.  

We were all really proud of our colleague Stacey who won an award for ‘Security Officer of the Year for an Outstanding Act of Courage’ a short while ago. She went beyond what was expected to manage a serious student safety issue at a halls of residence and was recognised by the Association of University Chief Security Officers (AUCSO). 

And to finish, what would you say to the students here? 

Our role is absolutely to work with you and keep our community safe. We all have a part to play in reducing the spread of the virus so thank you for sticking to the rules.  

 

The weekend is here!

Wow, what a week! We hope that you’re all coping well during the current national lockdown – remember to look after yourselves and each other, and check in on your friends, family and loved ones.  

Just because we’re in lockdown, it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun!  

Here are some ideas for this weekend: 

Bristol Harbourside in autumn

Go for an autumnal walk with your housemates, Living Circle or one person from another household

There are so many great spots around Bristol for a (chilly) walk; Harbourside, The Downs, Ashton Court Estate…we could go on forever. Please remember to social distance if you are meeting with one person from another household.

Man on phone

Video call someone who you know needs a friend right now

Do you have any mates who live alone or know are not looking forward to the lockdown? Why not give them a call this weekend to check in? 

Set up a shared Spotify playlist and sync with your friends

Who doesn’t love dancing in their kitchen? Exactly! Get a great playlist sorted, share with your friends and hit play at the same time. You could give them a video call too and pretend you’re in your favourite club in Bristol. Motion not open? No problem! 

Have a sort-out

OK, this may sound boring but it’s good to do from time to time. There has got to be some old clothes you never wear or a drawer full of old stuff you don’t need. If you’re feeling super productive this weekend, have a sort through and get a bag of donations ready for when charity shops open up again. 

Sleeping cat

And most importantly…chill out!

If some or none of the above are your thing, just take some time to rest and chill this weekend. Whatever works for you. If that’s playing video games (we have some gamers in the Student Comms team too), binge-watching your favourite series, baking, reading or anything else, just do it! 

Weekend and future events

University and Bristol SU virtual events for the weekend, next week and beyond are listed on our website. Our Resilife Team also have lots of events listed on their Facebook page.

Here are a few of our upcoming event highlights: 

  • On Wednesday, you can Celebrate Diwali with the Bristol Hindu Society.  
  • Next week, Bristol COVID-19 experts will be answering questions on the virus. The event will be chaired by Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire and everyone is welcome to attend virtually and submit a question beforehand. Learn more about it here.
  • Join the Multifaith Chaplaincy for their annual Faith Crawl on Wednesday.
  • We’ve teamed up with Mind, the leading mental health charity, to pilot their new Mentally Healthy Universities programme. View the events here.

We hope you all have great weekends 😊 

Your Student Comms team x  

Dealing with grief, life-threatening illnesses, and everything and anything in-between… (now more important than ever)

This post was written for the University community by one of our students

Dear staff members and students,

These past months have been a challenge for us all – everything grounding to a halt during ‘lockdown’, disruptions to university teach, working and studying from home, and new difficulties such as quarantine. A lot of staff members and students will have had to deal with isolation from loved ones, illness in the family, and bereavement.

Facing grief and illness, or the anxiety of the possibility, has perhaps never been more widespread. Covid-19 has brought home hard truths and moved to centre stage the possibility of losing someone or getting ill. Dealing with illness and grief can be life-changing and the current restrictions add additional difficulties.

For our staff members and students to feel more supported through these challenging times and beyond, we need to encourage discussions about grief and illness and normalise the topic within our university. That does not mean only focusing on doom and gloom, but rather speaking openly about mechanisms to deal with these challenges and where to go to access support, raising awareness among the student and staff community.

Most students will deal with some sort of loss or potential loss during their university degree, whether that is a close family member, or a distant friend or relative. Staff members will most likely come across students who are struggling with a family member or relative who is ill, or grieving the loss of someone they love. Staff members and colleagues will also experience similar challenging life situations. What is the best thing to do? Below are some tips for how you can help others in this situation, or help yourself:

  • Actively listen: Listen attentively when the situation arises, concentrate, understand and respond to what is being said.
  • Check-in regularly: Drop the student/ staff member an email when you can to check in to see how they are doing.
  • Offer advice or reassurance: It might be helpful to offer them gentle advice, which could be anything from “look after yourself”, “surround yourself with friends”, “make sure you are looking after your wellbeing”, “studies can wait”, “take some time out”.
  • Offer help (but first ask them how they want to be supported): You could help them with extending deadlines for pieces of work, contacting staff members, referring them to or informing them about student or staff wellbeing and counselling, referring them to other help resources on the SU website, or sign-posting to external support services.
  • Engage in self-disclosure: this is if relevant, helpful or possible from your perspective.
  • Watch for warning signs of depression: Grief and/or dealing with illness can lead to mental struggles. Keep an eye out for concerning behaviour, like inability to function in everyday life or enjoy life, obsession with death, bitterness/anger/guilt, withdrawing behaviour, or talking openly about dying and suicide. If you are concerned speak to them and help them help by referring them to student wellbeing who can offer support and access to services including counselling.

Depending on your capacity to deal with this, please seek help and advice from others where needed.

Resources:

If you feel that your mental health is at breaking point, you can speak to the Bristol Mental Health Crisis Team.

The Samaritans: When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

University services:

  • Student Wellbeing and Student Counselling website
  • The SU Wellbeing Network – societies like Nightline and Peace of Mind (amongst others) are listed on here, with links that will take you to their webpages.
  • Internal support groups – check the SU Wellbeing Network site for the internal support groups that are running this year. Support groups appear throughout the year, so keep checking if there is not one that suits you. Also, feel free to reach out to the SU Wellbeing Network if a support group does not exist, but you think it would be useful to create one specific to your needs.
  • Wellbeing Advisors in your department
  • Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing webpages
  • Information on Staff Counselling
  • Staff Development Wellbeing Courses and Resources

Out of University:

Mental Health and Wellbeing

Mind: Coronavirus and your wellbeing.
Off The Record: being resilient through the Coronavirus disruption.
Free Headspace Mindfulness: weathering the storm.
BBC article: how to protect your mental health.
WHO: mental health and psychosocial considerations during Covid-19.
NHS: guidance on relieving stress.

Bereavement Services and Resources  

Cruse Bereavement Care: The Cruse Bereavement Care Freephone National Helpline is staffed by trained bereavement volunteers, who offer emotional support to anyone affected by bereavement. The number is 0808 808 1677 ​or email helpline@cruse.org.uk.
Bristol Bereavement Network: directory of local services for Bristol.
Good Grief Trust: an online portal of UK bereavement services, searchable by type and location.
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP): for information on finding a qualified counsellor.
The Samaritans.
At a Loss: to help signpost you to the right support.
Shapes of Grief, a podcast/blog by Liz Gleeson, Bereavement Therapist
Griefcast, a podcast that examines the human experience of grief and death, hosted by comedian Cariad Lloyd.

Good Grief Festival runs 30 October – 1 November 2020, with free events related to grief and loss of different kinds. You can also register to access all the content afterwards for 3 years for £20.

Students supporting students

Third year English student Alice Baxter describes the new group she helped set up to support self-isolating students.

The Student to Student Covid Relief Scheme has been set up to help isolating and vulnerable students. The University are of course providing basic food boxes, but some of us need a little more. Students can request items discreetly and we will organize for one of our volunteers to transport them to the isolating flat.

Student to Student Bristol Covid Relief Scheme banner

We welcome requests for medications or food items relating to medical and ethical requirements, foods that ease an eating disorder, pregnancy tests… anything really (as long as it is not a controlled or illegal substance) that people who are isolating require. If you require any non-food related items during isolation, such as board games or art supplies, we are here to help.

Our volunteers understand it is a very anxious time, so please let us know if there’s anything we can provide which will help put yourselves at ease in your isolation period. We are not affiliated with the University or the SU, so all of our requests are “off the record,” and we will keep it between us. Our volunteers are friendly, fast and supportive, and we take all necessary precautions of social distancing and PPE.

Alongside welcoming requests, we are also taking volunteer applications, and you can find the form on our Facebook group.

If you’re self-isolating, there’s lots more information on the University website about how to stay safe and protect others, and how to access other support.

Welcome to the weekend

It’s the start of another weekend. Time to relax, take some time out and recharge your batteries

Many of you may be coming out of self-isolation over the weekend; some of you may still be self-isolating. We hope you’re keeping safe and well.

If you are coming out of self-isolation, do enjoy your renewed freedom but don’t be tempted to let loose, and thanks for continuing to follow the guidelines and respect others.

If you’re still self-isolating, it’s a good time to catch up on those box sets, get cosy and find what feels good for you. They say it’s going to rain this weekend anyway! If you are struggling though and could do with some help, please get in touch with our Wellbeing Access service to get the support you need.

Finally, if you have to self-isolate, remember to update the coronavirus self-reporting form to let us know about your status so we can make sure we provide you with the essentials – food, laundry and rubbish collections – during this time.

Whatever your situation, here are some activities and events you could check out over the next few days.

  • Travel the World with the Global Lounge  – new series of weekly events, where students and staff shine a spotlight on different countries and cultures. Next stop, South India on 27 October, and Dubai on 3 November. Sessions take place every Tuesday lunchtime between 1 pm and 2 pm.
  • Return of the virtual Language Café – every Wednesday between 3 pm and 4.30 pm, delivered with the SU. Improve your language skills and meet others!
  • The Multifaith Chaplaincy   explore the online events programme for the autumn term. 

Bristol Students’ Union

Bristol SU  has a varied programme of events and activities taking place. Paint and Sip caught our eyes – a chance to relax into Sunday by creating some art, supping a drink of your choice and getting to know other students. Can we come please?!  And for all those folkies out there, make your folk dreams come true with tonight’s Give it a Go music workshop – 7pm  

Bristol Futures Open Online Courses

Develop life-long skills and unleash your potential by joining the current run of open online courses. Choose from the themes of Innovation and Enterprise, Sustainable Futures or Global Citizenship and learn alongside fellow students, staff and alumni. Courses also count towards the Bristol PLUS Award.

Black History Month

It’s not too late to attend some last events as October draws to a close. See our  programme and book dates into your diary now.

UoB Sport 

The weekend’s a great time to boost those endorphins with some physical activity. There are both online and in-person activities to get you going.

 

Share your views

We’re always happy to hear from you and we’re looking for students who’d like to contribute to a weekly blog post about events and activities. Please get in touch with us at student-comms@bristol.ac.uk. Also, don’t forget to complete this year’s Welcome Survey to let us know how the Welcome experience was for you. Your views count and really help us improve things for future students. Closes 28 October.

That’s it for us for this week. Hope you all have a good weekend, whatever you’re up to.

Bye for now

Student Comms team x