Building strong communities

Our work to improve the sense of community for our students here at Bristol has started, and initiatives like the Bristol SU Living Room are helping students connect with one another. However, our students have told us that there is still more to be done.  

Over the next two years, we plan to build on our strong platform of student-centred services by aligning many of the routes to support together under one roof. Given the centrality of Senate House, and the ongoing refurbishments that have already seen the building transformed into an easily accessible and all-inclusive hub for student activity, the plan is to bring even more services into the building. 

Already the home of the Study Centre, the largest Bristol SU Living Room, the PGR hub (for postgraduate research students) and a student café, Senate House is steadily undergoing further changes as it becomes the centre of Campus Heart.    

As well as revamping the ground floor to include a one-stop information point for all students, we hope this will become a fully integrated space that offers students access to all they need; from help and advice about fees and funding to a suite of wellbeing services. There will also be additional SU space for students to use for work or relaxation. 

Our Student Wellbeing Service and Residential Life teams are already expanding, with positive results that have seen a reduction in waiting times for counselling support and a more seamless approach to early interventions, in addition to professional support available round the clock, every day of the year.  We’re building on this success to ensure that our students can continue to access the high quality support they need. This includes working in partnership with Bristol Students’ Union, Sports Exercise and Health and academic colleagues to provide a range of activities to help build strong communities across our university.  

Find out more as we chat to Ros Elliott, Head of Student Residential Life.

Further information about what we’re doing to transform our campus including all the latest developments at Senate House, can be seen on our latest film (January 2020).  

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

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.

“When I miss home, I… ” Coping with homesickness

This week we asked our Instagram followers to share what they do when they’re missing home;

here’s what they said…

Getting out and about

“…Visit the Student Living Room”

Have you checked out your Student Living Room in Senate House? It’s the perfect place to sit back, relax and even play a game of Fussball.

“…Meeting up with people who speak the same language as me, or are from my home city”

Come along to our weekly Language Café and improve your skills, learn about other cultures and have fun!

“…Going out to eat”

Some of your favourite places for food included; meatballs at Ikea and Wok to Walk!

‘Me’ time

“…Cuddling up with a tea, hot water bottle and a movie”

“…Taking part in sports to keep my mind busy”

There’s a great range of activities suitable for all abilities; take a look at our B:Active timetable.

“…Listening to music that reminds me of home”

“…Distracting myself by doing things I love – reading, baking and gaming”

Want to read your book in peace? Check out the relaxation spaces on campus. Surround yourself with bean bags, cuddly toys and make yourself at home.

“…Cooking a meal that reminds me of home”

Home comforts

“…Calling or Skype-ing my loved ones”

“…Looking through family photographs”

“…Washing my clothes in the same washing powder my family uses at home, for a familiar scent”

Student settling in guide

Customise your bedroom and make it your own

Moving away from home can be really daunting and there’s really nothing that will comfort you more than a cozy bedroom! Obviously feel free to splash out in Wilko (it’s a rite of passage) but be sure to bring a home comfort to make you feel settled like a photo or cuddly toy.

Explore Bristol

Bristol is such a cool and exciting city, full of hidden gems. Take full advantage of what the city has to offer in terms of food, music, art and shopping. Especially if you live in halls of residence further out such as Stoke Bishop.

Do some exercise

With all the takeaways, boozy nights and free rein over choosing your own meals, it is understandable if you’re feeling a bit out of shape. You’ll need to cope with Bristol’s hills somehow, so perhaps try an exercise class or join the gym.

Finding a house for your second year

Finding a house for your second year can be a stressful situation. There may be disagreements, awkward phone calls and you may even get ghosted by your letting’s agent after the first email. But you will get through it and find a nice place to live with your best mates, and it will all be worth it in the end. You will be fine!

Try something new

It might be cliché but with no parent or teacher encouragement, it is up to you to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Try to go to socials, meetups or join a society that could help you develop a new skill. What’s the worst that can happen? If you completely hate it, you never have to go back!

Not a fan of clubbing?

If you’re not a drinker, or just not keen on nights out, there are plenty of events to keep you entertained in the evenings. There are lots of great pub quizzes but my favourite non-clubbing night is a Tuesday evening of jazz and funk music at Mr Wolf’s. You can still dance if you want to!

Feeling like you haven’t met your lifelong friends yet?

If you aren’t getting on as well as you’d have liked with your flatmates, remember that there are so many other ways to meet people. Join societies and chat to people on your course but equally try not to be dismissive of people who you wouldn’t necessarily normally hang out with, you might get on.

If you’re struggling, tell someone

University can be overwhelming – don’t suffer in silence. Most things that seem monumental can be solved, but don’t forget that university isn’t necessarily for everyone. If you’re unhappy, there’s always someone you can talk to [Editor – Did you know that our Wellbeing Access Service is a useful route in to the support you need – you can call, email or submit an online form] Or you could even consider your other career options. (No shame in taking a gap yaaah.)

Stay safe and healthy

Freshers’ flu will be inevitable, but take the time to nurse yourself back to health and definitely sign up to the Student Health Service. Don’t forget that university is supposed to be fun so if you’re feeling uncomfortable or unsafe, tell someone. Look after yourself!

Give yourself a break

At the end of the day, university can be stressful, and you’ve done so well to get into such a good one. When things go wrong (and they will!) don’t beat yourself up about it. You haven’t quite done all your reading? get some sleep and do some more the next day. Woke your house mates up after accidentally locking yourself out? Apologise and move on. Give yourself a break, we’ve all been there.

Written by

This weeks blog has been written by Orin Carlin, a second year Classics (BA) student.

 

Still looking for more things to do when you are missing home? Take a look what our student Instagram followers said.

University Mental Health Day 2019

In support of University Mental Health Day 2019, we talk to students and staff about how they are using their voice to change the future of mental health at the University and beyond. Discover how you too can make a difference, today and always.


“I will be using my voice as the Student Living Officer at the Bristol Students’ Union to ensure that the University of Bristol commits to its duty of care and offers pastoral support to students of all  backgrounds. If you want to find out more, please check out my blog post launching the student wellbeing health strategy” – Vanessa Wilson, Student Living Officer 

At the University of Bristol your voice is valued, which is why your opinion was at the heart of our Mental Health Strategy. Get involved in the next Mental Health Consultation at the end of March. Use your voice to make a change.


“As part of the Black Dog Project, we use our voice to educate young people on a range of topics to do with mental health. Our aim is, through education, to reduce the stigma often associated with these types of conversations amongst young people.

I think it is important to raise our voice about mental health because everyone has mental health. Children need to learn that it is as important to look after their mental mind as it is to look after their bodies.” – Nina Rabbitt, Black Dog Project President, Third Year Student

Want to get involved? Find out more here. Use your voice to make a change.


“Passionate about driving change in our city, I am organising ‘Project WalkToTalk Bristol’ with a team of students from Bristol Medical School. The aim is to make mental health a conversation amongst young people and bring communities together in a positive way over something we all, no doubt experience. The event also raises money for Off The Record (Bristol), a charity and social movement aiming to empower young people in a sustainable way. Join us on 4th May… Let’s do this, together.” – George Cole, Project WalkToTalk Bristol Organiser, Second Year Student 

Attend the event and help beat the stigma associated with mental health.


“Discussions around mental wellbeing are part of everyday life, they  happen wherever you are.” – Carolyn Jones, Student Wellbeing Adviser in the School of Social Sciences and Law 

You are not on your own. There is always a friendly face and listening ear nearby. Find out what services we have, what they do and how they can help you.

 

 

 


 “The Healthy Minds programme supports students to take positive steps to improve the way they feel through physical activity and sport. We’ve found that students have reported an improvement in their wellbeing through involvement in the scheme.” – Peter Burrows, Physical Activity and Health Development Officer

Exercise is good for your mind, as well as your body, participating in our Healthy Minds programme could not be easier. To find out more watch this short video with Isaac who took part in the scheme, read about how Beth got involved and visit the site.

 


Your voice is powerful, use it to shape the future of mental health, today and always! 

World Mental Health Day  

For World Mental Health Day, we’re talking to our students about their experience of mental health and how physical activity and programmes like Healthy Minds has helped them cope with different situations.  

Bethany Hickton is a 25-year-old PhD student in her third year, studying aerospace engineering and cellular and molecular medicine.  

‘It’s pretty intense,’ she says with a laugh. ‘I’d really like to become a chief scientific officer — someone who travels around the world looking at complex scientific issues, and then explains it to government so they can make policy changes.’ 

But her dreams were nearly shattered when she slipped and fell down a flight of steps in her first year.  

‘I’d always been a very hard worker throughout my undergrad and since my A-levels,’ she says. ‘I never stopped, so having to take that time out gave me a lot of anxiety. Also, the fractures were five millimetres from severing my spinal cord. I could have been paralysed from the waist down.’ 

Bethany spent 16 weeks in a spinal brace and, a few months after the fall, she was also diagnosed with clinical depression.  

‘I got PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) coming back onto campus, because that’s where I’d hurt myself. Having to take time out physically really had an impact on me mentally.’ 

Bethany didn’t come from a sporting background and says she’d never have thought of trying sports on her own.  

‘I wasn’t sporty when I was younger – I lived in a small village where there wasn’t a lot of opportunity. People in school also made fun of me about my size, which was difficult to deal with. I really lost confidence, which made me eat more too.’ 

After her fall and her diagnosis, Bethany began seeing a counsellor with the Student Counselling Service where she was referred to the Healthy Minds programme.  

‘They told me about this amazing programme which was all about body confidence and having fun. Pete from Healthy Minds got me to lift weights and, out of nowhere, I was good at it. It was such a joyous moment.’ 

Bethany understands the pressure on young people today to look good, coming from social media, especially platforms like Instagram.  

‘I now judge my body on what it can do, not what it looks like. I can deadlift 80 kilograms, I can walk straight into the weights section of the gym, which used to be full of just guys, in my glittery pink sneakers and I can out-lift lots of them.’ 

She says Healthy Minds helped her to find an activity that really suited her, and she really enjoyed.

‘They helped me take the driving seat on getting healthy. Pete noticed I was good at lifting weights, and he signposted me to the captain of the rugby team.’ She now plays in the women’s rugby team as a  scrum forward.  

What advice would Bethany give new students who have just arrived and are trying to settle in?  

‘Find a group of people that are your people. Try and join different societies – it doesn’t have to be a sporty one, and just try lots of different things. You’ll find the crowd that you can run with.’ 

Express yourself 

Come along to the Indoor Sports Centre tomorrow (Wednesday 10 October) and take part in free exercise classes as well as a workshop with a print artist Annie Nicholson, aka The Fandangoe Kid. 

In 2011, Annie lost her mother and sister in a car crash. ‘Nothing has been the same since. For years I was completely derailed – it was sharing my thoughts in a public space that got me through.’ 

The artist says her public art is also designed to help remove the stigma that still exists around loss, mental health, and happiness.  

Annie will be hosting a workshop for 20 people and will begin by exploring the different concepts of narrative art, and how it can be used to express yourself. There’s even an opportunity for the art you create go on display on campus. 

Places are limited, and booking is essential.

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