Senate House update from Julio (Bristol SU’s Union Affairs Officer)

A lot of things have changed very quickly in the last few weeks and months – and that has impacted all of us in lots of different ways.

We chat to Julio Mkok, Bristol SU’s Union Affairs Officer, about how the new spaces at Senate House are taking shape, why these spaces matter now more than ever, and tips for coping during lockdown.

Q: How have you found adjusting to all the recent chances? Any top tips?
A: Transference is inevitable. It’s been very hard adjusting. We are coming from a way of life that flourished on human interaction and now we are moving into an era that doesn’t support or encourage the basic human interaction.

We all need each other to fully appreciate the joys of life. But, despite being so far from everyone else, there a few tips that could help you just the same way they’ve helped me ride out this wave. Daily exercises and a healthy routine that prioritises your wellbeing have really helped me. I for one am trying yoga for the first time…. I would highly recommend it! 😊

Q: You’ve recently been re-elected. What would you like to achieve during your time in post?
A: Having been re-elected for my second term as Union Affairs Officer, my main aim is to make sure that the Campus Heart Project is delivered with the interest and suggestions from the student body at its core.

The way that things are taking shape at Senate House is really exciting – we’re working on a new food court, known as the Market Place, and the Beckford SU bar – all right at the centre of the campus. We’ll have a Dining Room to accompany the Living Room at Senate House!

Of course recent events have meant delays to the project overall, but we’ll do everything we can to keep you updated on what’s happening, when. Even if we can’t come together now physically, the time will come that we will be able to be together again, safely. Spaces to help build communities will become even more important.

Q: Why do spaces like Senate House matter, especially in light of the pandemic?
A: The University of Bristol is one of the few Russell Group universities without a social space exclusively for students at the heart of campus (excluding libraries and other academic areas).

Senate House will provide a space for students to come together to socialise, play games and interact with different non-academic aspects that the University has to offer.

Q: What other changes would you like to see happen on campus? Or what are you excited about what’s already happening on campus?
A: The University’s main responsibility is providing academic excellence and support to its students. However, what is mostly forgotten is the “university student-experience” that most people always look forward to when coming to university.

I would like to see more non-academic projects that improve and support the student experience such as the Senate House Project. Additionally, we are all hoping that sometime in the future everything will go back to normal and the possibility for all of us students to come back together and continue with our day to day shenanigans.

It is on this note that we need the right spaces to be able to facilitate, diversify and improve this interaction.

Digital learning resources available for you!

Although this is a difficult time for everyone, we are here to ease the transition to online learning and provide you with all the technical support and advice you need.   

There are plenty of useful online resources available to you.  

These include:  

  • Study from home – looks at ways to manage your time and workspace, how to work towards learning outcomes and how to get the most out of online study.
  • Online open-book exams guidance  – looks at ways to prepare for and answer open book exams effectively.
  • Student laptop and mobile clinic goes virtual – The laptop and mobile clinic is a free service to help current University of Bristol students who are having problems with laptops, tablets or smartphones. The clinic will run weekdays from 2.00 pm – 5.00 pm.
  • Study Skills blogs
  • Dissertation Writing Retreats and Study Loungesboth aimed at offering students an online environment to work “in the same space” as others. Throughout May, there are lots of workshops including specific ones about online study and online exams all bookable
  • Online tutorials, including help with maths and statistics – offer a great opportunity to discuss your work in a confidential, safe space with an experienced and professional tutor. 
  • Accessing IT systems from home – quick links to the University IT systems such as Blackboard, Collaborate, specialist software and more. 
  • Study Skills sessions – enhance your academic skills with our range of self-help online resources, get quick advice at our 15 minute drop-in sessions with Bristol Futures Advocates, choose from a range of workshops or book a one-to-one tutorial with a Study Skills tutor.
  • Free library online resources  – access free online resources, including ebooks, ejournals, and databases to help support you.
  • Top tips for working from home  – Bristol SU provide some useful tips for working and studying remotely.  

There is further information on the Teaching, Assessment and academic guidance webpage.

 

University Mental Health Day 2020

On Thursday 5 March 2020, Universities from across the UK will be coming together to raise awareness of student and staff mental health for #UniMentalHealthDay.

This year, universities are working hard to make mental health a university-wide priority. To support this aim, we have organised a range of events, workshops and resources. By taking part, you are helping raise awareness of the importance of positive mental health and encouraging others to do the same.

Let’s inspire conversations, take action and create change!


Get involved

  • Bristol Wellbeing Conference (5 March 2020, 9 am-4 pm, Anson Rooms). This all day student-led event will host mindfulness activities, panel discussions, talks, workshops, and exhibitions. This conference is open to all staff, students and members of the public.
  • Share your experiences with others in a blog. Please email student-comms@bristol.ac.uk if you would like to write a blog for us.
  • Share your story and words of encouragement on social media using the hashtag #UniMentalHealthDay.


Free mental health training

  • Mentally Healthy Universities – free mental health workshops to first year and final year UG students. The University and Bristol Mind is hosting a series of free workshops designed to support you to look after your mental health while at University. Book your place here.
  • Suicide Prevention Online Training – Would you know how to approach someone who is struggling? Please take just 20 minutes to learn the skills that will enable you to approach and help those who may be having suicidal thoughts. Save a life, take the training.


Be active

  • Healthy Minds programme – Healthy Minds is a 12 week programme which aims to help students experiencing mental health difficulties through a varied and socially engaging programme of physical activity options.
  • Read about Charlotte and Ashley’s experience and how the Healthy Minds programme has supported their wellbeing through university and beyond.
  • Great Bristol 10K – The Great Bristol 10K is for everyone, from complete beginners to elite athletes. Taking part is a great way to get active and support your physical and mental health. We are offering discounted entry for students, staff and alumni when you sign up via this page.


Mental Health in Young People – students at the heart of research

‘Mental Health in Young People’ is a new research initiative, led by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute. The initiative will look at ways to improve mental health and wellbeing for young people, with a particular focus on University students.

If you would like more information, or would like to join the Mental Health in Young People research initiative network, please contact ebi-mentalhealthyp-research@bristol.ac.uk


Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey Results

In 2018/19, many of you shared your views about mental health and wellbeing support by taking our Mental Health and Wellbeing Surveys. Your views are changing how we support your wellbeing at Bristol. Find out more.

The 2020 Wellbeing Survey will be live from 1 – 17 May. We encourage you all to share your views and help us make positive changes to student wellbeing and mental health.


Where to get help

Here at Bristol, you’re not on your own; there is always someone to talk to. We have a range of free support and services available to all students.

If you’re uncertain where to go for help,  call: +44 (0)117 45 69860, email: wellbeing-access@bristol.ac.uk, and a member of staff will be able to advise you or visit our Wellbeing webpages.

Mentally Healthy Universities: Shifting culture through community and conversation

What does it mean to be mentally healthy? What are the early triggers and warning signs of stress and anxiety? How can we support ourselves and each other as we navigate some of life’s toughest challenges?

These are some of the questions that students and staff at the University of Bristol are being encouraged to explore with the expert guidance of trained mental health specialists from the leading UK charity, Mind.

Bristol is one of six universities taking part in a two-year pilot programme of workshops and courses that take a proactive approach to transforming the way in which mental health is understood, talked about and responded to in student communities and staff spaces.

The programme – Mentally Healthy Universities – has been developed in response to growing evidence about the mental health challenges faced by the UK’s higher education sector. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the number of students who disclosed a mental health condition almost doubled between 2012 and 2015 to nearly 45,000.

The Mind programme of courses, designed with the input of students from Leeds and Oxford University where the initiative began, seek to open up the conversation around mental health in such a way that encourages both students and staff to empower themselves and each other to seek support.

Claire Slater, Deputy Director of Student Services at the University of Bristol, said: “We are really pleased to be taking the lead in tackling this issue in a proactive way. The conversation around mental health is already underway but more does need to be done as unfortunately, stigmatisation and misunderstanding remains a barrier.

“To work with renowned specialists like Mind is a significant step towards eroding those barriers and enhancing the package of support that Bristol offers to students and staff.”

 

Help yourself, help others

Mental health trainers from Mind have already started to deliver three courses under the programme, which will initially run until April 2020. The courses are aimed at students in their first and final years, two of the primary crunch points when the transition into university and away from home, and then out of university and into the workplace, is known to impact mental health.

As well as equipping students with greater knowledge about what constitutes mental health and how to manage their state of mind, the courses are an opportunity for students to share their thoughts, concerns and experiences with each other, and with trained specialists.

Charlotte Randomly, Mentally Healthy Universities Project Coordinator for Bristol Mind, said: “The programme is part of a puzzle that universities like Bristol are trying to figure out by adopting a practical approach to developing mental health awareness as part of a wider cultural shift.”

“We know that mental health is a personal issue, in that it’s felt at the individual level. But we also know that it’s a social concern – the challenges that we face shape and are shaped by the contributions that society makes to our mental health. That’s why with these courses, our focus has been to shift the conversation towards a more community-centred approach.

Student involvement has been key to the whole process of designing and delivering the programme. Those who participate will also be involved in evaluating the pilot later this year. Their feedback will shape how Mind, Bristol and other partners evolve the course.

Champions of collective wellbeing

Running in tandem with the Mind programme is Bristol’s internal drive to empower staff role models within their workspaces. Staff with lived experiences of mental health are being encouraged to apply their insights as Mental Health Champions, facilitating conversations and events aimed at supporting their colleagues.

“We all have a role to play in this conversation,” adds Claire. “This is an opportunity for all of us, staff and students, to make a valuable contribution to the ongoing effort to shift perceptions of mental health and to develop a really strong and supportive community culture.”

Investing in the future

The Mind programme of workshops, coupled with the Mental Health Champions initiative, are part of the University’s ongoing commitment to supporting the mental health of its entire community. Plans are also in development to create more online resources for students, while for staff, the Careers Service is hosting a series of Workplace Wellbeing courses similar to those offered to students.

The overarching student Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy further helps to capture and expand the work already underway, ensuring that mental health awareness and support remains a priority.

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.

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