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.

Find Your Balance

Both this week’s posts are all about the extracurricular; things you can get involved with when you’re not studying. Getting the right balance between studying and other activities is important and will help you to get the most out of being a Bristol student.

Let’s Talk Sport

Sports are a great way to make new friends. There are over 60 sports club at the University of Bristol – from traditional team sports such as football, rugby and basketball – to the more unusual Quidditch, Korfball and Krav Maga. For those who enjoy non-team sports there is also a range of activities available including martial arts, archery and clay pigeon shooting.

“[During Welcome Week] was also the first time I met some of my best friends when I joined the women’s football club, something that ultimately made my university experience.”

– Amy Brook, Sport and Student Development Officer

If you enjoy fitness or just want to get to the point when Bristol hills won’t leave you breathless (don’t worry, you get used to the hills eventually), our Indoor Sports Centre is the perfect place for you. Located on Tyndall Avenue at the heart of the University campus, the Sports Centre is home to an open plan fitness suite, free weights, fitness studios and a double-court sports hall. Or if you’re a water baby, our swimming pool, located on Queens Road, is home to a variety of clubs such as water polo. You can even do lifesaving lessons as well as pay as you go swimming.

Get stuck in with societies and networks

University gives you the chance to meet new people, experience new things and learn about yourself. Bristol Students’ Union (SU) helps students run over 290 societies from A cappella all the way to the Vegetarian and Vegan Society. There is a society for everyone; and if you think there isn’t a group for you, set one up!

“…I got involved with quite a few societies through the SU and by the end of my degree I sat on 3 committees and made the best friends I could ask for. Starting at uni is really tough, and taking your time settling in and getting involved with everything on offer can really help you in your first couple of months.”

– Jason Palmer, Equality, Liberation & Access Officer

The Bristol SU offers networks too; these enable students to build communities and create change. For example, there is a Postgraduate Network which is a student-led initiative for all postgraduate students that gives you a chance to develop the Bristol postgrad community. There is also the PGR Hub which is run by Bristol Doctoral College, based in Senate House, where you can connect with fellow researchers from other parts of the University.  You can find out more about what’s on offer at our Welcome Fair on the Downs on 27 September.

“I enjoyed the Welcome Week Fair because it gave me an opportunity to meet new people from all over the world and make new friends as well as to register with clubs and societies which I was interested in like African Caribbean Society, Debating Club, East African Society, and Bristol Model United Nations.”

– Julius Muga Ogayo, International Students Officer

If you want to find like-minded students before you move to Bristol and Welcome Week begins, you can also join our Freshers Facebook page.

Look out for our next post later this week with some more ideas of things to do beyond your studies.

Reliving my time at Bristol

“An experience which I am more than happy to relive and narrate over and over again”

My time in Bristol began in September 2015, joining the Foundation Program (CELFS) and graduating onto the undergraduate Bachelor of Laws degree programme. My journey while in Bristol has indeed been a unique experience; an experience which I am more than happy to relive and narrate over and over again.

Let us see if I can do my journey the justice it deserves…

“Being away from home can be very hard at times, but I have found that having a strong network of good friends and supportive teaching staff around you, helps a lot.”

Being an International student from Kenya, East Africa, I was extremely nervous coming to a foreign country to undertake my studies. Would I make any friends? Would I love the food? Will anyone like me as a person? These were just a few of the questions that were running through my mind. Being away from home can be very hard at times, but I have found that having a strong network of good friends and supportive teaching staff around you, helps a lot.

“In my understanding, university is a space where you can take on everything and anything, and challenge yourself.”

Having a keen interest in Politics as a career, I quickly took up the opportunity to run as President of my JCR in Clifton Hill House 15/16. After being elected, I was able to organise fundraising events to help build a community and increase a sense of belonging. I was also elected as the Law Course Rep, where I had the privilege of representing the interests of my fellow Law students for three years consecutively (Year 1 to Year 3). This position allowed me to interact with various students from all over the world, understand Law as a degree and most importantly, it helped me understand the relationship between students and staff, as I was the chief correspondent between those contributing to enhancing the student experience.

In my understanding, university is a space where you can take on everything and anything, and challenge yourself. This attitude led me to joining the University’s rugby team (UBRFC), where I played for the first two years of my life in Bristol, building close relations with my teammates who went on to become some of my closest friends and housemates. Not only did I play rugby, but I also decided to join the Law football team – UBLC FC – in my final year. This allowed me to visit different cities and universities around the country during various Varsity Series.

On top of these extra-curricular activities, I wanted to create a space where I could share the rich and diverse culture of East Africa, as well as provide a society for students in the area to congregate and socialise, to help them with the transition into studying abroad. Consequently, I formed the University’s first East African Society under the umbrella of the Bristol Students’ Union. Currently, we have over 70 registered members and numbers are expected to escalate with the new Freshers’ September Intake.

“Bristol is a fantastic place that provides various opportunities to realise your full potential…”

Education is a key part of our success; hence I decided to run for the Faculty Representative for Social Science and Law in my final year. This role enabled me to understand the relationship between different schools under a faculty, and mitigate issues between students and staff on a faculty level as Chair of the Faculty Staff-Student Liaison Committee. Other committees I stood on include the African Caribbean Society (Events Rep), Standing Committee (Faculty Rep SSL), Law Committee (Course Rep), and the East African Society Committee.

Bristol is a fantastic place that provides various opportunities to realise your full potential, which is demonstrated by the 400+ societies and student groups. My advice to any prospective students thinking about coming to university would be: do not limit yourself. Do everything and anything. You are here for three years, so make the most of your time.

Bristol also recognises extracurricular efforts alongside your studies. For example, I am a Bristol Plus Award winner for showcasing extraordinary extracurricular skills alongside studies, coupled with exemplary employability skills such as communication, integration and resilience among others.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better experience”

Earlier on this year, the Bristol Law School funded my attendance to The International Students Conference from Africa 2019, where I was awarded with the ICONS Award for Outstanding Achievements in this past academic year 2018/19. The award was presented by Dr Akanimo Odon, CEO of the XN Foundation and organiser of TISCA 2019.

I am now due to graduate with a Bachelor of Laws Degree, having enjoyed every moment of my time in Bristol. I am heading on to the next chapter of my life as the elected Union Affairs Sabbatical Officer at the Bristol SU 19/20, having won the student general elections in March 2019. The Union Affairs Officer represents students in terms of how they interact with Bristol SU, ensuring that Bristol SU communications and services are effective, accessible and relevant for students – including those provided for societies, volunteering and RAG. They also act as lead officer on Bristol SU democracy. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Thank you, University of Bristol.