When Covid-19 lockdowns began, the ULaw Welfare Service knew that their work would become more important than ever. Between illness, financial pressures and isolation, almost all of our students have been impacted in one way or another. When those pressures have become too much, many students have made the wise decision to reach out to our Welfare Service for help. Senior Welfare Officer Josie Carroll tells us how her team rallied together to support our students when they needed it the most.
I am a senior welfare advisor, and my role is to support the student welfare manager with the development and delivery of the Welfare Service. I support students, the team and the welfare manager. I was a welfare advisor until very recently, so I was speaking to students throughout Lockdown 1, 2 and 3.
When the first lockdown started, our student’s mental health was a big concern, and how isolated some students were. It doesn’t matter if you live alone or live with others; you can still find yourself lonely. We thought a lot about how students would look after themselves if they got ill and how we could support them.
Many students found themselves returning to the family home, and that brought about different and unexpected challenges. We were aware that students were worried about how they (and their families) would cope financially. We spent a fair amount of time supporting students to access the available funding.
We reached out to our international students; we supported them when they were alone and were concerned about family at home. We ensured that they had the resources they needed, and they knew that our service was there if they needed further advice or simply wanted to talk. We have a dedicated international welfare advisor who offers advice to other welfare advisors on supporting international students. He works closely with the Students' International Communication Association (SICA) team to ensure students are provided with the correct guidance and are referred to more appropriate services when necessary.
We instantly provided support remotely via Collaborate and Zoom. I don’t think there was any break in our service; it worked seamlessly. We started carrying out welfare checks on students we knew were isolated and isolating and with the international students in another country affected by the pandemic.
My colleagues all had a part in rolling out a different service, depending on what faced them. Suki, our welfare adviser in Manchester, remembers creating resources at the beginning of lockdown. In particular, a directory of resources specific to wellbeing in the pandemic, including tip sheets and webinars. Gemma, our welfare advisor in Bristol, remembers the additional support that she offered to students who were estranged from their families or those who were carers.
Our welfare advisors acknowledge that our service works really well online. Being online provides a choice to students on how they wish to engage with the service. Students don’t have to fit appointments in when they are on campus anymore. Some campuses noticed Welfare Team engagement increased – possibly because being on the phone offered more flexible times and more privacy. However, we acknowledge that there is huge value in face-to-face appointments and that some students prefer this. We hope to run a blended online/face-to-face service, providing a tailor-made support package to each student.
In the future, we will be able to provide more events online, which, I hope, means we will reach more students. We will also still offer telephone and video calls to students who prefer this way of communicating.
There was definitely a peak in the service. For me, demand grew instantly and lasted a long time. Other campuses noticed a dip and then a huge rise; we attributed that to the students returning home and then needing support. All campuses noticed the rise throughout the winter of 2020.
Students have been happy to be contacted and offered support during periods of isolation.
Students have said they don’t know how they would have gotten through that time without our weekly calls. Our Welfare Advisors were happy to break the loneliness for isolated students.
The pandemic last year was brutal, the most awful time of my life. Deep in lockdown, I lost my Dad to Covid; supporting my mum and grieving whilst navigating covid regulations was awful. My mental health is robust, and I have always looked after my wellbeing, but last winter it was really tested. I experienced stress and grief like never before. This has undoubtedly helped me in my role. I really appreciate how stress affects us physically and how personal everyone’s journey is.
Throughout all this, I’m most proud of my colleagues for continuing to provide a great service when the demand grew exponentially, for listening with open ears and open minds. They have always been ready to offer support and solutions to those that needed it. We rose to the occasion and provided more support and were able to flex to the student’s needs. Our welfare advisors have been so flexible, they have seen students on campus when they could, whilst others found ways of reaching out to those who weren’t comfortable travelling or speaking on the phone – we are a tenacious bunch.
My advice to any students who are struggling is to reach out; it is often the first step to feeling better.
Our welfare advisers are trained to listen and ascertain the facts, give advice, and offer support. I can’t tell you how many times students have said, “I haven’t spoken to anyone about this”. Welfare is a safe place; we are professional, compassionate, and non-judgemental.
Discover more about our Wellbeing Support Services