In this post, Dr Emily Taylor and Emily Gribbin, from the School of Health in Social Science, showcase ‘Let’s Gather’: an initiative created to build a supportive community for staff and students….
About a year ago, we were pondering the question of community. We knew that when communities work well they can bring a sense of connection and belonging, and have benefits for well-being. How could we ensure a supportive community for our students and staff? This was our challenge, and we were up for it!
The School of Health in Social Science is a small but growing community, with around 100 core staff and 900 students. Whilst students often feel a connection with their programme, cross-School community has had less opportunity to develop naturally. With a history of providing practitioner training in counselling, nursing and clinical psychology, our students are often out of sync with the university timetable and working in placements across Scotland. Our physical space is also problematic. There are few spaces within the School where students and staff have the opportunity to congregate or meet, and these constraints have been reflected in student feedback with an otherwise positive evaluation blotted by poor ratings for academic community.
Unable to magic a deluxe, communal space into being, we started to explore how else we could create opportunities for students and staff to get together outside of the classroom. We were inspired by good practice in other Schools, but needed help to get these ideas off the ground. We therefore enlisted the help of Josephine Cahill, a student with the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, who joined us last summer through the Employ.ed on Campus student internship programme. We asked Josephine to help us to generate ideas for community building.
Josephine rose to this challenge and, following a short period of information gathering, she proposed and partially organised a yearlong programme of Let’s Gather events for students and staff. These events included monthly coffee and cake (with the wonderful Artisan Roast), Therapets, yoga and academic presentations. She produced marketing materials, scoped venues and ensured that the programme was both sustainable and deliverable within budget.
We are now two-thirds of the way through this programme, and we have had great successes as well as the odd challenge.
What went well?
Students have embraced these opportunities with gusto. Every event has been over- subscribed. All events have had a lively buzz with people engaging enthusiastically, which has made the experience rewarding for us and helped Let’s Gather to develop a self-sustaining following. More staff are getting involved and Head of School support has been important.
Indirect indication of community engagement has come through increased applications for the School’s InspirED Student Funding from groups of students wanting to run their own events and activities to benefit other students.
Thanks to Josephine, we had bright, striking posters to promote events under the banner of ‘Let’s Gather’. Branding, together with a better visual presence around the School and on social media, has brought coherence and clarity to a mixed programme of activities.
Finding suitable spaces has been difficult. There is immense pressure on medium-large spaces that aren’t lecture theatres, and having to pay for some of these spaces has added unexpected costs to the budget. More (and larger) spaces are needed.
Running events during the day inevitably excludes whole groups of students due to clashes with teaching or placements, but running events in the evening can clash with caring or work commitments. We have had to accept that there is no perfect time, but instead try to mix-up the days and times that events run so that, hopefully, everybody can attend something.
We set ourselves a challenge to develop a supportive community for students and staff. We hope this will be reflected in our survey ratings for academic community, but, in the meantime, our own survey has found that 86% of people would recommend the events to others, and two-thirds endorsed statements that “I felt the school was looking after me”, “I had fun”, and “I met people”. This supports our feeling that the events have contributed to a closer and more interactive community. We look forward to delivering Let’s Gather again next year, keeping things fresh by using ideas provided by students and staff.