A new joint project that aims to support students experiencing loneliness and isolation has been launched by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) and Swansea University.
CONNECT is a HEFCW-funded project between the two universities which aims to promote positive and healthy behaviours, improve wellbeing and reduce loneliness amongst students at the universities, through peer support and group activities.
CONNECT was set up in response to evidence suggesting that students are becoming increasingly isolated. The project aims to tackle this issue early on to help reduce the risk of further psychological or social issues.
UWTSD Director of Student Services Rhys Dart said: “UWTSD is delighted to see the launch of the CONNECT partnership project website. Combatting isolation and loneliness has never been more important to our students and staff. We are heartened by the response we have had from our volunteers and are looking forward to seeing this project develop from strength to strength.”
Professor Gareth Stratton, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Physical Activity, Health, Sport and Wellbeing at Swansea University said: “A recent study at Swansea University showed that 42% of students didn’t go to a university event because they have no one to go with. It’s a common misconception that everybody at university feels part of a group or has loads of friends. Today more young people are becoming isolated or feeling alone and loneliness can increase the likelihood of someone developing a mental or physical health problem.”
The project works by creating supportive communities in the universities by working with both staff and students. The service, which operates during the working week, is not a crisis service, but offers students practical support and help. Over recent months, CONNECT have been training a community of staff and student, ‘Connectors’ at both universities to support to students struggling with issues such as isolation, loneliness or developing social integration skills. The launch of CONNECT is particularly timely given the continued social restrictions as a result of COVID19 and the increase in those experiencing loneliness and isolation.
To date over 50 staff have become accredited Mental Health First Aiders within UWTSD. To ensure sustainability, the university also now has 5 Mental Health First Aid instructors who are approved to deliver the Mental Health First Aid Wales Youth Mental Health First Aid Course. The aim is for staff to feel more competent and confident if and when they find themselves supporting a student in a crisis situation.
46 student volunteers have signed up to support other UWTSD students. Some to help meet their needs for work placement whilst some volunteer to do something positive particularly during the current situation. Student volunteers have undertaken in-house training which covers topics such as listening skills, boundaries, confidentiality and signposting.
Student Connectors can provide one-to-one peer support including:
- listening to students who are struggling with isolation or loneliness.
- accompanying students to society/University events if they are nervous about going alone (subject to pandemic restrictions).
- helping students to get together as a group and support each other.
- sharing positive messages, campaigns and information about campus events.
- signposting to other support services available on and off campus.
Staff Connectors can also put students in touch with a Student Connector, tell students about the services available at university and community and give updates on CONNECT and University events.
More information about the project can be found on the CONNECT website.