Disclaimer: This blog post is going to mention tea a lot. Don’t worry – none will be spilt.
I still remember my Freshers’ Week quite clearly, and aside from everything being new, I think the biggest reason it creates such a lasting impression is that it’s full of emotions, whether those be excitement, dread, loneliness, pressure, or often all of those at once. But something I remember especially clearly is the presence of our college welfare team – like ninjas, they’d hide in the shadows until they were needed, and then they’d emerge to listen, support, and reassure. These students weren’t professionals, of course (the University has a counselling service, as well as designated Student Support Officers in every college), but knowing that they had been through it already, and were now volunteering their time to look out for us, made me really appreciate them.
You’re not alone
I can recall an ice-breaker event on the first night of Fresher’s Week when I found myself stood alone for a few moments, and casually, a member of the welfare team came over and started talking to me. It wasn’t a life-changing event, but it meant that I wasn’t by myself, and the few minutes of friendly conversation with her prepared me to then go and start introducing myself to other freshers. At the time, I just thought that she had been really nice, but now that I’m on the team myself, I see those small moments with much more gratitude and understanding.
There’s more to it than tea and toast!
In that first week I only saw a fraction of everything the welfare team does – although I do clearly remember ‘Tea and Toast’ – members of the team literally make tea and toast every night from 11 pm to 2 am, so that whether you’re returning from the club night or just in your bedroom fancying a late night snack, you can come in for a cuppa and some carbs. I ate a scary amount of toast in my first week (I think my record was seven slices in one night), and now being on the other side of it, I can tell you that buttering toast gets seriously tiring after a few hours. It’s totally worth it for all the lovely and funny conversations throughout the night, although not so worth it when people start criticising my buttering skills.
As well as that, students can request a one-to-one meeting with any member of the welfare team, not only during Freshers’ Week but any time during the year. Again, none of us are professionals, but we are trained in active listening and can signpost to relevant services which can provide further or more specific support. But student welfare also has an active role in college life, as a different member of the team hosts a teatime in college every day – this is just a chance to drop in, have a break from your day, eat some (or many) biscuits, and of course, drink tea. While it’s slightly worrying that I’ve been trusted to spend college funds on buying biscuits, this is an incredibly wholesome time of the day (which has even been known to feature colouring books) and provides a safe space for anyone to talk about anything, or to not talk at all.
I’m really looking forward to developing in the role this year – so far it’s been incredibly rewarding (and I don’t just mean all the tea and biscuits I’ve consumed). The team runs various campaigns throughout the year, including alcohol awareness, sexual health, and housing advice, and since my position on the team is Welfare Officer for People of Colour, I’m excited to see what I can do with that – although that’s for another post!
My fellow blogger Marina has written a blog about her experiences of mental health during her year abroad, read it here.
For more information and support visit our student support and well-being web pages.