Daisy Curtis is an ESRC (1+3) funded Geography PhD student exploring the Digital Geographies of 5G technology. She undertook her BA Geography degree at Exeter, and during this time became involved in wellbeing and inclusivity work within the College of Life and Environmental Sciences (CLES), which she has continued during her Masters course and now as she starts her PhD. Daisy has helped to found and develop the Wellbeing Discussion Forum.

Around campus you may have noticed some of these flyers for the Wellbeing Discussion Forum. This is an initiative developed by the current, and previous VP Welfare and Diversities, the Head of Wellbeing (Mark Sawyer), and me. As the flyer explains the Wellbeing Discussion Forum is an opportunity to provide your perspective on the University’s Wellbeing Services, and also to engage with the development of future initiatives. Ultimately, this group acts as an opportunity for students and the Head of Wellbeing to meet and constructively discuss the Wellbeing Services so that it continues to support as many students as possible.First a bit of background – where did this initiative come from?

Back in 2017, just before the Easter holiday, the Guild was publicising an opportunity for students to participate in focus groups ‘Wellbeing on Campus: we want to know your thoughts’. This was part of a review being undertaken regarding the wellbeing support available to students. The publicity material for these focus groups signposted any interested students to contact the then VP Welfare and Diversity, Alec James. As someone engaged with wellbeing work within CLES, and having heard a lot about friends’ experiences of the Wellbeing Services, I was curious about the focus groups – why were they being held? Who could participate? And why were they organised to occur during the Easter holiday? So I contacted Alec, and he explained that the focus groups were acting as part of a broader review about wellbeing, and that questionnaires would also be used at a later date to gain further insights into student perspectives. What transpired was a discussion about whether there was anything that could be developed to gain feedback on the Wellbeing Services at the university in a more regular and structured format. Alec invited me to one of his meetings with the Head of Wellbeing, Mark Sawyer, to discuss this further, and this is when our ideas started to develop.

During our meeting, Mark expressed a keen interest in establishing a forum where students could voice their views, and the Wellbeing Services could ask for student perspectives about new projects they were developing. We realised that there was a need for a forum which would connect students to the Wellbeing Services, so that both groups could positively engage with one another. We concluded that this would develop over the long term, but that this was the moment to set our ideas in motion. We stayed in contact and met a few more times, and also discussed our ideas with staff within the University Inclusivity group. Fast forward to the next academic year (2017-18), and Kat Karamani had become the new VP Welfare and Diversity. Mark, Kat and I made a plan to make the first few meetings pilot meetings to identify whether this was a format that could work in practice. At the end of Term 1 we held our first meeting of our wellbeing group, provisionally called the Wellbeing Board, which brought together undergrads, PGTs, PGRs, the Guild, and the Wellbeing Services.

During Term 2 we continued to hold pilot meetings, testing different formats and expanding the membership of the group to also include people such as Residence Life Mentors. Now in the 2018-19 academic year we are working to further develop this initiative and have renamed the group the Wellbeing Discussion Forum to help make its purpose clearer and more accessible for students.

Who can be involved?

One of the key aims of the group is to gain an insight into the diversity of student experience. So, anyone who is interested in the wellbeing support provided at the university is welcome to join us. If you currently are, or have previously been, using the services provided by the University’s Wellbeing Services your perspective on this is vital. However, this forum is not only for those who have direct experience of the University’s Wellbeing Services. If you have never accessed wellbeing support, but are interested in attending a meeting, we highly encourage that you email expressing your interest. A number of the students who attended the pilot meetings last year, had not accessed the services themselves, but knew someone who had. The Wellbeing Discussion Forum, therefore, also provides a place for you to voice your thoughts as someone who may be supporting another person at university. There may be a number of you who are interested in attending who haven’t directly accessed support from Exeter’s Wellbeing Services, but may have accessed support from a different university, and your views are equally valued within the group. Also, as this blog is part of the Doctoral College, you may be interested in attending the group because it relates to your research area, if this is the case, please do contact us and we can discuss this further.

One meeting which we held last year was focused explicitly on postgraduate student experiences of wellbeing. This meeting proved to be incredibly productive, and the conclusion was that although there are certain systems in place for postgraduates, there is a lot which can be further developed and that having conversations with postgraduates via the Wellbeing Discussion Forum is vital.

So what is discussed?

The short answer to this question is student experiences of the Wellbeing Services, however, this is quite a vague answer. A better way to provide an indication of what topics are covered during the Wellbeing Discussion Forum meetings is to identify some of the themes we discussed during the pilot meetings last year, and the agenda items which were covered in the first Wellbeing Discussion Forum meeting of this academic year. A common topic that has been discussed is the process of communicating and accessing wellbeing support – are there any myths about access? Is the wellbeing website clear and understandable? Is wellbeing support provision communicated clearly at St Lukes? Was the signposting of wellbeing support during the recent industrial action sufficient? Although the forum is not a place to discuss details of specific experiences, there have been discussions where students have chosen to reflect upon their general experiences of the Wellbeing Services such as the process of booking wellbeing appointments, or their experiences of Telephone Referral Appointments (TRAs). There are a range of topics which have been raised within these meetings, and actions are identified during these discussions so that the wellbeing support is continually developing in-line with the requirements of students. The important point to convey is that the meetings are spaces where everyone’s views are respected and valued, and that any minutes which are taken during the meetings are done so so that the person is not identifiable.

The Forum is also a platform for the Wellbeing Services to ask questions about projects they are developing and gain student perspectives. An example of this is the Resilience Toolkit which the Wellbeing Services was developing last year to help (new) students develop resilience to help them manage their mental health. During the meetings last year the Wellbeing Services asked for feedback on the project and suggestions of similar projects which could be beneficial for students. Ultimately, within each meeting there is variation in the topics of discussion and actions identified, as these are determined by what students attending these meetings wish to raise and discuss.

If you wish to attend and talk about a topic during one of the Wellbeing Discussion Forum meetings, or if you have any questions, please contact discusswellbeing@exeterguild.com

Written By: Daisy Curtis, PhD Researcher in Geography. You can find out more about Daisy and her Research by following her on twitter @derc201