The following article was first published in June 2020 by the College's Welfare Officer, Mary Simuyandi, in this year's edition of The Wheel, the College's annual newsletter.
Much of the pastoral care in College is possible thanks to generous donations from friends and alumni. The College's strategic plan outlined an aim to build on this service and further promote mental health and wellbeing throughout our community. A generous donation by Peter (1974) and Christina (2016) Dawson has enabled the College to appoint me as its first Welfare Officer from January 2020. I’m delighted to share some insights from my first few months.
‘Welfare’ can feel like such a broad term, something that is hard to pin down. At St Catharine’s, it greets you as you enter and pass the Porters’ Lodge; you find welfare in Hall as friends check in with each other over lunch; in the Library as students work alongside each other, encouraging friends to keep going. It is very clear how welfare is woven into the fabric of life at Catz.
Welfare provision at St Catharine’s is even more important when you look at mental health trends. The Mental Health Foundation reports that one in four people will experience mental health problems in their lifetime, 75% of which are established by 24 years of age. The start of university can be a period of great change, leaving students vulnerable to previous or emerging struggles. Being able to tap into support in College helps ease the transition away from home, and students have a place to share their anxieties and worries before they become overwhelming.
There was already a lot of work underway before I started, thanks to the College prioritising the welfare of its community. As a result, my role involves bringing together these existing resources, ensuring we are meeting the needs of the community, exploring new initiatives and providing consistency for students who require more intensive support.
In the world of welfare professionals, there is often talk about students ‘slipping through the cracks’. I help join up the dots, so that our whole community has effective, well-coordinated support in place. As part of this, I work closely with the Senior Tutor, College Nurse and Chaplain, and with the small team of counsellors that students have access to through the Senior Tutor’s Counselling Fund. This is a vital resource, as our students can see counsellors at short notice (often within a week of being referred) and can work with them for as long as they need.
Responding to COVID-19
COVID-19 presents a challenge to the College’s welfare provision. How do we maintain the supportive links that we established during this academic year or identify students who are struggling, while we are a temporarily dispersed community? The Rev’d Ally Barrett (2019), our Chaplain, and I have developed an online welfare hub to offer support to our students. Whilst 2020 has been disrupted, our commitment to provide a welcoming, encouraging and effective welfare provision remains firm.