Time to Change Society
Having always wanted to join a society, but never quite having the time whilst I was studying Midwifery, I was determined to do so whilst studying Sociology. A major criterion when I decided to change degree was that it had to actually allow time for extra-curricular activities.
I submitted the application to start the society during my first week at university, I was surprised that something similar did not already exist, and a few weeks later, with the help of the Union Officers, the society was ready to launch on Friday 25th October 2013. I always believed the society would be popular but I never envisaged it would grow the way it did, or that it would become a central hub to so much activity. Its simple aim was to encourage people to talk about mental health and I can wholeheartedly say that it managed that at the very least.
It was originally assumed the society would be focused on stress and anxiety, depression at most. Not once did we contemplate it flourishing to encompass a matrix of mental health conditions we had never even heard of, or that it would become a source of comfort and support to staff and students alike. We took it as an opportunistic learning challenge and together, the committee and I, built the foundations of something very special to many.
In its first year the society spent a lot of time trying to connect with organisations, other Unions and Universities, professionals, staff and students across Manchester to try and establish a support network for all in higher education.
Activity mainly consisted of open discussions and information stalls at various events.
The only major thing we managed amongst that was pulling off the first annual Time to Talk Day. It was not a spectacular year but we learnt a lot and developed many skills that were essential for moving forward.
At the end of the year the society won the Union’s Award for Community Engagement, which I was delighted to accept on its behalf as its Chair.
The society’s launch was purposefully timed to coincide with the Union’s pledge to support the national campaign of Time to Change itself. A themed banner detailed the Union’s proposed commitment and all were invited to sign it. It was in many senses a signification of those that recognised it was time to finally start actively combatting the stigma and discrimination towards mental health in higher education.
The summer before year 2 started was predominately dedicated to planning the society’s calendar. I had been elected as Chair and was determined to see that the society reached its new goals effectively. Having had a fairly quite first year, I wanted the society’s second year to be an extravaganza. The new aim was to show people that mental health was not a taboo topic and that we could raise awareness about it in fun, interactive and dynamic manners. Recruiting an entirely new committee and having them trained was possibly one of the biggest tasks I was faced with. I was incredibly lucky to be supported by Manchester Mind who kindly agreed to train all the committee and subsequent volunteers with no expense to the society, and I actively ensured each committee member was inducted according to their own strengths and interests. It was a relatively lengthy process but it was truly worth the time and effort.
At the end of year 2, I handed over the society to an entirely new committee over a four day process.
The Time to Learn and Change Series
The series was perhaps the most inclusive of all the events the society hosted in its second, insofar each one was purposefully designed in collaboration with another society or organisation that may not have typically linked themselves to mental health. I was fortunate to have planned this early enough to secure Level 1 funding from O2 Think Big and this enabled us to access both greater levels of support, advice and guidance, as well as the required finances to fund our ambitious desires. The series consisted of five bespoke events, all of which encompassed an element of interactively learning about the themed topic and then having the opportunity to discuss the topic.
Beating the Blues and Alternate Highs: The Treatment of Mental Health
This event was focused on how mental health is treated in contemporary society. It covered both the primary and secondary care of mental health from mild to severe conditions, in the form of two short talks. In addition to the medical side of mental health, alternate therapies were also discussed alongside other coping mechanisms following a presentation on ‘Beating the Blues’ (online therapy). The event ended with an exhibition from a selection of therapeutic hobbies for those looking to try something new.
Food for Thought: Nutrition and Healthy Eating in Relation to Mental Health
This event was designed to share new ideas on how diets and/or nutritional intake can be improved for the benefit of mental health. From making smoothies by pedalling power to figuring out how different foods can change your mood, there was something for everybody to get involved in.
The Journey into the 21st Century: The Perception of Mental Health Today
This event was an exploration on how far society has come in changing its attitudes and perceptions towards mental health and ended with a celebration of how bright the future is set to be in caring for mental health. Following two talks aimed at equipping all with knowledge and ideas, various perspectives were chosen from which timelines had to be created, i.e. law, literature and linguistics.
The Mirror Keeps Lying: Eating and Body Dysmorphic Disorders
This event was a thoroughly creative opportunity bookended by two unique talks, all focused on how individuals view themselves in relation to the pressures of contemporary society. Sessions consisted of model making, t-shirt designing, blogs and smaller interactive activities. Invited speakers shared their lived experiences of eating and body dysmorphic disorders, and followed this with the opportunity for Q&A and discussion.
The Big Debate: ‘Is a psychiatric diagnosis labelling or enabling?’
This event was quite literally what the title implies, it was a debate. Both teams positioned their arguments and the panel later added questions and commentary to what was posed. In the context of the debate alone, it was concluded that a label was enabling.
Time to Munch
This project was only made possible through the support of vInspired who funded its entirety, and MetMunch who provided all the expertise. Centred around a cookbook that was a lot harder to make than originally envisaged, Time to Munch ran cooking classes which served as both a nutritionally beneficial and social activity.
These were perhaps the most ad hoc and last minute additions to the society’s calendar in year 2, but we did not want to turn any specific requests to learn about a given condition away. To accommodate them, the simple rule was that the person who suggested the condition to raise awareness about, had to work with the committee to bring the day to life and volunteer at the event. We tried to keep most as simple as possible with stall based activities and a discussion/talk of some form so that planning and preparation would be fairly straightforward.
Through these days we covered Panic Attacks and Anxiety, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Self Harm and Borderline Personality Disorder. These days were funded by Manchester Metropolitan University’s IDEA’s Make a Difference initiative.
Time to Talk Day
The planning for this annual event remained integral to all the society’s activity throughout the year. Any event before it was documented to be showcased at it, and anything occurring after it was promoted on the day. We wanted a pink explosion so we created a pink explosion. We tried to ensure that we had as many 5 minute conversations about mental health with as many people as possible that day in line with the national campaign’s chosen theme. We hosted 4 different workshops and a whole range of stall based activities that ran throughout the day, in addition to various information stalls from within the sector. It took a substantial amount of effort but it was the highlight to the year.
Whilst I was no longer part of the society’s committee during the year, I remained involved with its activity as Project Coordinator. Taking on board feedback shared during handover, the new committee planned the year’s events with the aim of condensing activity to create a greater impact. I essentially remained a mentor to most of the committee and oversaw the progression of the society’s events.
Although I was granted Level 2 funding from O2 Think Big at Level 2 for its entire Time to Learn and Change Series, the only event in it that I was directly responsible for managing was ‘The Mirror Keeps Lying: It’s Inside Out’, which was built upon from the previous year, the rest were planned and managed by the society’s committee.
The event consisted of an interactive talk, a workshop based on body perceptions, stall based activities and a Q&A panel. I was fortunate to have a number of amazing volunteers with me that day because I could not have done it without them.
And to end my time with the society, the last two events I organised with the society were sheer fun. ‘Time to Craft’ was funded by the Make a Difference initiative and was pretty much the culmination of ideas that I had wanted to do for a very long time but could not previously accommodate.
It was in year 3, when I really got to reflect on all that my committee had achieved in the previous year and to truly appreciate all the skills I had developed from setting up, leading, and later volunteering with a society. Everything from risk assessments to floor plans eventually became second nature by the end of my time as Chair.
I heartedly thank Manchester Metropolitan University’s Student Union, their staff, student officers, the various funding bodies, all the volunteers and both of my committees for enabling me to bring the society to life. Additional thanks to all the professionals, university staff, organisations and societies that supported the society in its endeavours and worked with us to create something so memorable to all that were part of it.
Student Engagement and Welfare
I have always had many interests and loved being involved in a wide range of things. The society allowed me to pull on many of my hobbies and ideas of fun in many eccentric ways, from ball pools and cooking to helping people and learning new skills. But outside of the society, I was also lucky to be involved in several other activities during my BA too.
Year 1 of BA:
A few weeks into first year I became a course representative, followed shortly by becoming a student ambassador. I had always planned to be a student ambassador because my ambition to ever continue into higher education was ignited through widening participation activity when I was in high school and I wanted to give share that experience with others. Needless to say, I was delighted when I passed the interview to do so and thoroughly enjoyed working at many events. Becoming a course representative was probably my least calculated decision, but it was a role that enabled me to advocate student voice for the better. By being a course representative I got a privileged insight into my department and faculty that may have other been bypassed. I got to work with many different members of staff to create positive change for the student learning experience and to celebrate both my department as a whole as well as the amazing members of staff within it.
Throughout the year I also worked towards completing the University’s employability scheme, part of which entailed attending business and enterprise events, one of which occurred during the summer. Having consistently been in the winning teams for all of the activities I was asked to talk about the experience on BBC Radio 4, which was eventful in itself.
Year 2 of BA:
In second year, in addition to maintaining all my other roles, I became a peer mentor, and a student panellist for programme review boards within the university. I was also recruited as a student researcher to assist on a project based on learner disengagement with two professors. Combining the ideas of that project with an amazing third year unit I was also sitting in on at the time (Videogaming and Society), I then developed another project, which we named ‘Gamification of Moodle’. Essentially is was based on trying to get students to engage more with their virtual learning environment to enhance classroom experiences. However, after lengthy consultation, it was realised that whilst the project had potential it was not likely to feasible.
As a peer mentor I got to talk to most of the new incoming students before term started. I was possibly more excited than they were that they were joining the department and continued to converse with many of the new cohort throughout the first term to assist their transition into university life. Being a student panellist was very interesting, that role certainly gave me a new perspective on how programmes are developed, maintained and delivered.
Year 3 of BA:
The final year of my BA was perhaps the most condensed in its activity. I remained a course representative, a student ambassador and a student panellist, which in themselves tied in very well with each other. Outside of those roles I was Project Coordinator to the Time to Change Society and external to the university (but linked) I was elected as RAISE Network’s Special Interest Group’s coordinator. It was a strange year insofar I had to remain aware of my pending graduation from the university and thus my departure from activity there which inhibited the projects I could commit to.
As an MPhil student I took on two roles. My first role was being an MPhil Course Representative, and the second was Welfare Officer to Murray Edward’s College.
Being a course rep at the University of Cambridge was a very different experience to being a student rep at Manchester Metropolitan University. As an MPhil course rep I was feeding back the voice of a significantly smaller group of students, many of which were only going to be in the department for nine months. Instigating development on a course with high turnovers midst many departmental changes was an interesting and insightful challenge. The contrast between the universities in how they engage with students, the student experience, and student welfare, remains fascinating to me.
As my college’s graduate Welfare Officer I was required to attend various meeting within college and to host several events, two of which were the ‘Inter-Culture Food Fest’ and the ‘Imposter Syndrome and Its Friends’ discussion. I also worked with other graduate officers in the college to introduce necessary changes within the college, such as inclusive dining practices, and to co-organise a ‘Green Formal Hall’. Most events I organised were aimed at recognising and celebrating diversity within the college’s community, and reassuring students that their holistic wellbeing is just as important as their research.
During my MPhil I was also involved in judging and presenting the Student Union’s Teaching Awards. Reading about what students value and what students relay makes a positive difference to their academic journeys was a very precious and warming opportunity.
RAISE stands for Researching, Advancing, and Inspiring Student Engagement. I was elected onto RAISE’s committee in September 2015 as a student member, then co-opted into being the network’s Special Interest Groups (SIG) Coordinator in November 2015; a position which I will held until September 2017.
I oversaw the activity of all the network’s SIGs, including launching and dissolving SIGs depending on the network’s interests and convenor activity. I was also responsible for reporting all the SIGs activities at the AGM, and working with the convenors to develop their SIGs according to RAISE’s ethos.
Being part of the network provided a highly interesting insight to the wider discussions in which student engagement within higher education is encompassed. I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the committee and look forward to hearing how their projections for RAISE develop.