Rosie Holmes- Learning Support Coordinator, shares her summary about initiating the Listening Post project.
Image: Anthony Browne (1977) A Walk In The Park
UCA is currently piloting a new pastoral service for students called ‘Listening Post’ at Farnham, Epsom and Rochester Gateways: a friendly and informal, drop-in listening service, for students encountering any kind of difficulty that might be affecting their studies or well-being.
Listening Post will:
- Enable students to come talk through any stresses or concerns with a trained volunteer ‘listener’ from the local community
- Offer a compassionate space where students will be fully listened-to in a non-judgemental, anonymous and confidential manner
- Provide signposting to other services when needed
- Be located within the library but within a quiet, comfortable screened-off space
- Last from 5-50 minutes
- Offer a friendly listening ear
Listening Post will not:
- Be counselling or therapy
- Provide ‘advice’ or tell students what to do
The idea for the Listening Post project has been inspired by a similar, and very successful, initiative used at Plymouth University that enables students to access a more immediate form of pastoral support. Plymouth reported that they found huge value in offering students an opportunity to have contact with older generation adults, with a wealth of life-experience, outside of the student ‘bubble’.
Like the Plymouth service, volunteers for the UCA Listening Post are recruited from the local ‘University of the Third Age’ (U3A) groups and are mostly retired or semi-retired professionals. They are offered 2 half-days of training in active listening skills and inducted into the various support services to which students might be signposted. Volunteers also engage in monthly supervision and are supported during each shift by an ‘on-call’ UCA staff member.
This has been developed in partnership with staff and students. UCA course teams were very clear in a 2017 survey circulated on student well-being and mental health that they are often overwhelmed with increasing numbers of students needing pastoral care. Many tutors commented that a more immediate form of support to which such students could be signposted, would be of great value. In a 2017 survey of UCA students, 98% indicated that they felt Listening Posts would be of strong benefit to well being at UCA.
Key aims and objectives of the service are:
- Increased well being support for students
- Reduced number of applications for Counselling Service where counselling is not necessarily the most appropriate or required route
- Severe mental health difficulties identified earlier – early intervention to point students toward services that might prevent issues escalating
- Reduced risk of student isolation and suicide
- Reduced pressure on course teams to provide pastoral care for distressed students
- Reduced pressure on Gateway teams to provide pastoral care for distressed students
- Increased opportunity for students to have positive inter-generational exchange with member of the local community
- Creating positive partnerships for UCA with local community
- Address reduction in pastoral 1:1 support resulting from the DSA restructure
Farnham campus completed an 8-week pilot of the service in spring 2018, which will be continued next academic year at Farnham, Epsom and Rochester campuses (with a view to extending to Canterbury as soon as possible).
The pilot was successful in that all feedback from student users and all other stake-holders (volunteers, gateway staff, the SU, counsellors, academic staff) has been extremely positive and enthusiastic.
Gateway staff were keen to engage with the scheme by being ‘on-call’ to offer assistance to the volunteers claiming that this service would also support their role. They voiced they are often called upon for pastoral support for students in difficulty at Gateway but cannot always provide this due to lack of staff and time.
Feedback from students that used the listening Post included:
- “Having a walk-in service is great for immediate consolation. Keep this going please.”
- “..input [from the volunteer] helped me to make better sense of my issues.”
- “Very Helpful. I feel calmer.”
- “Was nice to just be able to talk through problems, not be judged and have someone console me through it.”
(taken from anonymous student feedback sheets)
Comments from volunteers included:
- ”..thank you for the opportunity of taking part in what we all think could continue to develop into a very worthwhile and helpful part of the support the university gives to its students…We are all very committed to this project, and hope that it will be continued and developed next term, when more students will doubtless be in need of help.”
(Sue Willson, Chair of Farnham U3A and current Volunteer)