AS the cost of living crisis continues to bite, South Lanarkshire College staff and students are working together on a range of inspirational initiatives designed to help all learners.

Rose Harkness, Head of Student Services at the East Kilbride-based college, explains: “Rising bills and interest rates, uncertainty around mortgages and the expense of rented accommodation are all causing a lot of anxiety for people, who are understandably worried about what the future holds and how it might affect their opportunities.”

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She adds: “Many of our students have families or work part-time at the same time as completing their course, so they have a lot on their plate. And of course, this all comes on the back of a very difficult few years due to the Covid pandemic.

“However, we are delighted that almost all of our students are now back on campus and experiencing all aspects of college life and the support of their peers.”

She adds: “At South Lanarkshire College we have a real sense of community, and we know how important it is to support each other. We understand the needs of our learners and can take prompt action to help when needed.”

Currently, staff at South Lanarkshire have been working closely with the Student Association on a raft of thoughtful and creative initiatives to help learners.

“We co-design the services with the Student Association, who have been outstanding in the way they have responded to the cost of living crisis, and previously the pandemic,” says Rose.

“The Association told us their aim was to ensure no student went to class hungry, and that really resonated with us, we wanted to support that.

“We introduced free breakfasts and a soup and sandwich lunch for students on campus during Covid, and we have recently brought that back, which has been really successful. Hundreds of students have benefitted.”

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South Lanarkshire was one of the first colleges in Scotland to provide its student and staff community with free access to sanitary products and it now does this in a variety of ways; free vending machines in designated toilets across campus, pick-up products from easy access points, holiday packs and an online facility where products can be delivered to a student’s home address through the charity Hey Girls with whom the College has partnered.

Rose adds: “By offering a range of options, especially on a remote basis, it means students can order online and have products delivered straight to their home address, which is fantastic.

“We also work with the foodbank charity Trussell Trust to provide vouchers, and we would encourage students to use our warm spaces on campus, such as the IT Learning Centre and the library – all of these little things add up to make a big difference when you are in need of a bit of support.”

The College administers Discretionary Hardship funding to encourage students who are facing significant financial problems to apply for help.

“We also provide an urgent same-day cash support service,” adds Rose. “We know there are students who are in financial crisis, who may have no access to money for food or fuel to heat their homes, so this service can help.”

Practical support and mental health support go hand in hand, Rose explains.

“You cannot separate the two,” she adds. “We all know anxiety over money has an impact on mental health and if your mood is low, it can be hard to focus on anything else, which makes it difficult for learners to focus on their studies. We have an in-house counselling team comprising highly experienced counselling staff, guidance and support advisors in Student Services who can provide one to one emotional support and practical financial help such as budgetary advice and advocacy, and we run free weekly mindfulness sessions and yoga classes for staff and students - all students who signed up for yoga this year, received a free yoga mat.

“Our goal is always to make a positive difference to people’s lives in whatever way we can.”

HeraldScotland: is President of South Lanarkshire College’s Student Association.

 

“We work very closely with the National Union of Students, who are fighting hard for students during this cost of living crisis,” she explains. “They are campaigning hard to increase grants and bursary support and introduce half-price bus and train travel for all students. We have already successfully achieved a rent freeze for students, and bus travel is free for all under 22-year-olds, so progress has been made and we are confident we can achieve our goals.”

Rahela explains the Student Association is committed to supporting Young Scot’s Young Person's Guarantee, which commits to offering every 16- to 24-year-old in Scotland an opportunity, whether it is a job, apprenticeship, further or higher education, training or volunteering, or enterprise.

She adds: “Supporting students to complete their courses and achieve their qualifications is the end goal. Our three main priorities are to empower students, to support their mental health and wellbeing and to help them have fun through games and activities.

“We hear many stories from students who are facing difficult situations and are very upset. Supporting them to achieve their dreams is what we want to do. Our class reps are there to help spread the word about the help that is there, because there is a lot of help available.”

Rose Harkness agrees. “Like all colleges and universities in Scotland we are proud to put students at the heart of everything we do, from learning and teaching to support services,” she says. “We want to provide a warm, nurturing learning experience, to give every single student the chance to achieve their goals, because as we all know that is what is going to help them in the future.

“There is a really positive atmosphere now that we are all back on campus, a sense that we are bouncing back despite the challenges, and it’s fantastic to see students switched on and enthusiastic about learning and being back together.”

She adds: “We do genuinely care about all of our learners, and when you have that grounding, students recognise and respond well to it. All of our staff, whether they work in facilities on front reception, or in senior management, pull together to deliver the best experience for our students and that is what it is all about.”

www.south-lanarkshire-college.ac.uk