The Opinion and Lifestyles Survey (2020) found that lockdowns negatively impacted the mental health of 42% 16-24 year-olds [1], with almost 1 in 5 adults suffering from depression during the pandemic [2].

Weston College has put in place digital solutions to the mental health challenges faced by students and staff. This case study examines the impact of these digital tools on the wellbeing of students and staff.

Side View Of Two Young University Students,Using,Computers

Weston College

In 2020 Weston College joined forces with Gateshead College and secured funding from the College Collaboration Fund. The programme brings colleges together to bid for funding to come up with innovative solutions to the problems they face. The funding received by Weston and Gateshead was used to develop mental health projects for staff and students at the colleges.

The colleges recognised the need to support staff and students with the mental health impacts of Covid-19. To tackle this issue, the colleges came together to design a programme of remote support for the college communities. The platform was developed using expertise from both colleges and external mental health practitioners.

Let’s Chat

The online platform they designed is called Let’s Chat. It incorporates 3 key focuses for mental health identified by the colleges.

  • Specialist Therapy – Addressing the immediate mental health needs of students and staff.
  • Workforce Development – Upskilling staff across both colleges to deal with some of the challenges caused by the pandemic
  • Thematic Workshops and Resources – Enabling people to explore mental health and wellbeing strategies at a time and in an environment best suited to them
Specialist Therapy

Limited resources in the college made creating immediate support streams difficult. By partnering with a local specialist counselling centre, the college were able to put on 1-to-1 counselling sessions for staff and students. Through this partnership the college was able to deliver:

  • Almost 800 specialist 1-to-1 counselling sessions – Most of these were with staff as they appreciated having someone impartial to offload to.
  • 340 Staff MOT sessions – All staff wanted the sessions to continue after the programmes finished.
  • Digital wellbeing focus groups – Gave staff another space where they could talk to specialists in a group setting.
  • 1500+ virtual SEND engagement sessions – Delivered by specialist wellbeing practitioners
Workforce Development

The college created an online space for workforce development centred around mental health. The space was key in equipping staff with the skills and expertise to manage their own wellbeing and provided them with the skills they could adapt to help students with their wellbeing as well.

  • Over 700 staff completed virtual, CPD certified emotional literacy workshops
  • More than 100 staff are now trained in Mental Health First Aid
  • 95% of staff now feel confident that they are more aware of the key principles of emotional literacy

This training equips staff with the tools needed to provide better support to students and to protect their own wellbeing.

Thematic Workshops and Resources
  • Teaching Packs and tutorials are downloadable, embedding wellness across the post-16 curriculum
  • Students are taught the four pillars of mental health through 15 hours of on-demand mental health and wellbeing content
  • All of the resources are free and highly accessible to students and staff on the Let’s Chat website

What was the Impact of the Collaborative Funding Project?

The collaborative funding project between Weston and Gateshead colleges ended in March 2021. However, there are plans to continue their wellbeing work due to the success of the project:

  • 57.2% of students engaged in conversations with the college welfare team throughout the project. This was the biggest increase the service has seen, showing students responded well.
  • 60% reduction in staff absenteeism throughout the project, showing a need to invest in the system moving forward.
  • 92% of full-time students felt the college supported them with their mental health

These figures led the college to decide to create a long term sustainable welfare model to further develop welfare programmes at the college.

The Sustainable Welfare Model

Weston college realised they had developed innovative online and on-demand content to help staff and students with their wellbeing. They established the body and mind innovation network to share this work with a wider audience as part of their sustainable welfare model.  The network has three key areas of focus:

People

Connectivity, accessibility and wellbeing are at the heart of all college activities. This improves the health and happiness of the college community.

Partners

Maintaining regional, national and international partnerships. The relationships created have longevity for the future and reflect the whole community vision of the college.

Pioneers

Continuing engagement with innovative research and development opportunities for welfare and mental health support in further education.

This model shapes the Wellbeing@Weston strategy, prioritising the health and happiness of the whole college community. The framework creates an inclusive and caring environment. Through the Studentzone, students have access to content to aid their wellbeing including podcasts and interviews with mental health champions like Dr Alex George.

The strategy is focused on future actions and improvements to current wellbeing services. It helps build relationships with people and partners across the education sector, enabling Weston to help other colleges improve their wellbeing programmes.

Let’s Chat is also accessible to all other colleges. The site is part of what students can access through the Wellbeing@Weston programme and can easily be integrated into the welfare strategies of other colleges.

Conclusions

Partnerships are key to creating a successful wellbeing programme. Collaborating with specialists and Gateshead college gave Weston the resources they needed to create an accessible welfare programme. The programme is continually improved to meet changing student needs.

Working with specialists equips staff with the required skills to identify mental health issues early on. Early identification is critical when supporting students. Partnerships and communication which make up successful and accessible support networks are key.

The creation of specific online resources meant the college could be more targeted when improving welfare services. The online resources are available whenever the students and staff need them. Having remote access provides support outside of college hours, creating a sustainable welfare model which works throughout the school year.

[1] Office for National Statistics, Coronavirus Review, (2020)
[2]Office for National Statistics, Coronavirus and the social impacts on young people in Britain, (2020)
[3] Ben Knocks, Assistant Principal for Students, (2021)
[4] Department for Education, College Collaboration Fund, (2020)

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Lockdowns negatively impacted the mental health of 42% 16-24 year-olds, with almost 1 in 5 adults suffering from depression in the pandemic. Weston College has put in place digital solutions to the mental health challenges faced by students and staff. This case study examines the importance of these digital tools on the wellbeing of students and staff.

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