As part of their work within the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP), Aspire Higher are delivering a long-term project with local students to design and deliver a wellbeing campaign.
This project was inspired when the Mark Rutherford School in Bedford identified a need to develop pastoral care of their students. By enhancing resilience, building confidence and increasing wellbeing, the school believed more students might feel empowered to continue their learning into higher education.
Aspire Higher suggested creating a mental health and wellbeing campaign to be delivered in schools with the support of our University Student Associates – these are current University of Bedfordshire students that are employed as mentors to work directly with school learners. The suggestion received a lot of enthusiasm and 20 learners were identified to help create the campaign.
On the first day of the project in February 2018, Mark Rutherford School students visited their mentors at the University of Bedfordshire. Together they met with mental health professionals: a talk by Richard Luscombe from local charity The Forum – Busy Getting Stronger was followed by a mindfulness session with the university counsellor. From here, the mentors and school students started to develop their own brief for how the project should be set up and started.
Richard Luscombe was impressed by the students’ work, saying:
‘On one level they are learning to adapt their literacy, business and graphic design skills for a specific purpose. Yet they are going way beyond this. They are creating something that will inspire others, support them and build confidence. If just one student is brave enough to speak up [about wellbeing], who knows how many will follow, and how many others will feel less alone. I am full of admiration for the project and this partnership between secondary and higher education.’
After February half-term, the university mentors returned to the school to support the final design stage of the project through school clubs. Each session was structured with focus on researching their campaign through teamwork, and by creating their own leaflets, posters, literature and social media content. They also created a wellbeing information shelf in their school library for all students to access and will share their learning through school assemblies.
Throughout these early stages of the campaign the students have learnt about the benefits of wellbeing and now better understand their own resilience. They have also developed practical skills through researching, designing and running a campaign for their peers.
Emlyn Morgan, a teacher at Mark Rutherford School said:
‘The project has really allowed us all to think more about what mental wellbeing means to us. The students have come up with some excellent ideas to share the ethos of their project and have gained much from the input of the student mentors.
We are already seeing other students and some parents come forward looking for advice and guidance on a range of concerns. It is a great feeling to think that this project has kickstarted some of these positive, empowering conversations.’
The mentors have been very committed to this project, finding it rewarding and inspirational. One of the student mentors, who is studying Sport and Physical Education, spoke of the school students’ commitment to the campaign:
'It's been wonderful to see the amount of passion and commitment that students have dedicated to this campaign. I'm confident that this will have a long lasting impact on Mark Rutherford School due to the effort from this amazing group of students.'
The project is still in progress. The students will also be meeting staff from the Mental Health Nursing programme at the University of Bedfordshire and will have the chance to meet more university student mentors to learn about routes into higher education and degree courses they can study that are relevant to this campaign, such as Psychology, Sports Science, Health and Nutrition and Counselling.
The campaign will end in July with the Mark Rutherford School students presenting and displaying their campaign work to mental health professionals, including Ben Salmons, who leads the ‘Break The Stigma’ campaign at the East London NHS Foundation Trust, and Richard Luscombe. During this visit students will also meet academics and students on courses related to their campaign – Psychology, Counselling, Health and Nutrition and Sport and Physical Education – giving them the chance to learn about routes into university.
Aspire Higher will be celebrating the NCOP week of action with a range of outreach events. On Friday 8 June, Sports Student Associates, who have been mentors on this campaign, are delivering a session to Year 9 students at Castle Newnham School in Bedford on health and nutrition. They’ll also talk about the student journey and access to higher education.