We were delighted to host our second #WhatAreWeMissing conference to be held in Essex which was attended by 40 people, with representation from many of the diverse communities that make up the population of Colchester.
The event focussed largely on the experiences of students during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Three students told the group about their experiences:
Elif Bilecan, said she found the whole period very difficult. She and her friends were unsure what to do when they went shopping only to find the shelves empty; they found the messaging from Central Government confusing and didn’t understand what was meant by only going out for ‘essential’ reasons; they weren’t aware of the advice on social media which she thought might be down to the algorithms; and they didn’t know of the support that Community 360 and other volunteers groups were offering to people in need at the time.
Community360 said the local system does have regular interaction with the university and student union and submits it weekly C360 news to them. Chief Executive, Tracy Rudling, said: “There is a lot of information available – we just need to make sure it reaches the right people at the right time.”
Vinnosh Kumar, Vice President of Welfare at the University of Essex Students’ Union, said that loneliness was one of the biggest problems faced by students at the time, seriously affecting their mental health. He has since been working to get students to come forward about their loneliness so he can link them with specialist help. He said some students now feel that leaving their accommodation is a ‘privilege’; others are worried that the air around them is dangerous. Vinnoch is now working on sourcing masks that are suitable for people who need to lip read as he has identified a gap in this area among the student population. He has also held a number of socially distanced events on Campus which have been well attended.
Pramila Limbu, who is a Nepalese community worker spoke of the difficulty students faced taking exams online and the sadness they felt being unable to celebrate their successes and graduate. This affected their mental health. She said many Nepalese students live at home, so while they had family support around them, they were mainly concerned about potentially passing on the virus to elderly relatives.
Many of these experiences are common among students whatever their background. However, the support and communication networks that have been established with BAME students will serve to help them better navigate their way through information and give them access to services of which they were previously unaware. The work to do this and involve them in regular dialogue about their experiences will continue.