In line with South Lanarkshire College’s vision of being ‘Scotland’s leading provider of college education and training’ the College is fully committed to providing a learning environment that is rewarding and ensures equal opportunities for all. 

Over the past year the College’s key focus has been to ensure no student faced barriers to learning and at South Lanarkshire College the health, welfare and wellbeing of the College community is the number one priority.

South Lanarkshire College understands that starting and returning to college during a pandemic causes a variety of issues and concerns for students and staff and to ensure everyone remains safe and secure during the continued unprecedented time, the College have put a number of support measures in place.  

South Lanarkshire College has a dedicated Student Services team located on the main college campus. The team provides help and support with a wide range of issues including funding, personal and emotional challenges, childcare, housing, and benefits advice. Staff will provide emotional support and talk through concerns and issues with practical help and support available.  They will help support students access further specialised help, and signpost them to external services appropriate to their needs.

Within the Student Services team, students are offered access to in-house counselling support which have been designed to help students who are experiencing psychological or emotional distress which is impacting on their studies, relationships, work or life in general. The service provides a safe and confidential space for students to talk about their feelings and explore the issues any concerns that are causing distress.  Counselling support is available online or by telephone and face-to-face when safe to do so.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, South Lanarkshire College have joined Togetherall, an anonymous online support service for students and staff that provides 24/7 mental health support from trained professionals.  Togetherall provides a safe space online where students and staff can get thoughts off their chest, explore their feelings, and learn skills to help self-manage their mental health and wellbeing. 

Student’s mental and physical health has been at the forefront of South Lanarkshire College’s activity over the past year and to assist students learning in a hybrid way, the College have developed and delivered free weekly online yoga and mindfulness classes.  All sessions are recorded so that they are easily accessible at a time that is convenient.  Free yoga mats were also provided to all students who signed for the class.  Staff also have access to free online fitness classes including yoga and circuits. 

To help support student mental health and wellbeing, the Student Services team developed and delivered a new in-house COVID Resilience workshop and Student Relaxation Group Sessions.  The COVID Resilience workshops featured a strong focus on resilience strategies, in addition to outlining the various support services available. The purpose of these one-off sessions was to introduce the concept of resilience, address what stress means, how to recognise when we are stressed and provide practical tips on how to develop resilience. 

Within the College campus, the College run subsidised food provision to support healthy eating and have introduced a free Soup & Sandwich initiative for all students who are on campus for critical learning. South Lanarkshire College was the first college in Scotland to provide students and staff with free access to sanitary provision and the College now also offers this remotely in partnership with Hey Girls.  By offering a range of options on a remote basis, it means students and staff can order online and have products delivered for free straight to their home address when they are not on campus.    

Students are also supported by the Students’ Association.  The Student Association is the elected representative of the student community.  It is an important part of the College’s support system. They provide one to one support to students as well as delivering on student events and activities and focus groups/lunch time support sessions to help students feel less isolated and more connected.  During the blended learning approach the Student Association has introduce new innovative and creative communication methods including weekly emails; increased use of social media posts via Facebook and Instagram;  shift towards video content; virtual events such as Care Experienced students’ lunches or launching the dedicated Student Wellbeing Teams page, including the introduction of a Friday Student Lunch.

To ensure full support is given to students to assist their mental health and wellbeing, South Lanarkshire College is now offering the Mental Health First Aid training course to all staff.  South Lanarkshire College staff on the course learn the practical skills required to spot the triggers and signs of mental health issues. The course allows staff to participate in a mix of group activities, presentations and discussions and each session is built around a Mental Health First Aid action plan.  All college staff who complete the course gets an MHFA manual to keep and refer to, and a certificate to say they are a Mental Health First Aider.

South Lanarkshire College Head of Student Services, Rose Harkness said “Coming to college can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it can also provide extra challenges and stress, which may affect student health and wellbeing.  As a college we continue to acknowledge the strains on daily life and provide the care and support needed for a positive student experience.   We are committed to the wellbeing of our students and the College has a great reputation for providing a nurturing environment as well as a level of support which helps students thrive.  The College is absolutely committed to supporting individuals who are experiencing poor mental health and to remove the stigma by normalising conversations about mental health to encourage everyone to prioritise their emotional wellbeing”

This article appears as part of The Herald’s The Future Of Education campaign, in association with South Lanarkshire College.