28 September 2020

STAR and Oxfam share a commitment to making a positive difference in the lives of others, helping those in need, and educating others on their plight. It made sense to hold a joint event in September for members of both groups, especially in light of the unprecedented situation of a socially-distanced university and voluntary environment.

As student volunteers, supporting our own mental health can’t be forgotten. We have to balance high volumes of work with study, while the themes we regularly engage with can be intense and emotional. It is no surprise, therefore, that after a global pandemic is thrown into the mix, a word cloud at the beginning of the session revealed the apprehension students felt about the situation, despite the excitement we still shared.

Seeing that we weren’t alone in feeling a sense of unease helped bring some perspective and a realisation that we were all in a similar situation and could support each other. Indeed, collective support was a recurring theme of the meeting.

One way of supporting each other was to share our ideas: it was great to hear how other societies’ planned to engage their members through using Mentimeter or attract Freshers by hosting a plant raffle. Whether or not we chose to copy each other’s ideas, it spurred our collective creativity to hear and share them. Moving forwards, there was clear enthusiasm towards the idea of a more collaborative approach to our work. Here, the move to online platforms actually presents novel opportunities, such as promoting events of other groups in the network on social media, working together on virtual activities, and keeping closer contact via more frequent meetings.

The meeting concluded with our agreement that regular national meetings would be key tools to support our future work. Reporting back with all of our own separate experiences of what works well, and what needs improvement, will allow the groups to develop ideas and sustain a sense of encouragement, positivity, and unity.

It can be easy to feel demotivated when it seems our work is undermined by world events, and this year, particularly the summer, has been no exception. However, it became instantly clear that the ferocity and passion with which STAR and Oxfam groups up and down the UK wish to continue their work is unshaken. As ideas and discussions flowed, there could be left no doubt that the unifying positivity of what we do is stronger than ever.

This blog was written by Max Gillingham (Nottingham STAR) and Michael Owen (Warwick STAR).

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