How we’re tackling social isolation and promoting a sense of belonging
This year, more than ever, we’re determined to support our communities and those in need. We know that students are excellently placed to fill those gaps and Student Hubs are committed to empowering our volunteers to make sustainable, positive change. As part of the Student Hubs’ Winter Campaign, each local Hub is putting a social issue in the spotlight. Here at Cambridge Hub we’re focusing on social isolation and belonging.
Social isolation is when an individual has an objective lack of social relationships (in terms of quality and/or quantity) at individual, group, community and societal levels.
Loneliness is a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of social relationships. It happens when there is a difference between the social relationships we have and those we want.
A sense of belonging is when someone feels connected and accepted as a natural member of a group or a community.
What is the issue?
Social isolation is often used interchangeably with loneliness. However, whilst closely related, they do not equate to the same thing. Loneliness is a subjective feeling in contrast with social isolation which is an objective state. Social isolation is the absence of social contact and lack of interaction with normal social networks. It goes beyond staying at home for significant periods, but also includes no access to services or community activities, and little or no communication with friends, family, and acquaintances. Both social isolation and loneliness are serious yet underappreciated public health risks.
Belonging. A simple word for a complex concept. Feeling that you belong is an incredibly important part of your wellbeing, giving you a sense of your place in the world. Emotional consequences of belonging have been well studied and a concrete sense of belonging has been tied to happiness, coping with stress and depression, academic performance, and motivation.
Why is it important now?
This year our world has been turned upside down and Covid-19 has thrown these particular issues into even sharper relief. The isolation measures in place put us all at risk of psychological harm, however, some groups are more vulnerable than others. Children, adolescents, older adults, minority groups, those from lower socio‐economic groups, females, and individuals with pre‐existing mental health conditions are all at greater risk.
What are we doing to tackle it?
Even small social interventions have shown a positive impact on sense of belonging. Here at Cambridge Hub we are empowering students to create positive change in our community.
Our Hiraeth project engages student volunteers in the provision of academic, psychological and social support to Cambridgeshire’s Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children. Activities include homework help, English conversation hours, careers workshops, psychological support groups and cultural outings. Our mission is to address social isolation by helping these young people feel more integrated into British life, while providing opportunities for them to acquire transferable skills and to grow as individuals.
“I can’t tell you how fantastic it is to see the young people flourish and learn in a fun and supportive environment. For them to make friends, develop and feel part of a community again. These schemes are so important to the students I work with and I am very grateful to Cambridge Hub for their support.”
– John Jordan-Hills, Hiraeth Community Partner, Cambridgeshire County Council
Our LinkAges project connects older people with young student volunteers to reduce loneliness and build a greater sense of understanding between the two generations. Taking inspiration from the popular BBC Radio 4 show, Desert Island Discs, we’ve partnered Cambridge University Students with residents of Cambridge Manor. Each week the pairs meet online to chat about songs and their associated memories. We’re hoping to create some audio recordings to share with residents’ families as keepsakes.
“I think it’s a really great way to connect with someone new during the pandemic. It can be hard to meet new people during this time, but talking about music and interests makes it very easy to connect with someone on a personal level.”
– Louisa, LinkAges volunteer
There has been an effort across the Student Hubs network to tackle social isolation and belonging, especially in the context of the current pandemic.
Although LinkAges at Bristol Hub has been a little bit different this term, they have still seen a huge uptake by students who are passionate about challenging ageism, tackling isolation and creating intergenerational friendships. Over the past month their fantastic student coordinators, Chloe, Jade and Tenisha, have been collecting Christmas cards handmade and written by university students for residents at St Monica Trust. We have all been blown away by the response, 100 volunteers wrote 150 Christmas cards for their older friends at the village. This opportunity has given students a much-needed chance to feel connected to the city they live in, and its residents.
Over at Winchester Hub they’re having weekly Hub Brew to connect students and talk about wellbeing. Their Woolly Matters project (knitting for good) has also been a great space for students to focus on their wellbeing whilst being creative. In the run up to christmas they will be kitting items to give as gifts to isolated family and friends.
Our volunteers have shown incredible resilience during these testing times and we are so grateful to them for giving up their time to help others. What we have learnt from this pandemic is that communities can pull together to support those in need, even in times of complete chaos.