Every year, hundreds of thousands of students across the country take part in extra-curricular activity through their Students’ Unions. This year has presented barriers like no other, with students often confined to their bedrooms and traditional methods for co-curricular engagement being closed off, but our engagement levels in these areas are through the roof. Increasingly, whether it is to boost their employability, to feel more a part of a community or to develop an interest, students are wanting to add to their university experience, and during Covid-19 we have seen that increase dramatically.
One of the many ways students can get involved with extra-curricular activities at the Students’ Union (SU) is through student advocacy. Getting engaged with representation provides students with communication skills, builds confidence and increases their employability. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the SU has accelerated the move to bring more of this work online, with all recruitment, training and ongoing development taking place digitally. Students are keen to speak up about issues they are interested in and to speak up for their peers. Over the last year, we have helped students resolve several issues, and we feel really privileged to work in an institution which values the voice of its students.
Extra-curricular activities are also an essential element of students feeling like part of a community at university. Higher education is not just about learning, teaching and assessment, it is about growing into who you are. Our own personal experiences within advocacy and sport respectively have been at the centre of our University experience and helped us to make connections, and we find that it is the same for many of our members. Now many of the day-to-day elements of being at university are inaccessible, we have been really pleased to see the incredible work of our societies helping students to make meaningful connections. All our societies have had huge digital presences and events for students. Recent highlights have included our Law Society putting on online mooting sessions, our Geography society doing bingo, and lots of societies offering study tips and wellbeing sessions. It is not an exaggeration to say that, without these peer-led support networks, several students may have dropped out by now.
The Union has also provided students with invaluable volunteering opportunities during Covid-19. This has assisted students with their personal development and helped us to prove, time and again, that students care about the communities they live in at this crucial time. During the pandemic, our volunteers established a Mutual Aid Group to offer peer support to vulnerable and isolating students through the first lockdown. They have also done some great work in partnership with Voluntary Action Sheffield to link students to volunteering opportunities within the community, such as the NHS click and chat and responder roles. They have also worked alongside the community organisations to create and redesign Covid-19 safe roles including support workers at the Independent Domestic Abuse Services and walk and talk volunteers with a homeless shelter, and many more. Volunteering is a part of who many of our students are and is every bit as important to them as their classroom experience.
It is impossible to talk about students’ extra-curricular activity without mentioning sport. As students, it is fair to say we have had fairly different levels of engagement with sport ourselves…but for many it is the essential part of the student experience. Sport, and other physical activity, provide an environment to escape from the university workload, and make and catch up with friends. A place to be active, allowing you to forget about the to-do list in your head as you focus on your movement technique or on catching, throwing, kicking, or hitting some sort of ball or shuttlecock. Sport Clubs provide so much more than just sport; they are an individual’s support network, their lifeline to stay sane in a world that is slowly becoming harder to process. Over the last few months, it has been hard for our sports teams to play the games they know and love, but they have still come together to achieve incredible things. Just some examples of them using their platforms for good include our Women's Rugby team collecting nearly 1000 items for a food bank, a collective Movember Challenge across all sports teams in Sheffield, and many of our clubs taking suicide prevention training.
At Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union, and indeed across the country, it has been proved repeatedly that the extra-curricular opportunities that they provide are there to enrich the experience that students have at university. Students come to university not just to study but also to develop themselves into more knowledgeable and skilled individuals. Now more than ever, it is essential that they get the right platform and support to access these vital opportunities.
Read Extra-curricular activities: 'just another thing to think about', a blog by Dr Jill Dickinson, Teri-Lisa Griffiths and Alex Bredice from Sheffield Hallam University on the challenges presented by the increasingly blended HE environment.
Laith Jaafar is Deputy President and Social Sciences and Arts College Officer, Hannah Prestwich is Wellbeing, Sport and Physical Activity Officer and Nicholas Scarlett is Head of Advocacy and Representation at Sheffield Hallam University Students' Union.
Our Connect Benefit Series runs throughout the membership year, focusing on specific themes each month. December 2020's theme is student engagement Engaging learners: Any time? Any place? Anyhow? Find out more