By Zoë Crowther, Students’ Union Correspondent
Now that it has been open for a few months, Zoë Crowther discusses the impact of the SU Living Room on student well-being.
Opened in early December on the fourth floor of Senate House, the Living Room was intended as a social hub where students could escape from the pressure of intense study. Available for student use between 8am and 10pm on weekdays, you can find me there nearly every day seeking respite amidst assignment stress.
One of the most psychologically damaging aspects of university life is the feeling of anonymity. It is easy to feel like a number among thousands of others, with no agency in shaping the campus experience. Going some way to reduce this feeling, the SU Living Room feels a lot more personalised than the characterless ASS library café or the beautiful yet antiquated Wills and Queens buildings.
Image by Epigram / Zoë Crowther
It provides a unique space for both the communal and the individual, with different zones catering for different interests. If you want to have fun, you can have a go at retro computer games, or challenge friends to table football or ping pong. If you want to relax, there are shelves lined with books and deep sofas which are practically impossible to sit on without fully reclining. On many occasions, I have met with people there specifically with the intention of playing table tennis. If it is already being used, it does not matter - we have been brought together in this space to relax, converse and enjoy some truly ‘free’ time.
A happy medium has been achieved where many people spend time there with friends, but it also feels perfectly acceptable to sit alone. Catch up on emails, speak on the phone with family or friends from home, read a book or a magazine. It should be recognised that having some personal space can often be as important to one’s mental wellbeing as sharing time with others. The Living Room, at quieter times, has an atmosphere where if you choose to take a nap, no-one would blink an eye.
By placing trust in students, a stronger relationship between the University institution and the student body can be established. This mutual relationship can only be of benefit to mental health.
There was always the risk that students would abuse the space by leaving litter, spilling drinks or creating excessive noise in large groups. Over two months after its opening, it is apparent that this has not been the case and that students have continued to use it in the way it was intended. By placing trust in students, a stronger relationship between the University institution and the student body can be established. This mutual relationship can only be of benefit to mental health.
Speaking to Epigram in December, Stanford, Union Affairs Officer said ‘It’s a lot about starting to bring the SU into the centre of campus.’ With the SU regularly hosting events in the space, this has been partially achieved. Efforts have been made to engage students with campaigns and conversations relating to mental health, including a ‘Time to Talk’ day where students wrote pledges concerning mental health in order to break the stigma surrounding the topic. I hope that the SU continues to host these events. It offers students the choice to use the space on their own terms, but also brings an SU presence into the heart of campus which didn’t exist before.
The Living Room has coincided with the implementation of a wellbeing strategy which allowed students to feed into the decision making process, and there is also a wider initiative to transform the rest of Senate House into a student hub. Students have even been given the opportunity to rename the building themselves: a rather risky choice on the part of the University, with ‘I Am the Senate’ and ‘Senate McHousey Face’ among the favourites.
Jokes aside, it is sometimes these simplest of things which can improve our overall sense of wellbeing. The convenience of free tea and coffee offered in the Living Room, as well as gorgeous views of the city from above, can bring elements of joy to a long and studious day.
These latest developments show that the University and the SU are moving in the right direction, towards greater consideration of student needs and investment in alternative mechanisms to improve mental health. That being said, there is a still a long way to go, and this is a perfect example of how voicing your concerns and ideas for improvements on campus can result in the creation of spaces which can make university life better for everyone.
Featured Image: Epigram / Zoë Crowther
What are your thoughts on the SU Living Room? Comment below or get in touch!