Introducing… Our Disability and Wellbeing Team

Our ‘Introducing…’ blog series profiles different teams or services across UCEM.

The latest team featured in our series is the Disability and Wellbeing Team which comprises Disability and Wellbeing Adviser, Richard Higgins, and Disability and Wellbeing Administrator, Phoebe Hughes.

Until recently Richard was responsible for the Disability and Wellbeing service; however, the support available increased when Phoebe joined the team late last year. The team’s hard work was rewarded when Richard won the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Pastoral Support’ award in UCEM’s 2019 Teaching Excellence Awards.

Here, Richard and Phoebe discuss their role, how they support students and a little about themselves too…

Richard began as an Administrator in early 2016 and became an Advisor in December 2017.

RH: “A central part of the role is putting in place additional support plans. We discuss each individual’s needs and go from there. We signpost students to external support services, such as bereavement care, Lionheart and London Nightline.

“We provide advice on how to access professional medical support and advice on funding for Disabled Students’ Allowances.

“We are here to remove any barriers to study that students may have due to disability, with the aim of levelling the playing field for our students. We achieve that through support plans and reasonable adjustments so students can succeed without having to worry about studying with a disability.”

Currently, 366 UCEM students have declared a disability or additional need, which includes dyslexia, mental health difficulties and physical disabilities. This represents around 10% of UCEM’s student population. Out of this number, 211 students have support plans in place.

RH: “I spend a lot of my time answering student enquiries. It’s a very varied role. What I do on a day-to-day basis largely depends on who is on the other end of the phone that day. For example, it may be someone experiencing difficulties with their mental health. This requires listening, supporting and providing information on how to access professional support such as counselling.

“There is a lot of student contact. Three-quarters of my work is student-facing. On average, we have around 20-30 enquiries open.”

Swotting up

RH: “When I first started, I spent a lot of time researching common disabilities. I also completed a lot of online courses on the likes of Lynda.com, FutureLearn and the OU.

“I am now a fully qualified adult mental health first aid instructor and a member of the National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP). Phoebe is also a member of the NADP. Being an instructor means I can deliver accredited mental health training both internally and externally. Becoming an instructor was facilitated by UCEM’s 500 for £500 scheme [UCEM staff can apply for up to £500 towards professional or personal development by submitting up to 500 words in support of their application] which I am very grateful for.

“Being a member of the NADP, there is a message forum for sharing good practice, seeking advice and asking questions and benchmarking against disability advisors at other universities. I also attend NADP workshops and conferences.

“I am aiming to undertake the accreditation scheme with NADP at some point. The scheme is currently under review but will require me to work towards accreditation alongside my role at UCEM.”

Background

RH: “UCEM provided me with my first role in disability and wellbeing. Prior to joining UCEM, I completed a Biological Sciences degree at the University of Reading. Whilst studying in my second year, I was appointed a member of the JCR (Junior Common Room). My role was to be a point of contact for first year students, helping them to settle into university and providing advice when needed. This developed my interest in working in student support.”

Richard was joined in the team by Phoebe in November 2018.

PH: “Prior to joining UCEM, I did a Geography degree at Royal Holloway.

“In my final year, I ran in the Student Union elections to become Vice Principal Welfare and Diversity. That was when I decided I wanted to do something in this field as it allowed me to help people reach their potential.

“After university, I worked for Unite Students helping first year students to settle into university life by providing advice and support for students moving away from home.

“In my current role, I thought I could help people because it’s very diverse in terms of tasks performed and it’s hands-on which I like.

“As well as being members of the NADP, Richard and I are Safeguarding Officers at UCEM and have completed designated safeguarding lead training.”

Thoughts on the role

RH: “I really enjoy it. It’s very rewarding and I enjoy the student contact. I love going to Graduation. Recognising the names and seeing them get the degree is great. Often, I maintain contact with the students throughout their studies. It’s really good to see students who have gone through a lot, juggling family, disability and working full-time, achieve their goals. I also enjoy the wellbeing aspect of the role.”

PH: “I really enjoy the student engagement part of my job which helps to grow the student community here at UCEM. Being able to help students achieve is really rewarding.

“We’ve had some really impactful talks and events over the past few months such as mental health campaigner, Kevin Waite’s talk at UCEM and the Lionheart webinars that we facilitated for our students. We’re keen to reach out to students instead of waiting for them to come to us.

“Another aspect of working here which I like is the Feed Me Fridays [monthly meal provided for staff by the FM Team]!”

Commenting on the impact Phoebe has had since joining UCEM, Richard added: “I think the service we provide has improved since Phoebe joined. We can respond far more quickly and develop opportunities as a team.”

How to access support from the team

RH: “If you consider yourself to have a disability or additional needs, get in contact. There’s a wide range of support available and it is best to get it in place as early as possible. It is best to have the support in place as a safety net, in case you need it, rather than to carry on without it and need it later.

“You have to provide diagnostic evidence to gain bespoke arrangements for your needs. We still advise students on wellbeing resources and we run a Padlet board on the VLE with plenty of support and guidance around wellbeing.

“We are getting more students come through to us. The webinars we facilitate are available to all students. Webinars could be on managing stress, how to be more resilient and other mental health themes which are important for students to be aware of.

“There are opportunities for our students to get involved in awareness weeks and share their stories, for example on how they managed their exam stress.

“A lot of students don’t consider themselves to be disabled or might not realise they are eligible for additional support. If you have a health condition such as diabetes, for example, we can arrange adjustments for your exams. Disability is a broad umbrella term.”

If you are a student of ours, head to the Student Hub to access the support resources in place from the Disability and Wellbeing Team or email Richard and Phoebe directly on disabilitysupport@ucem.ac.uk. You can also phone the team on 0118 921 4696. For more about the disability and wellbeing support we offer, visit ucem.ac.uk/study-with-ucem/disability-wellbeing-support/