It doesn’t matter whether you are a student, in employment, elderly, or a child, no matter who you are, the world in December 2020 is almost unrecognisable to December 2019. The current climate has shifted so rapidly and drastically that capacity for everyone is stretched. Whether that’s physical capacity, the loss of space or staff, or emotional capacity, or the stress and anxiety brought on by the crisis that we are all living through. As a staff member, when I sign off my many emails to students, partners, and the university with, “I hope you are doing well during these difficult times”, (which has quickly become the sentence of the year) I mean it, but what is Winchester Hub actually doing to help our community with this crisis of capacity?

Why does Winchester Hub focus on increasing capacity?

Many of our community partners are either charities themselves, community centres, or community hubs such as schools and care homes. All of these areas have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Charities have seen themselves thrust into a virtual world of Zoom and social media which they may feel unprepared for, or have lost valuable access to funding, while schools have had to find new ways to support learning. In order for our local communities to flourish they need capacity. Therefore, focusing on how we at Winchester Hub can support our community at this time is of central importance and benefit to not only us at Student Hubs, but the students we engage with at the University of Winchester.

How does Winchester Hub increase community capacity?

Our theory of change focuses on how when students connect, learn about social issues and have the ability to tackle these challenges, then both communities and students benefit and build capacity. All of our programmes do this in some way, but we wanted to highlight three programmes that during COVID-19 have continued to build communities during these hard times.

The Social Innovation Programme is a six-week course where students work in teams to research and find innovative solutions to current challenges that local community groups are facing. Over the summer, in the midst of lockdown, 24 students at the University of Winchester worked with us to help support Wickham Community Centre, Wessex Green Hub, Compassionate Cuppa and Winchester Gold with challenges that had been enhanced by COVID-19. Not only does the Social Innovation Programme add capacity to organisations by providing new perspectives and additional support during challenging times, it also helps support students to have opportunities to develop and build skills despite lockdowns.

"'The Social Innovation Programme is a great way to enhance your employability skills and make a real difference to the local community! I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on the project and would recommend it to anyone!" - Megan Orledge, Social Innovation Programme Volunteer 2020
A screenshot of the Social Innovation Programme Showcase Day students and community partners. 

We are continuing to run the Social Innovation Programme throughout the university year virtually, to continue to support both students and communities alike.

Our Schools Plus programme looks for sustainable and effective ways to support schools to tackle educational disadvantage in young people. Before COVID-19, we did this through in-person tutoring, and our volunteers supported lessons by helping out pupils that were struggling. Studies have shown that COVID-19 could increase the educational gap between young people, increasing educational inequality even further. In order to reduce the risk of COVID-19, we worked with schools to change our programme to online tutoring and to add capacity to the classroom. We create resources for teachers that could be used both offline and online, allowing them to have more time for other tasks. Our volunteers have worked tirelessly to create resources for KS1 and KS2 students and to support schools to find out the resources they would need to add capacity to their work. We are continuing to work closely with schools and volunteers to ensure that Schools Plus continues to add capacity where COVID-19 has presented challenges for young people.

Finally, we supported our student community through recognising that there was a lack of spaces for them to meet new people, and talk openly about how they were finding their first semester back at university in a blended environment. As a result, our student committee built ‘A Hub Brew’, our weekly open call for students to have a space to talk in a non-judgemental environment about how they were finding life, meet new people and talk about wellbeing. Our student committee has found it a comforting and welcoming space, in a time where things can feel uncertain. We are hoping to continue A Hub Brew for students into the new year so they can continue to feel supported at university and with Winchester Hub.

How you can support us

As a charity ourselves, Student Hubs has not been immune to the impacts of COVID-19 in our  capacity. We have seen strain in areas of funding, our staff’s capacity to support, and the operational infrastructure needed to continue to respond so diligently and passionately to our local communities.

This December we are asking everyone (who has the means to) to donate to us so that we can continue to support our communities and volunteers. Your donation could help the network fund our youth and elderly projects, continue to add capacity to our communities, and make sure that we have a presence in our communities for years to come.

For more information on how to donate regularly visit https://www.studenthubs.org/support-us/. To donate by text, you can text CLEMENTINE to 70085 to donate £2, TANGERINE to 70085 to donate £5 or MANDARIN to 70085 to donate £10 (texts cost the donation amount plus one standard message rate).

Thank you for all of your support so far, and we look forward to continuing to support students and communities in 2021.