Students’ Union President Elect Vivienne Newton knows a thing or two about the pressures students face. She’s been there, lived it and probably has several T-shirts. Mostly printed with the words ‘Friendship is the key’.
Vivienne believes it is support networks that keep students on track and those networks can often solve an issue, a seemingly minor problem that can escalate into what then develops into a crisis. With a group of like-minded peers you can confide in, you walk together, not alone, and so a small issue won’t spiral out of control.
Vivienne doesn’t just talk that talk. She’s walked the walk. With a Youth and Community undergraduate degree and a PGCE teaching learners with additional needs already under her belt, Vivienne is currently completing her part-time master’s while working in Bolton Students’ Union as a Community Engagement Officer. It is in July that she takes up her new post as Bolton Students’ Union president. Like many of our students, she’s a parent but she also has an added, recent complication – her husband is recovering from a serious sports injury.
Said Vivienne: ‘In the middle of my students’ union presidential campaign my husband lost his eye playing rugby. Don’t get me wrong, it was a terrible thing to happen and a shock. He is having to suspend his own studies for a year. But the reality is that my quitting and being at home, staring at him in the living room, wouldn’t have made any difference. So I pushed on. Experience has taught me to manage the unexpected and what can seem like a disaster, but not all our students have that perspective.
‘A student can develop an additional need requirement at any point during their time at uni. I’ve seen students have babies in the middle of their studies, they could lose a parent, a brother or sister… When you have life experience you have skills to manage, but when everything around you is already new, when you are the first person in your family to enter higher education, you are already under stress. Any additional pressure can seem like too much. Having people to talk to support you, help you find the help you need early on is key and we all know peer support makes a huge difference, because they share how we feel.’
Vivienne says size is a challenge for Bolton Students’ Union: ‘We need to be student-led. We want students to take the lead in creating the clubs, societies and events they want, but we will do all that we can to support them.
‘The Students’ Union already works effectively in partnership with the University and it is very much my intention for us to continue to grow this relationship.’
Bolton Students’ Union already has 30 clubs and societies covering activities which range from the sports focused, to the academic to the more maverick. ‘The Medieval Society, for example, has been a great success. They have linked to a local history society in Bolton so they are part of a bigger community and their society links up with students and lecturers from Manchester and Preston. They actually re-enact the life and times, so they make the clothes and the shields. Members don’t necessarily need to be fascinated by the history, there’s lots for anyone to get involved in.
‘The point is, they bring students together as they share an interest and build a support network at the same time. Groups like this do so much to build students’ resilience.
‘The TEDx conference has been an amazing experience. We’ve seen students from across subject areas work together and grow in confidence. Those friendships are now built so not only do they have an amazing case study for their CVs, they have a stronger network of friends.
‘We want to enable students to build the university experience they want because here they have the opportunity to be whoever they want to be – this is their time and we see our role as being to support and enable them to create that experience.’
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