Students at the University of Bristol are to get discounted hot meals, access to warm spaces and help with IT costs in a bid to help them tackle the cost-of-living crisis. They are just some of the measures being discussed as students face increased costs from everything from rent and food to printing and joining societies.
The university and its Student's Union have been working to find solutions for the cost of living crisis in the face of growing anxiety from students about the future and whether they will have to choose between staying warm or staying fed during the winter. Printing costs, travel, housing and societies are among other worries that some are currently feeling.
Izzy Russell, living officer at Bristol SU is at the forefront of many discussions with students around how they are finding their time at uni and says that the university and the SU have been working together. She said the university had been "pretty receptive to all of our ideas", and had greatly increased the assistance fund from £600,000 to £1 million, which is something that is available for all students throughout the year.
Read more: We spoke to Florence Welch's mum as she makes Bristol University history
She told Bristol Live: "At the moment it's more of the sort of anxiety around what's to come as we go further into winter, as it's getting colder and bills are starting to go up. I know a lot of people haven't put on their heating yet but in the next few weeks they will and that's when we'll see the real differences.
"There's worries that it's going to affect mental health, people's ability to study. Having to choose between food and heating is not how decisions should be made and I know a lot of students have been planning on spending a lot more time at uni or in warm spaces instead of at home - these are some of the things I've been hearing from students I've spoken to."
Some students have been talking about the idea of making printing credits free, leading to discussions around the cost of joining societies, subsidising travel and getting jobs. Students can apply for bursaries and the assistance fund and there's an SU hardship fund around societies and sports.
Izzy said: "We already secured coaches for sports games on Wednesdays, which is sports day, and that was a massive win. I definitely have heard from some students that they're a little more anxious about joining the more expensive societies and maybe if they have to spend more time having jobs outside of their studies and they don't have as much time to be in a society. This is a bit worrying because these are all the parts of university which are there to help you enjoy it and have that support system around you.
"The increase in funding means more students can access more money which is good and the university has also made the process of applying a lot easier. They're going to start providing cheaper food at the cafes, so there's going to be a couple of options like a £1 soup and roll or a £2 hot lunch will be available at lunchtime, which is good."
In a recent email sent out to all students, Bristol University outlined some new 'Winter Special Offers' that include a range of cheaper food options available across both campuses from Monday, November 7. These include a £1 soup and roll (available at all Source Cafes and the Balloon Bar in the Richmond Building), a £2 hot lunch (available from the Source-on-the-Go 'Cater pod' between 11am and 2pm, Monday to Friday) and cheaper food options, including jacket potato and beans for £2, available from the Source Cafe at the Hiatt Baker bus hub, Monday to Saturday.
It revealed that it would be providing "free sustainable period products". Izzy, who co-penned the email alongside the pro vice-chancellor student experience Sarah Purdy, told Bristol Live: "We had feedback that food was going to be one of the bigger issues for students, so having cheaper food options was one of the priorities there and we're looking into opening spaces for longer, preferably on weekends as well, both for studying and just as a social space and a warm space for students.
"And we've actually just this week found out that we've secured funding for free sustainable period products in most of the bathrooms around the uni. That is so important and that we ensure we have sustainable ones as well, just to stay with the ethos of being as sustainable as possible."
Izzy understands that where money is concerned some stigma may follow but believes that the way these new schemes and offers have been announced will avoid it "seeming like charity" and instead "show students we're just trying to support them". She confirmed that the university will continue to provide the free period products post-cost of living crisis, too.
She added: "And with the food, hopefully people don't feel ashamed to go there but I guess we'll see when it launches. I think people will always want cheaper food regardless of the crisis or not, so it's a good opportunity to have cheap warm food.
"I've also been speaking with the wellbeing teams and counselling and making sure that everyone's aware that a lot more students are probably going to be wanting to access support in this period because it's going to be so difficult and a lot more people than usual I think will be feeling it."
(Image: John Myers/Bristol Live)
Izzy, along with her SU colleagues, is hoping to introduce ways to promote a more affordable and sustainable life among students, having already met with Bristol Waste and working closely on a regular basis with the council. Clothes swaps, reusing things, buying from charity shops are all things the SU wants to promote, as well as combining a community larder idea with a 'zero waste shop'. Izzy has been speaking with Source Cafe, the university's catering company, which has said it is happy to donate any excess food to the cause.
And, despite the anxieties facing students at the university, Izzy says students are trying not to let it get in the way of their university experience as a whole, especially following the Covid-19 pandemic. She said: "We had a really successful welcome week and we call it a welcome week instead of a freshers' week because it's not just for freshers, it's to get everybody involved.
"We had a record breaking turnout to all of our events and welcome fair, so students are getting involved and it's lovely to see, especially after the pandemic - people are making the best out of the situation."
Earlier this month, Bristol Live spoke with the university's first ever female vice-chancellor Evelyn Welch, who touched upon some of the ways the uni has been helping students. She said: "There is no University of Bristol student who we haven't been able to accommodate and even though we know it's very stressful in terms of finding affordable housing for students in Bristol. Bristol is an expensive city - we know that winter is coming and we know that students will be worried about heating bills and more generally the cost of living.
"If you're facing any financial difficulties we ask that you contact us sooner rather than later. We are working to make sure that there are plenty of spaces that students can sit and study and socialise in that are open late, so that there's always a warm place for a Bristol student to come to.
"And finally we're exploring a whole range of other support mechanisms, but we're doing that very much with the Students' Union. So what's very popular is 'Bring and Ping' - you make your meal at home and then you can sit down in any of our cafes with your own food and eat it with your friends, so that you don't feel socially isolated."
The vice-chancellor also told Bristol Live that the university has frozen its prices, rather than increase them in line with inflation in order to take some pressure off of students. And added that students can find more help and support on the university's own cost of living website, too.
So far, the university says the following has been achieved:The budget for the Financial Assistance Fund has been increased from £600,000 to £1 million The £100,000 Digital Support Fund continues to help students with the cost of IT equipment and connectivity The process for students to access financial support has been simplified and streamlined to ensure help is available as quickly as possible. Financial Assistance Funding is normally paid within 48 hours and all students are eligible to apply. This includes international students More than 200 additional affordable rooms have been made available in its residences this year The university is providing warm, free spaces across campus. Study spaces in the Arts and Social Sciences Library are available 24 hours a day, and study rooms in Senate House are available on weekday evenings and at weekends. Microwaves are available in the SU’s social spaces – the Bristol SU Living Room (where you can also get free tea and coffee), the SU Loft in Senate House, and on the second floor of the Richmond Building The university is looking into how more jobs at the university available to students, and you can also visit the SU Job Shop for further opportunities Free fitness and activity classes are now being offered, and discounted sports memberships for students eligible for a bursary
Sarah Purdy, pro vice-chancellor for student experience, said: “We are acutely aware of the effects of the rising cost of living on our community and have been working with Bristol SU to implement a range of measures.
“To help students who are struggling this year, we have increased the amount we have available in our Financial Assistance Fund from £600,000 to £1million, and our £100,000 Digital Support Fund continues to help students with the cost of IT equipment and connectivity.
“We’ve simplified and streamlined the way students can get financial support to ensure they get the help they need as quickly as possible, with Financial Assistance Funding normally paid within 48 hours. This has been communicated to students from the start of term and we strongly encourage anyone who is struggling to apply.
“In addition, the number of affordable rooms available in our residences has increased and we have done a lot of work around making costs more transparent so that students can set clear 'caps' on the amount they can afford to pay. Study and social spaces are also available for students to keep warm if they are struggling to heat their homes, including free tea and coffee, as well as microwaves, available in the SU’s social spaces.
“Other measures include free fitness and activity classes, budget food options in cafes, and discounted sports memberships for students eligible for a bursary. For those looking for part-time employment, we are also increasing the number of jobs available to students at the University.
“We urge any student struggling with money, or in need of some advice, to please reach out and speak to someone. We have specialist teams available, and they can discuss their situation in confidence with them.”