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Hundreds of London’s university students struggling with their emotional wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond will get help – thanks to new funding for a mental health charity.

Rethink Mental Illness will deliver its Step Up University programme to four London universities, training up ‘student champions’ to support their peers and deliver workshops on mental health to hundreds of students.

The charity says the normal stresses of life on campus have been exacerbated by the enforced isolation, uncertainty and curtailment of social and health activities as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the new national restrictions.

The two-year programme is being delivered thanks to a £128,300 grant from City Bridge Trust – the City of London Corporation's charity funder.

Dhruv Patel, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s City Bridge Trust Committee, said:

“Even in normal circumstances, leaving home and starting at university is a big step, and a time when young people are vulnerable to the pressures and stresses which can lead to mental ill health.

“The benefit of this programme is it gives young people an active role in maintaining their own mental health and that of their peers – something that is needed more than ever as they face the disruption caused by the pandemic.

“During their training and throughout the scheme, the student champions will learn skills which they can use for the rest of their lives and which will also have a long-term benefit to society.”

The Step Up University programme will be running at the University of West London, UCL, SOAS University of London and Middlesex University.

Rethink Mental Illness says giving young people a voice is key, and will support the universities to carry on this approach after the two-year programme comes to an end.

May Gabriel, Project Manager of Step Up at Rethink Mental Illness, said:

“Young people starting university are thrown together with people they don’t know, and a lot of places and activities where they might meet like-minded people are currently closed because of the pandemic.

“The change in routine and the uncertainty they would face anyway has been compounded by COVID-19 and at the moment students don’t know what the term ahead, or even the week ahead, will look like.

“This programme will put young people in the lead – something that is often missing from other support services – and means students will have somewhere to turn to, to get the support they need to maintain good mental health, before they reach crisis point.”

The City of London Corporation’s charity funder, City Bridge Trust, is London’s biggest independent grant giver, making grants of over £25 million a year to tackle disadvantage across the capital.

Case study ‘It’s been a unique and invaluable experience’

UCL student Kay-Lee Walker, 25, is one of the champions helping to ensure the project covers key issues which are important and relevant to students’ mental health.

She said: “Being part of the incredible work that Step Up do has been a unique and invaluable experience that I’m really grateful for. I’ve been able to connect with other students from various backgrounds and courses that I may not have met otherwise.

“Rethink Mental Illness are really supportive and encourage a student-led approach to collaborate and create workshops that we think would be helpful to other students. The process is really fun and creative and you get the chance to share experiences in a safe space."

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