Churches launch “StudentHelp” service to show the love to students under local lockdown
Churches in Exeter have launched a dedicated StudentHelp service offering emotional and practical support for university students who are under local lockdown restrictions.
It includes delivering food to students self-isolating, a “dial-a-toastie” service, socially-distanced guided tours of the city for freshers, outdoor coffee meet-ups, running groups and online and in-person church services and small groups.
Some of the churches with a particular student focus have created a single StudentHelp email address for students or their parents to get in touch if they would like help or want someone to talk to.
The Archdeacon of Exeter, Andrew Beane, who is helping co-ordinate the initiative, said “We will connect you with a local church who might be able to help you if you are self-isolating, feeling alone, afraid, worried or just want to make a connection with the local community.
“The message that we want to give is that we are here to help.”
University students in Exeter are not currently permitted to meet indoors with anyone who is not in their own household.
It follows a rising number of coronavirus cases on campus at what is usually a key time for new students to make friends and settle in to life in a new city.
The Reverend Hannah Alderson, said, “In my four years as a University Chaplain, this has been the strangest and quietest of Freshers’ weeks.
“The restrictions have been very difficult for all our students”
Rich Kelly, one of the Student Leaders at Exeter Network Church, said, “We are aiming to mobilise students from our church, numbering towards 100, to reach out to Freshers and go for Covid-secure outdoor coffees and walks in order to provide care and pastoral support as well as an introduction to the city.
“We can also deliver shopping to anyone we know of who is isolating or talk to anyone who is lonely or upset by the current situation.”
Unlimited Church has been giving away hot drinks and doughnuts on Cathedral Green.
The Reverend Helen Sherlock, who has teenage children of her own away at university, said, “We are taking cake to those self-isolating. We are also offering Dial-a-Toastie once a week for those students who want it.
Helen said they were put in contact with students via the national Fusion Movement App, which students can register with if they would like to connect with a local church.
“Making sure every student knows they are loved, seen, heard and wanted”
St Matt’s church only opened in its current form last September but has built up a strong online presence during lockdown.
Its Student Pastor, Rev’d Matt Clayton, said “Whilst most of our mid-week gatherings have now moved online, we’re looking for creative places outside to meet up with students in households, to make sure every student knows they are loved, seen, heard and wanted.”
Exeter University has confirmed that students are able to attend church services as they are exempt from the restriction on indoor meetings.
The Bishop of Exeter, the Right Reverend Robert Atwell, said “The current uncertainty surrounding the spread of the virus is casting a cloud over the beginning of term.
“Going to uni should be an adventure, exciting if a bit scary. Our churches are here to offer support and a listening ear to any student who is anxious or worried.“
The StudentHelp email service is available to students across Devon, including Plymouth.