In the face of persistent challenges posed by the rising cost of living, South Lanarkshire College has consistently dedicated itself to safeguarding the mental health and financial stability of its students. As a pioneering educational institution in Scotland, South Lanarkshire College initiated the provision of free sanitary protection and granted students access to complimentary Mindfulness and Yoga sessions. The College has consistently demonstrated that student welfare remains its key priority, and, amidst the ongoing financial crisis, both staff and the College’s Student Association are engaged in collaborative efforts to launch initiatives designed to assist the financial wellbeing of students.
Rose Harkness, Head of Student Services at the college, states: "The increasing expenses, fluctuating interest rates, housing instability, and the soaring costs of food and everyday essentials are causing significant concern amongst our students. As we progress through the academic year 2023-24 and into the subsequent academic year 2024-25, students continue to struggle with the disproportionate impact of the current cost of living crisis, which poses considerable challenges for them in supporting themselves and their families. Naturally, they are apprehensive about their prospects and how these challenges may affect their opportunities."
A recent report titled "How Scotland is Failing Its Students" by NUS has shed light on the profound financial difficulties students are facing. The report indicates that 35% of students have contemplated leaving their studies due to financial issues. It also underlines that Further Education (FE) students, in particular, face formidable financial challenges during the summer months and are more likely to struggle with rent or mortgage payments. Despite being less inclined to seek financial assistance from family and friends, FE students often rely on credit and food banks for support, while working longer hours when engaged in paid employment.
Responding to the persistent financial challenges students encounter, South Lanarkshire College staff have collaborated with the South Lanarkshire College Student Association to develop a series of initiatives aimed at providing support. Rose commends this collaboration, saying, "We were inspired by the Student Association's commitment to ensuring that no student attends class on an empty stomach, and we were eager to provide our support. Consequently, we introduced complimentary breakfasts and a soup-and-sandwich lunch for students, which have been exceptionally well-received and have benefitted many students."
Rose further elaborates, "Between October 2022 and June 2023, our breakfast and lunch initiatives have successfully provided over 17,186 servings, including 11,374 breakfast servings and 5,812 lunch servings. Additionally, at South Lanarkshire College, we have introduced a student larder, conveniently located in our Student Association office. This larder is regularly stocked with non-perishable foods and toiletries, available for students to collect, consume, or use free of charge."
South Lanarkshire College firmly believes that providing students with complimentary breakfast and lunch, as well as easy access to essential food and toiletry items on campus, significantly enhances their educational experience at the college. The initiative not only promotes higher academic achievement and student retention but also fosters a learning environment where students feel supported and valued.
Kayleigh Wither, President of the Student Association at South Lanarkshire College explains “The Student Association at the College represents the student body, and we are dedicated to assist and stand by our students. Among the ways we provide support is by offering this access to complimentary food resources. Along with the free lunch and breakfast initiative, we provide the drop-in free food larder. This is open to all students and stocks a variety of items, including dry goods, canned foods, cereals, pasta, snacks, stationery, sanitary products, hygiene essentials, and even items for children. We're committed to this effort because we recognise the challenges our students are confronting in the current environment, and we believe it's our responsibility to lend a helping hand”.
One South Lanarkshire College student, Anton, expresses his appreciation, saying, "I have accessed the free soup and sandwich a number of times when I have required it, and it has proved to be a figurative and, at times, literal lifesaver to myself and other students."
To fund the breakfast, lunch, and food larder initiatives, additional funding was necessary. Initially, the South Lanarkshire College Foundation provided the funding, aligning with its commitment to charitable causes by supporting resources that advance their charitable missions. However, the College recently received a generous donation from a local company, HTE-Western Automation, to support the student food larder and breakfast and lunch initiatives. Rose emphasises, "Donations such as the £500 contribution from HTE-Western Automation play a vital role in helping our students progress along their educational path and ensure they never attend class hungry. Access to everyday essentials is crucial to our students, and we appreciate support from any organisations or businesses willing to assist in enhancing our students' financial and mental well-being."
Access to food and basic necessities is essential for students to successfully complete their courses. However, it has become increasingly clear that clothing is also a concern. In response to this and as part of South Lanarkshire College's commitment to sustainability, the College has partnered with its learning development students to establish a sustainable pop-up clothes swap called ‘College Way Market’. This initiative allows students to both donate and acquire pre-owned clothing free of charge, enabling them to refresh their wardrobes while contributing to the reduction of clothing waste in landfills. The success of this initiative has led to the transformation of the College Way Market from a monthly pop-up shop into a permanent and accessible free shop for students. The initiative has been nominated for a College Development Award for it’s sustainable impact.
Rose adds “Additionally, the College provides students with complimentary on-campus counselling services, comprising highly experienced counselling staff, and guidance and support advisors who can provide one to one emotional support and practical financial help such as budgetary advice and advocacy. This combined with the free breakfast and lunch programme, a food larder, and free yoga and mindfulness sessions, all aim to support student well-being.
Rose concludes “Unfortunately, as the challenges of the ongoing cost of living crisis persist, it becomes increasingly evident that the need for such initiatives to help our students will continue to grow and increasingly cannot be funded by the College. As such, the College is keen to expand the support it provides to its students, and if your business is interested in contributing to South Lanarkshire College's breakfast, lunch, or food larder fund, please reach out to us at email@example.com for additional details”.