Student Parents and Carers Empowered
Lola Arowoshola is President of the Student Parents and Carers Empowered society (SPACE) at St George’s. Lola explains what the society does, how she came to be its president and how students with caring responsibilities can get support.
“SPACE is a welfare society and our remit is to help all undergraduate and postgraduate students at St George’s who have caring responsibilities. This includes students with children, pregnant students, those fostering and adopting, and those caring for family members in any capacity.
“When I first started at St George’s, I had three-year-old and eight-month-old boys and I knew that navigating university would be tricky with my caring responsibilities - I needed all the help I could get.
“I was emailed the Freshers fayre schedule prior to my first day and it had details about SPACE. Unfortunately, I could not attend the meet and greet SPACE had organised in person so I contacted the then President of the society, Marie Jasim, and joined their Facebook group.
“Through the Facebook group I was able to become a part of a community who understood what I was going through and could help make life easier. I got lots of great tips about when to study, what to focus on and how to make use of the resources available.
“I was also heartened to see that some members were very active in teaching clinical skills and anatomy which helped drive me to do the same. When you start university as a student with caring responsibilities you think that you will only have the time to focus on your studies, but the group showed me that that it was possible to engage with much more.”
“Midway through my first year, Marie suggested I apply to be President of SPACE as she felt I could help keep the momentum of the society going and hopefully drive it further.
“As a welfare society, members remain anonymous to the University which helps give our members a lot of confidence to speak freely with each other about their concerns and any issues they are facing.
“In terms of support, we are able to advocate for students individually. For example, if a student becomes pregnant during the course, we can discuss whether a risk assessment is necessary to ensure their safety.
“In 2018-19, we successfully addressed the issue of access to the Breastfeeding/Welfare room in the SU for all students who need it. We can also speak up for members who are experiencing difficulties keeping up with their studies and need more support from the university.”
Fuel to the fire
“In these times of Covid-19, we are now identifying the common issues that members are facing as a result of the pandemic and bringing them directly to the University as a collective voice. Students with caring responsibilities are always faced with challenges during their studies. Throwing Covid-19 into the mix has added more fuel to the fire for a lot of us.
“Many students with responsibilities to care for family members are in a difficult situation as these family members often need to be shielded. This adds even more pressure as students are then unable to rely on help from others due to the lockdown. The emotional toll can be draining particularly with the need to study for exams or produce summative essays to tight deadlines.
“But thanks to engaging with the university at an early stage, a lot of our members have had their specific difficulties addressed. The solutions aren’t always perfect but they are workable and, for us, workable is achievable. Our ultimate goal, as I’m sure is the case for all other students at St George’s, is to successfully progress to the next year or graduate on time.
You are not alone
“To any student carers that were unaware of SPACE, or what we offer as a society, I want to say that you are not alone. As a society we support each other to ensure everyone can succeed. Being part of a community is essential, especially during times like these.
“As a collective, we have been able to make a difference for our members which has also benefitted the whole student body. The university needs to hear our concerns as they can’t help us unless we tell them what we are facing.
“Some students may not be comfortable joining SPACE if their caring responsibilities are transient and have come about because of lockdown. I am happy to chat to these students individually to discuss their issues and add their concerns to those affecting all SPACE members.
“It is important that all students are represented as it can be quite isolating when your lockdown experience varies greatly from the rest of your cohort.
“Covid-19 has changed a lot of things for a lot of people and, for SPACE, it has helped raise our profile as a society as well as the challenges that our members face. I hope that this can go even further both while the current status quo is in place and when things return to normal.
“Our interaction with the University so far during the pandemic has shown what can be achieved with positive engagement.”
Any students who wish to contact Lola to discuss their circumstances can do so here.