Exeter Churches Launch Student Help Service During Lockdown
Churches in Exeter have launched a dedicated StudentHelp service offering emotional and practical support for university students who are under local lockdown restrictions.
Students in the city are not currently permitted to meet indoors with anyone who is not in their own household.
It follows a rising number of coronavirus cases in the university community at what is usually a key time for new students to make friends and settle in to life in a new city.
The University Chaplain, the Reverend Hannah Alderson, said:
“Exeter University is normally part of the buzzing heart of our city, but this year things are much more sombre. 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, and as a University Multifaith Chaplaincy team we are united across faiths to support those who are feeling vulnerable and isolated. Both the practical support and the prayers of the wider Church community are much appreciated at this time.”
Church of England churches that count a large number of students amongst their congregations include St Leonards, Exeter Network Church, St Matt’s and Unlimited Church.
They have created a dedicated email address firstname.lastname@example.org so students can ask for help if they need it.
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.”
The service is available to students across Devon, including Plymouth, which is not currently facing the same restrictions.
Churches are offering a range of practical support. 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 App, which students can register with if they would like to connect with a local church.
St Matt’s church in Heavitree 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. We believe students have moved to the city to do more than just self-isolate, we know this is a really hard time and we’re here for you. We’re a community that wants to welcome every student in Exeter.”
The Church of England in Devon has confirmed with Exeter University 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.“