Hospitality plays a principal role in student wellbeing

SPONSORED: By Matthew White, chair of the University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) and director of Catering, Hotel and Conferencing at the University of Reading

A quarter of the 9,000-strong student body at the University of St Andrews live in full-board university accommodation, with weekday breakfast, lunch and dinner provided. Why is that important? Because promoting and supporting a positive community atmosphere is a shared responsibility. 

And with students’ positive mental health and wellbeing now a key priority for UK universities and colleges, we believe the power of good food, drink and hospitality can help promote a sense of inclusion, community and belonging.

St Andrews was one of the case studies we put forward in Hospitable Campus, the research TUCO launched at its Winter Conference 2018. The message is continuously reinforced that students are the lifeblood of the university, and that their health and happiness is the key to success and building a global reputation.

Residential and Business Services, which employs 350 staff at St Andrews, is responsible for student accommodation, catering and conferences. Training and development are being established to ensure its catering and hospitality provisions becomes even more attuned to the needs of the culturally diverse student population, a cultural change project has been launched and a cultural change manager appointed. A key aim is to create a welcoming and secure environment and to actively support students’ wellbeing.

How? By building strong relationships with students through daily interactions, routine and menus that have been developed to reflect modern lifestyles. Student feedback is used actively to shape catering provision.

Hospitable Campus, produced in collaboration with the Oxford Cultural Collective, demonstrates our intention to start a national conversation about ways in which on-campus hospitality can make positive contributions to student wellbeing. Further case studies were supplied by the University of Manchester, the University of Huddersfield and Harper Adams University.

With an estimated 171 cultural representations in further and higher education, there is a lot of ground to cover. We recommend caterers think strategically and communicate their intentions clearly, committing to supporting student welfare. Even in commercial environments, where the depth of interactions is limited, hospitality staff can elicit powerful emotional responses.

Ultimately, the aim is to generate a sense of community. By focusing on the intended outcomes of hospitality provision, communicating an upbeat message about the value of inclusion and community, and by stimulating positive emotional responses, we can challenge ourselves to embed a culture of life-enhancing hospitality.

Hospitable Campus – foodservice management and student wellbeing research is available at www.tuco.ac.uk/grow/tuco-research

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