Promoting a sense of community through good food

Positive hospitality experiences increase student wellbeing, says new TUCO research ‘Hospitable Campus’

The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) has collaborated with The Oxford Cultural Collective to launch its brand-new research ‘Hospitable Campus’. The publication signifies TUCO’s intention to start a national conversation about ways in which on-campus hospitality can make positive contributions to student wellbeing.

Some of the key learnings from the research are:

  • Front-line hospitality staff can elicit powerful emotional responses from students – both positive and negative. In addition, they can (where appropriate) assume informal pastoral roles, listening to and responding empathetically to students’ needs.
  • It is increasingly the case that universities require all staff, no matter their roles, to assume collective responsibility for student wellbeing. It is reasonable, therefore, that in-house caterers should prioritise the need for employees to make positive contributions to student wellbeing. This is likely to be more achievable for in-house caterers than for teams employed or managed by outsourced companies.
  • Reflecting a belief that meaningful interaction with students enriches their lived experience and helps to create a community spirit, a key aim is to personalise service across all the university’s cafés and halls of residence.

The research comprises four case studies, and key take-homes are:

University of Manchester

  • A defining characteristic of the student body at the University of Manchester is its cultural diversity. While catering outlets cannot satisfy all tastes, serving food representing a wide range of nations and cultural backgrounds does signify an appreciation of the value of diversity and a conscious desire to be inclusive.

Harper Adams University

  • Proactively encouraging and supporting students to form special interest societies strengthens community spirit. Recent examples include the new Veterinary Society, and others focused on yoga, cinema and dog-walking.

The University of St Andrews

  • Student feedback is used actively to shape catering provision and students are informed about how their feedback has been used.

The University of Huddersfield

  • The catering operations manager sits on a Student Forum, hosted by the Students’ Union, the members of which represent multiple nationalities and cultural groups. Open and ongoing dialogue informs catering provision that responds to the diverse needs of the entire student body.

Matthew White, chair of TUCO comments on the research: “As sector leaders, we are challenged to sharpen our thinking on student mental health and wellbeing and provide support through dedicated initiatives. With an estimated 171 cultural representations in further and higher education, it is important for us to promote and support a positive community atmosphere.

“We are excited to launch this relevant piece of research and wish for all our institutions to embed positive initiatives within their catering and hospitality services, to influence student wellbeing. We believe the power of good food, drink and hospitality can help promote a sense of inclusion, community and belonging.”

See the research in full at www.tuco.ac.uk/grow/tuco-research