Every little bit helps

By Matthew White, chair of The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) and the director of campus commerce at the University of Reading

With students’ positive mental health and welfare a key priority for universities and colleges, it is crucial that TUCO puts wellbeing at the heart of everything we do.

One of our goals, as the leading professional membership for in-house caterers, is to help generate a positive community atmosphere through good food, drink and hospitality. It is our responsibility to help to create a welcoming and secure environment for students while supporting their wellbeing.

This has always been a key focus for us. In 2018, TUCO produced a report that signified the organisation’s intention to start a national conversation among its members about ways in which on-campus hospitality can make a positive contribution to student wellbeing. In response to this, we are aiming to launch a digital Mental Health Toolkit, a new scheme that seeks to make a difference to the lives of university students. The idea is that it will provide support to members who are at the forefront of a university’s catering team to help identify students who may be struggling with university life.

Staff will be taught to look out for red flags that can be passed onto a university’s welfare team. They will also be encouraged to carry out ‘small acts of kindness’, which could be as simple as asking a student how their day is going, for example, or giving the student a free coffee.

The toolkit will also offer members ideas on how to encourage healthy eating which, as we all know, can have a positive impact on wellbeing. Many universities now offer a retail environment which is a step in the right direction; however, we still must be encouraging students to make healthy choices.

But it is a shared responsibility. We urge our industry and institutions to include positive schemes within their catering services to influence student wellbeing.

We are not asking staff to become experts, but more to be involved with students on a daily basis. This puts them in a unique position to identify red flags. It also demonstrates to a student that there is someone to talk to and someone looking out for them – even if it is to point them in the direction of support.

As sector leaders, we will continue to promote and support a positive community atmosphere through dedicated initiatives such as our toolkit but, ultimately, we believe it all comes down to good food, drink and hospitality that can create that feeling of inclusion, community and belonging.

So, let’s work together to make it happen. 


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