Studying with The Open University can often feel like a lonely, isolated experience where you only really get to know the screen in front of you. To help overcome this, the OU Students Association put on a programme of events throughout the year, allowing for students to interact with others. The showpiece of this programme is twice-annually Freshers events. It has been a real pleasure of mine to be involved with the design and facilitation of some of these events over recent years.
Following the 2022 Autumn Freshers, with a Freshers Fair held at the Betty Boothroyd Library on The Open University campus in Milton Keynes, I was really keen to take Freshers to the nations for the Winter 2023 Freshers. My idea was to run a collaborative event with the nation’s offices in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the Northern Ireland office were not in a position to support an event in Winter 2023, though we are looking at when we can bring an event to Belfast in the near future.
Working with the OU Students Association Community Team, Alayla Castle-Herbert & Scott McKenzie in Wales, and Katrina Rae & Ewelina Grzanka in Scotland we were able to agree on two events to bookend our Winter 2023 Freshers programme. These events were the first in person Freshers events in the nation’s since before the pandemic and allowed students to engage with other students.
The first event was held in Cardiff on 21 January 2023 and the buzz in the room from attendees showed how well received this opportunity was. As happened in the subsequent event in Edinburgh, this event opened with a presentation from Pete Turner (Head of Community at the OU Students Association) and me introducing the OU Students Association to those in attendance. This was followed up with an interactive study skills session ran by Alayla and the event concluded with some mingle time for those in attendance.
The feedback from this event was really positive with one commenting:
‘Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the Freshers. Thank you to everyone that organised it. Even though I am not a fresher I was welcomed, it was so nice to see people face to face and to learn from each other. I am really hoping for regular get togethers as it has definitely given me a feeling of belonging and the kick needed.’
Alayla also had this to say about running the event:
‘Working with students and getting to meet them in person is my favourite part of my job. Seeing students enthused and excited for their future reminds me why we’re here and why the OU exists. The students at the event had some really rich conversations with one another, sharing tips and ideas and helping each other see that they’re not doing it alone. They left the event feeling boosted and motivated, and so did I!’
The second event took place in Edinburgh on 4 February 2023 and it wasn’t long before the attendees were taking part in good old blether. Following a similar presentation from myself and Pete about the Students Association, Ewelina and Jenifer Paton took over, giving an interactive presentation on how the OU in Scotland can support you through the studies, with a video montage introducing some the members of the different teams in Scotland. Again, there was time for students to have a chat at the end, and it was really encouraging to see so many mobile phones on display as attendees shared contact information to keep in touch going forward.
All attendees provided positive feedback at this event, with some of the comments including:
‘I found it interesting and fun! It was very informative, and the best aspect was to actually meet other students. It also encouraged me to get involved with the Students Association. Thanks!’ and ‘I loved this event. Not just for socialising but good amount of information has been shared. I am looking forward to more social events to meet peers. These events make us feel connected.’
These events were huge successes for me and helped establish both the working relationships and demonstrate the demand for these types of events in the future. I am also pleased that conversations have taken place on what we can do again in the future together, so keep an eye out for these.