Celebrating our volunteers’ and their powerful contributions in our communities

To mark this year’s annual Volunteers’ Week, UHI careers and employability officer Helen Anton and student development officer Aimee Harvey share why volunteering is important and highlight some of our students and graduates working in their communities to make a difference and improve lives.     

Good for you and good for others

There are many reasons why people volunteer. It’s a chance to give something back, make a difference, develop new skills, gain confidence, improve self-esteem and make new friends, not to mention the impact it can have on your CV and personal career management: the benefits to individuals, their communities and wider society can be enormous.

In recognition of this, Volunteers Week takes place from 1 to 7 June every year, providing a chance to remember the fantastic contribution volunteers make to our communities as well as saying a big thank you to them.

As well as helping others, volunteering has been shown to improve volunteers’ wellbeing.  We all know how good it feels to help someone out or to feel like you’re making a difference in your community.

During 2020 and 2021 an amazing 16.3m people volunteered through a group, club or organisation with almost one in five people (17%) reporting that they volunteered at least once a month, that’s about 9.2m people. Amongst these volunteers are some fantastic UHI students and graduates, working tirelessly in their communities to make a difference and improve lives.

Corinne Ferguson, is studying Sustainable Development (Hons) at UHI Outer Hebrides

I have volunteered since I was a teenager (I’m now 61!)) and I’ve always been interested in our environment and consuming less. I realised a few years ago that single-use plastic was becoming a real issue and it’s something that is understood by the general public who are increasingly trying to do their best to ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’. 

Logo - Plastic free communities, surfers against sewage
Logo – Plastic free communities, surfers against sewage

I am the lead volunteer in Nairn for Plastic Free Coastlines (Surfers Against Sewage) which involves working towards Nairn becoming accredited as a ‘Plastic-Free Town’. There are five objectives: to get the local council to pass a resolution saying they support plastic reduction, recruit community allies, raise business awareness, organise a steering group and hold two community events per year. This involves me working with different groups such as the Scouts, Brownies, local businesses, local environmental charities and local MPs.  I’ve been doing this role for four years and we have done lots of beach cleans and awareness-raising events which have been well supported locally. 

The benefits to me of volunteering are that I get to work creatively with amazing people (often children and young people who have got so many ideas about how to do things differently) and I also get to network with lots of interesting organisations. 

I have gained so many transferrable skills, such as communication – for example, listening, negotiating and presenting. Networking with other organisations in my local community helps me realise what’s going on locally. I feel that I’m doing something worthwhile. 

Volunteering is often more challenging than working. I think you gain more skills and there are opportunities for leadership and to be dynamic and creative in a way that you might not get when working in a paid job.  You also often work in places where there are generally no hierarchies like you might get at work, and this requires real skill in negotiation and building up your charisma!

Holly Gray is studying Geography at UHI Inverness and is based in Forres

My volunteering involved undertaking monthly surveys on invasive giant hogweed plants. I would record some details about the plot including hogweed coverage. I would then remove the giant hogweed seedlings from the plot in a method to replicate a sheep removing it from the ground. The primary purpose was to ‘mimic’ sheep grazing patterns and record giant hogweed regrowth after the seedlings had been grazed, to see if introducing sheep onto land that has high hogweed coverage is a successful way of managing it. 

Holly spraying plants in a field
Holly Gray carrying out fieldwork

As I began my degree in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, fieldwork became unmanageable for the most part. As I study geography, this was a big concern, so when I heard about this opportunity, I thought it was a fantastic way of bringing myself up to speed with fieldwork whilst volunteering for a great cause, especially as I am interested in a career in conservation. My volunteering gave me an insight into some of the roles in this industry.

Giant hogweed plants are non-native invasive species.  They have highly toxic sap and if it touches someone’s skin when combined with UV exposure, can cause intense damage through blistering. Removal of the plant isimportant as it reduces the danger to health, whilst allowing natural Scottish flora and fauna to thrive without being drowned out by these giant plants.

I felt happy to be a part of the removal effort, and I also got to experience conservation for the first time. It is a very rewarding non-strenuous or time-consuming activity. The work I did was for the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative, and I got to build my network because of this which led me to gain a placement with the project later in the year as part of my degree. Here I got to learn a broader spectrum of conservation activities including knapsack spraying Japanese Knotweed and American mink management.

My volunteering was easy to learn and I had the freedom to choose when I did my recordings and research. It was a great way of gaining volunteering and conservation experience which didn’t dominate important study time. It also forced me out of the house to take breaks, spending time in nature, even if some of the plots were slightly off grid!

Inne Withouck, is a fourth-year PhD student based at UHI Shetland

I’m the organiser of the UHI Shetland Green Team. I was inspired to volunteer as a way to meet like-minded people and to organise a lot of beach cleans, providing an opportunity for people to connect, and to learn about our natural heritage.

I gained great friends, and I’ve also learnt a lot from beach finds which help to understand how our seas are being used by people. It also motivated me to read the book Climate-Smart Food by David Reay, which I used to help make an exhibition about food for the Briggistanes canteen in our Lerwick Campus.

I would definitely recommend other students to consider setting up similar initiatives as it provides a platform to bring people together on the issues they want to do something about. Volunteering also allows you to connect with like-minded people and make positive changes to your campus and to your local community. 

Here is a video made by the group which gives top tips on how to set up your own Green Team at your campus.

Brian Whitters, is a second-year BA (Hons) Gaelic Scotland student based at the Isle of Barra campus of UHI Outer Hebrides.

I am a volunteer speaker for the Charity Prostate Cancer UK and I deliver awareness-raising talks throughout Scotland, both in person and virtually.  I was inspired to volunteer as I had prostate cancer myself and wanted to highlight to people in Scotland the dangers associated with it.

The benefits of volunteering to me are innumerable. Mainly I walk away with a feeling of goodwill and accomplishment when I deliver my talks. The benefits to my community are mainly that men and women are more aware of the dangers of prostate cancer. They are informed of the early signs of the cancer and they are also informed of their rights.  What I gain from my volunteering is a feeling that I actually did something to hopefully stop other men from walking in my shoes.

Sam Smallwood, is a first-year Psychology student based at UHI Inverness

I volunteer on my local school’s Parent Support Group (PSG). I was inspired to volunteer as it is important to me to be able to help support the local school which my children attend.

By volunteering with the school’s PSG, I help to raise funds and support the school community to provide more educational experiences for all the pupils. We are currently working on fundraising to improve our outdoor spaces, which the whole community can also enjoy.

I feel good when I see the extra equipment, resources and trips the children get to enjoy as a result of the PSG’s work. I also enjoy attending different events for the social aspect, both with other parents, our local community and having fun with the children at sporting events too.

It is easy to get involved.  Most smaller schools will be looking for enthusiastic volunteers to help with fundraising to be able to provide even more opportunities for their pupils and extend their resources to cover more extra-curricular activities.

Kaleigh McKechnie is studying for a Child and Adolescent Mental Health CPD award on the MA Health and Wellbeing through UHI Outer Hebrides

I am a volunteer football coach for U7’s and U13’s, in two different teams, two times a week. I was inspired to volunteer because of the lack of female coaches on the island. My twin boys attend football training regularly and there is a lack of coaching staff overall on the island, so it was a case that someone had to do it so that the children could attend the sessions. 

The fact that I thoroughly enjoy football makes a massive difference to the young people too. They pick up on the passion you have for the game, and this allows them to feel comfortable and build relationships with you as a coach and with the other young people that attend the sessions who they may not have known otherwise. I love the way a ‘game’ can bring a group of different people together.

There are so many benefits to volunteering. For example, building positive relationships with children who might otherwise go under the radar; it also allows you to influence their game and hone their skillset. Through positive reinforcement they will remember that forever, and the relationships built help create a stronger sense of belonging and community.  As a result of my volunteering, I have gained qualifications, experience and confidence.It can act as a support, not only for the people you work with, but also for yourself, it’s another reason to get up and go. Yes, it can be pressure, but if you are supporting people doing something you love, then just go for it.

Amira Murray and Megan McMillian currently study Personal and Vocational Studies and Hair and Beauty through UHI Outer Hebrides

Amira and Megan both deliver hairdressing and beauty taster sessions to P7 children from a local afterschool club.  Amira was inspired to get involved because she really wanted to help the girls to learn to do hair and nails to help with their own presentation and confidence.  She really enjoys helping people to learn and uses her skills to help support them. 

She gains lots from volunteering and loves to see the smiles on the children’s faces when they learn how to do something. She also thinks volunteering is great fun as well as letting her help others and give something to the young people in her community.

Megan also loves the idea of helping younger children who are interested in learning how to do hair and beauty and recognises the importance of getting children to enjoy something that they are interested in. She gets the enjoyment of teaching the children while boosting their confidence and making them smile.  Megan recommends volunteering as it gives her a great sense of achievement knowing that she is sharing the skills she has learnt through teaching and supporting the children.

Amira (left) and Megan (right) are currently working towards their Saltire Awards which celebrate youth volunteering in Scotland.

Looking to volunteer?

The university’s Careers and Employability Centre can help you prepare, get involved and find opportunities. Check out the Job Shop or book an appointment to chat with us, simply log into our Future Me service using your normal student username and password or if you are about to complete your studies, register for our Graduate for Life service.

Volunteer Week 2022 takes place from Wednesday 1 to Tuesday 7 June. The week encourages and celebrates volunteering across Scotland. For more information on student volunteering, more inspiring volunteer stories and how to find an opportunity that’s right for you, visit Get involved – Volunteering (uhi.ac.uk)

16 days of activism | Bystander intervention

We are mindful that some readers may find this story triggering.  Students and staff who would like support, or wish to find more information about keeping safe, please visit our website or find a local student support contact. 

Marking the annual United Nations 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign, the #WhatWillYouDo campaign runs throughout Scotland from 25 November to 10 December. Student Services team member Lorna Ferguson talks about this year’s theme and encourages everyone to think about being part of the solution to help to end violence against women and girls.

Last year we teamed up with organisations across the Highlands and Islands to ask people to share what they would like to see change for women and girls in our rural communities. This year, we are calling on everyone to be the change:

Would you intervene if you saw someone being harassed or in danger?  Would you know how?   

Bystander intervention involves being able to recognise a potentially harmful situation or interaction and choosing to respond in a way that could positively influence the outcome.   

At some point in our lives, we will be a bystander to events like these, and when we do, we have two choices: 

  • To safely step in and say or do something to stop it – be an active bystander.
  • Or to simply let it go – be a passive bystander. 

Learning how to recognise the signs that someone is in danger and knowing how to intervene safely, is an essential skill that we all can own and use.  

Intervention could be anything from not laughing at a sexist joke, talking to a friend about their behaviour or interrupting or distracting someone whose behaviour is causing others distress. By intervening in a situation, we are signalling to the perpetrator that their behaviour is unacceptable, and if we reinforce these messages as a community, we can help make a shift in the boundaries of what is considered acceptable and can help to stop problem behaviour. 

Sometimes this might mean researching online support and contacts available or asking for help from others – trained colleagues in student services and HR teams, specialist charities or even the police. 

Before you intervene, ask yourself: 

  • Can I offer my help safely?  It’s important that you never put yourself at risk.  Your safety is a priority. 
  • Could this situation be better handled if there were more people to support it?  Intervention is safer in a group, if you are not with others, report it to those who can help. 
  • Is the person open to receive or want help?  Not everyone will want someone to help them, despite how dangerous the situation may look to you.   

“As part of the curriculum, students on our hair and beauty courses are given training designed to help people in the industry recognise the signs of domestic abuse. It offers advice on how to encourage individuals to seek professional advice and provides insights into the right support agencies to direct individuals to.” – Elspeth Robertson, course leader for hair and beauty based at Lews Castle College UHI. 

How to safely intervene:  

  • Take direct action – call out negative behaviour, tell the perpetrator to stop or ask the victim if they are ok.  If the situation allows, do this as a group. Be polite and remain calm, as you don’t want to make the situation worse.  
  • Distract the perpetrator – interrupt what they are doing by starting a conversation with them, potentially allowing their target to move away from the situation.  Or you could help to get the victim out of the situation by telling them you need to speak to them, pretending that you know them can give them the opportunity to safely leave the situation. 
  • Delegate – If you don’t think it is safe to intervene or you are unsure about how to do so, engage someone else to step in.  Speak with a member of bar/venue staff and ask them to intervene if you are out socialising. 
  • Delay – Sometimes the situation is just too dangerous for you to be able to challenge there and then, and if so, you should walk away and report it as soon as it is safe to do so.  Remember, it is never too late to act, even if you are unable to do something in the moment. 

In an emergency, call the police on 999 and remember, only intervene if it is safe to do so.  Never put yourself in danger. 

The University of the Highlands and Islands is one of seventeen Scottish universities that have worked together to create an online training course to raise awareness of gender-based violence in colleges and universities. Support and more information to keep safe from gender based and sexual violence is open to anyone on our website.  

Working on your UCAS application? here’s our handy guide:

Applying to university or college isn’t as complicated as it sounds, so whether you are just starting your UCAS application, or you’re already working on it, we hope this handy guide will help navigate your way through.

A low angle view of a female couple sitting in their living room together while working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. One woman is using a laptop on the floor while the other is using a digital tablet on the sofa and looking at her fiancée on the floor. Their dog is sitting on the sofa with his head on the shoulder of the woman on the floor.

Starting your application:

All students applying for an undergraduate course must make a formal application through UCAS which stands for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. The UCAS website has loads of helpful information when you are considering applying as an undergraduate student.

All applications must be completed online via UCAS Hub, you need to pay UCAS £22.00 if you are applying for one choice, or £26.50 for two to five choices using a debit or credit card.

Young man sitting on a sofa in a living room setting with a laptop and wearing headphones.

What makes up an application?

  • Course choices (you can choose up to five)
  • Qualifications (you must enter all your qualifications from secondary education onwards)
  • Employment history (if you’ve had any paid, unpaid, or voluntary work)
  • Personal statement
  • Reference
Profile shot of a teenage girl lying on her bed on her stomach looking at her computer. She is about to press the keyboard, and has her other hand up by her face. She is in deep concentration on what she is working on.

Course choices:

You can apply for up to five course choices (with a few exceptions). There is no preference order, and your chosen universities and colleges will not see where you have applied until after you have responded to any offers made to you. UCAS will let you know how to accept or decline an offer of a place via the UCAS Hub.

For more information about completing your UCAS application head over to the UCAS website for a step-by-step guide.

Personal statement:

Writing your personal statement is an important part of the process when applying to university or college through UCAS. This is your opportunity to show your interest in the course, describe your future ambitions, skill sets, and experience which will set you apart from other applicants.

Watch our recent live Q&A session with our resident expert Kathleen Moran who regularly delivers training sessions to schools and colleges:

You can also check out this handy video from UCAS on how to plan, start, structure and finish your personal statement.

What happens after you have applied?

You will receive a welcome email from UCAS confirming your choices. The universities and colleges you have applied to will then decide whether to make you an offer. Some may ask you to come for an interview before taking that decision. Please check our key dates below.

The decision:

When you receive a decision from the universities or colleges you applied to, you’ll receive one of the following:

  • Unconditional offer: means you’ve got a place, although there might still be a few things to arrange.
  • Conditional offer: means you still need to meet some conditions– usually exam results.
  • Withdrawn application: means a course choice has been withdrawn by either you or the university or college. If the university or college has withdrawn your application, they’ll let you know their reason.
  • Unsuccessful application: means a university or college have decided not to offer you a place on a course. Sometimes they’ll give a reason, either with their decision or at a later date. If not, you can contact them to ask if they’ll discuss the reason with you

Don’t worry if you don’t get any offers – you might be able to add extra choices now or look for course availability later on.

Key dates:

  • 26 January 2022: Applications for the majority of UCAS Undergraduate courses should be submitted to UCAS by 6.00pm on this date. This is the ‘equal consideration’ deadline, which means universities and colleges must consider all applications received by this time equally. It is important to remember that once you have submitted your application that you might not receive an offer straight away so it’s best not to worry or panic if you hear of other applicants receiving theirs.
  • 25 February 2022: UCAS Extra opens
  • 19 May 2022: Universities and colleges decisions due on applications submitted by 26 January 2022.
  • 9 June 2022: Decision deadline for applicants who have received all decisions by 19 May 2022.
  • 30 June 2022: The deadline for late applications. Any applications after this date will automatically be entered into Clearing.
  • 5 July 2022: Clearing opens for eligible applicants.
  • 13 July 2022: Universities and colleges decisions due on late applications.
  • 14 July 2022: Decision deadline for late applicants who have received all decisions from universities and colleges.
  • 9 August 2022: Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) results day
  • 18 August 2022: Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) results day

Useful links:

Enjoying student successes at the MG ALBA Scots Traditional Music Awards

Ahead of the annual awards that celebrates and showcases the incredible talent that drives the traditional music industry in Scotland, Simon Bradley, programme leader of the university’s music and the environment masters course praises those recognised in nominations and reflects on their pathway.       

‘Hands up for Trad’

This year this annual event returns to Glasgow on Saturday 4 December.  Broadcast live from the Engine Works on BBC ALBA at 9pm, the award ceremony is one of the most anticipated in Scotland’s thriving traditional music culture.

Supporting and celebrating talent

Ahead of the ceremony, organised superbly by Hands up for Trad, I want to wish all the nominees well on the night and congratulate them on being recognised for their achievements. 

Once again, we have a fantastic group of music students and alumni that feature strongly in this year’s nominations. Each have studied with us in the 10 years since we have been delivering the BA (Hons) applied music degree and progression pathways for graduates.

Musical activity in Scotland connects communities in a myriad of ways and has a powerful significance to our cultural landscape, heritage and people.  At the university we recognise the important in bringing together industry with our students, and through our curriculum continue to develop novel collaborations with industry to unlock professional opportunity and practical support for our students.

Sheila Sapkota

Meet Sheila Sapkota. An alumnus from the Scottish Borders, she graduated from the BA applied music degree in 2018 and then progressing to the music and the environment masters programme. Her studies culminated in a final masters project that inspired the ‘Two Towns Housing Estate Youth Musical Outreach’, nominated in the community project of the year award, sponsored by Greentrax Recordings. 

Her masters programme springs from a desire to provide ‘Music for all’ in communities where gaps in provision are mitigated with free tuition and instruments. The flourishing of musical activity in these youth groups has produced noticeable benefits to her local community. By providing accessibility and flexibility to learn we can enable our students to be remain based in their own communities where they can apply their learning and contribute to local contexts.

“This band, in an area of multiple deprivation, would not have formed without the community project aspect of the Masters.” Sheila Sapkota

And we have more students, staff and graduates nominees.   

  • Madderam feature in the up-and-coming artist of the year award; and
  • Livewire by Mec Lir and Gaol by Rachel Walker, both nominated in the album of the year award

Invitation to our anniversary event 

Marking ten years since the applied music degree was introduced, we are celebrating with an online get together on Wednesday 24 November at 4pm.

Everyone is welcome to join our team based across the university partnership in discussion with graduates, current students and guests to reflect, remember and find out more about how you might wish to get involved in the future. As well as producing some of Scotland’s top performers and educators, for three consecutive years our innovative music programme has achieved 100% scores in the National Student Survey, highlighting the value students place on a curriculum which has developed strong community and engagement with industry and professional opportunity. 

Exploring a ‘Future Me’

Providing employment-focused conversation, connection and links with industry is fundamental to our award-winning music teaching recipe. The university’s careers and employability podcast series ‘Future Me’ offers valuable insights for our students and listeners to help to chart their future steps is accessible any time. Each episode brings a range of career stories and valuable advice, accessible to all in your own time.

In the latest episodes I talk to Donald Shaw, director of Celtic Connections about moving Celtic Connections online during the Covid-19 pandemic. Having worked at the highest level within the Scottish music scene his valuable insights are illuminating.  And it was my pleasure to talk with two of our music alumni, graduates Eamonn Watt and Ewan MacKay who share their experiences of life in the creative industries after graduation and forging their careers as professional composers.

The University of the Highlands and Islands is proud to be sponsor of the Musician of the Year award MG Alba Trad Awards 2021 for a third year.  University partner Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI is sponsor of the ‘trad music in the media’ award which will be presented by alumni Peter Wood @tartantunes

Shetland space day – inspiring a community

Following the first ever Shetland Space 101 Day on Saturday 6 November, Dr Brendan Hall, Shetland UHI’s Business Development and Projects Officer, shares insights on the motivations behind the event, the day itself and how Space 101 fits into wider plans in Shetland.

The buzz around space has been building in Shetland since plans were announced for a vertical-launch spaceport in Unst, Shetland’s (and, therefore, the UK’s) most northerly isle in 2018. The spaceport is being developed on the site of a former RAF radar station and will provide launch sites and associated services alongside ground stations for relaying data from satellites.

Shetland’s space skills pipeline

Shetland UHI is one of the key partners in Shetland’s space education, employment and skills pipeline.

The pipeline has four main aims:

  1. Creating an authentic, positive buzz for space in our school communities by providing genuine opportunities and inspiring young people in the space industry sphere.
  2. Developing a sustainable careers awareness pipeline for children through and beyond school.
  3. Enabling new partnerships between providers and employers within and outwith Shetland, including building a local apprenticeship pipeline and developing a local workforce for children and young people beyond school.
  4. Providing new networks and materials for teachers and other education staff in Shetland and professional development opportunities in this field.

Through Shetland’s space education, employment and skills pipeline children and young people in Shetland have been able to attend virtual ‘space camps’ and participate in space-themed competitions, all of which are helping to inspire the next generation of budding astronauts, data analysts and aeronautical engineers.  

As the new college for Shetland, we at Shetland UHI are keen to play our part in inspiring the whole community to take an interest in space and the exciting opportunities offered by having a spaceport on our doorstep. With Shetland Space 101 Day we wanted to offer an opportunity for people across Shetland and beyond to learn more about space and what it means for people in Shetland.

Space 101 event

As the name suggests, Space 101 was aimed at a general audience of all ages. Working to the maxim that ‘space is for everyone’, we collaborated closely with colleagues at Saxavord to design a programme which would have a broad appeal to anyone interested in space and the space sector, while also exploring what the development of the Unst spaceport might mean in the Shetland context.

In light of COVID-19 restrictions, we settled on a hybrid event based around a series of online talks (from Shetland UHI-based and external speakers) alongside some interactive space-related activities at our Lerwick campus.

With the support of Saxavord UK Spaceport, we were able to recruit a fantastic group of engaging experts to compliment the talents of our colleagues at Shetland UHI. The speakers and subjects included:

  • Dr Andrew Jennings (Shetland UHI) who explored how our ancestors looked at the stars with an introduction to Celtic and Norse astronomy
  • Dr Christina Mackaill (York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) who provided a fascinating insight into the effects of space exploration on the human body and the emerging field of space medicine
  • Dr Simon Clarke (Shetland UHI) who examined the history and heritage of RAF Skaw (the proposed spaceport site) and the role of heritage management in contemporary development
  • Dr Hina Khan (Spire Global) who explained why space is such an important and growing part of the Scottish economy, with an introduction to everyday satellite usage
  • The Endeavour Team (a student-led rocketry group based at Edinburgh University) who offered an inspirational insight into their ambitious plans to build space-faring vehicles in Scotland

The talks were livestreamed on Shetland UHI’s Facebook page. This was a new experience for us, but something we were keen to get to grips with to enhance our community engagement and outreach. Space 101 day provided the perfect testing ground for this and it’s safe to say we learned a lot on the day! All the talks are available to watch online.

On-campus activities included a virtual reality space experience, facilitated by the Shetland UHI computing team (Anna Breimann and Euan Robertson). Anna is also Shetland UHI’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) lead and provided lots of informative and interactive materials including models of space vehicles – from Mars Rovers to Saturn V rockets.

The future

It’s fair to say that the creation of a spaceport in Unst will have a profound impact on Shetland’s industrial landscape and the opportunities available for local people. The pace of development in the ‘NewSpace’ sector is almost bewilderingly rapid and the range of potential careers and associated skills needs are vast.

In line with the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Islands Strategy, we will work to align the university’s curriculum, at all levels, with key sectoral priorities in this (and other) rapidly developing industries in the islands. Handled properly, there is little doubt that the burgeoning space industry can help us to retain and retrain skills and high-quality jobs, while also attracting new talent from elsewhere to live, work and study in Shetland and the other islands.

Shetland UHI is committed to helping to maximise the benefits of the industry locally and across the region. We continue to work closely with Saxavord UK Spaceport and our other pipeline partners and hope that this will have been the first of many Space 101 Days.

Supporting students with dyslexia

To mark Dyslexia Awareness Week Scotland, our disability support coordinator Mark Ross has gathered insights from staff who have experience of dyslexia and provides information about support services which are available.

Dyslexia has consistently been among the most disclosed disabilities within our university partnership and across further and higher education over the last few years. The university has clear processes in place to ensure the support requirements of individual students are identified, captured and communicated with relevant staff on a need-to-know basis.

Our disability and personal learning support plan processes enable us to make reasonable adjustments for students with dyslexia in line with our responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. We also do as much as possible to ensure our provision is accessible to current and prospective students in advance and we recognise that not every student will require, or wish to set up, a personal learning support plan.

Gerald McLaughlin – Student Services Manager, Perth College UHI

The most often seen condition at Perth College UHI’s additional support service is specific learning difficulties. These conditions constitute around 40% to 45% of the students we support each year. Specific learning difficulties is an umbrella term for conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. The etymology (origin of the word) of these conditions is: dys – difficult, then add the suffix (or ending) lexis – speech (for dyslexia) or praxis – movement (for dyspraxia) and calculia – to count (for dyscalculia). The most common specific learning difficulties condition we see is dyslexia.

As a dyslexia specialist and specific learning difficulty assessor of a number of years now, it is clear that the benefits of a dyslexia diagnosis are multifaceted and, more often than not, personal to the individual. The obvious benefit for our higher education students is to unlock funding such as Disabled Students’ Allowance.

However, there is personal benefit in terms of a diagnosis too. Anecdotally speaking, after more than a decade working in additional support, you begin to see patterns of folk with specific conditions congregating in certain courses. While I have not done any formal research (although, I do believe I have a PhD thesis in here somewhere) my contention is as follows. People with dyslexia are attracted to jobs that are more practical in nature, childcare and early education being a good example.

From around 2012 onwards, colleges such as Perth College UHI saw a steady stream of early childhood practitioners come on to degree courses such as the BA (Hons) childhood practice. A number of these, usually mature, students began to struggle with the advanced literacy elements of their courses. The college support systems would kick in and dyslexia screening and eventual diagnosis would be scheduled. Having completed a number of diagnoses for these (predominantly female) students, the overwhelming feedback I would receive from is that of catharsis! The student would invariably feel a sense of relief. Some comments I would receive, would be along the lines of ‘I knew I wasn’t thick’ – ‘I always knew there was something not right’. There were sometimes even tears of relief.

Many of these students would continue their educational journey to success. They would often report a sense of achievement from their hard work and endeavour. You could see their negative experiences of education dissipate; it is almost tangible.

They would now be supported appropriately by the university support systems and have equal access to the curriculum, sometimes for the first time in their life.

My part in the student journey to success is relatively incidental. You simply give the student a key. It needs to be said though, as a specific learning difficulty assessor, being able to give someone the key that allows them to unlock their full potential is by far the biggest privilege you can have!

Dr Gareth Davies – Lecturer and Programme Leader, Lews Castle College UHI

I started secondary school in Wales in 1979 and I was told I was thick. In the late 70s there wasn’t as much known about dyslexia as there is today and there was far less understanding of the challenges that those with dyslexia faced daily. A teacher told me I was too thick to do “O” level English and the school refused to put me in the “O” level group. 

Thus, I was denied the opportunity to study for one of the most basic and important gateway qualifications. Fortunately for me, my mother was an English teacher and she did not give up on me.  She told the school that she would keep me home on a Thursday morning and teach me herself. She did and I passed, but that was not the end of the story. I struggled to gain a BTEC diploma in business studies and then got relatively mundane jobs.

One job was working in a shop on the high-street in Bangor. I spent Saturdays watching students from the university casually milling around and popping into the pubs and I thought that looked like a fun thing to do, so I signed up for “A” level English evening classes and I squeaked through with a grade D which was enough to get me into Bangor University to study psychology. I honestly thought that if I lasted until Christmas before they found out I was thick and booted me out, I would be doing well. But that did not matter because I was in university having a great time and I was not working in the shop. Much to my surprise, I made it through to the second year (a degree is three years in Wales and England). 

As part of the degree, participation as a research subject was strongly encouraged so I signed up to be a control participant for Prof Tim Miles, a name that many in the dyslexia community will recognise. He told me I had come on the wrong day and that the subjects with dyslexia should come the following day. Of course, I protested that I did not have dyslexia, but Prof Miles just smiled and said that he was pretty sure that I was dyslexic. Who was I to argue? He referred me to an educational psychologist who confirmed his hunch. Thanks Tim!

Discovering that I had dyslexia was a moment that gave me the confidence to carry on with my studies. I did and I was successful. I had the feeling that a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I was not, after all, “thick”. It was a great boost to my self-confidence.

I did a Master’s degree straight after my Bachelor’s degree and a few years later I completed a teaching qualification. A couple of years after that I did my PhD. The school was wrong, but to be fair, this was 35 years ago and dyslexia is now far better understood. Help and support is available in ways that didn’t exist when I was a student. There was some; I was given a computer and extra exam time and that was it. No one ever asked me how I was getting on. The university partnership has a host of resources that those with dyslexia can access so seek the help that is out there – it is far better than the help that was on offer 35 years ago. 

The lesson I have taken away from all this is never to let anyone hold you back. Having dyslexia does not mean that you cannot succeed – you can. I did.

The university’s accessibility project

To help staff ensure their learning content is accessible and to comply with accessibility regulations, the university is running a project with staff training at the heart of it. Not only will this ensure that students with disabilities are able to access learning content, creating accessible learning resources also enhances the experience for all students.  

The accessibility project team has:

  • Established a university-wide accessibility champions forum which will help staff locally
  • Created a self-directed accessibility support module for staff, comprising a suite of useful resources
  • Arranged online support which will include webinars, workshops, drop-ins and question and answer sessions
  • Used software tools to help make learning content accessible and available to students in alternative formats
  • Created an accessibility communications site which will give staff the information they need to start their accessibility enhancement journey

Students with dyslexia may find some of the available alternative formats such as audio, tagged PDF and BeeLine Reader useful. The BeeLine Reader is particularly helpful for people with dyslexia as it displays lines of text in different colours. For more information, see the BeeLine Reader section on Blackboard Ally’s  alternative formats webpage.

Microsoft Office

University of the Highlands and Islands students can download the offline versions of Office 365 applications (e.g. Word, PowerPoint, etc) for use during their studies. Microsoft Office has several in-built accessibility tools which can be useful for students and staff alike.

Accessing support  

  • Students who would like further details of available support can contact student services for advice.
  • Students can also contact their personal academic tutor for further information on the university’s accessibility project.

Food doesn’t need to cost the earth

As the UN climate change conference kicks off in Glasgow and Green Week takes place around our university partnership, Nadja Korner, a BSc integrative healthcare student from Moray College UHI, shares advice on how we can help the planet and ourselves through the food we eat.

Have you ever asked yourself how the food on your plate impacts the environment? Often, we shop with only our eyes, but not with reasoning. With globalization, the supermarkets have been able to offer a wider variety of foods from across the world. It’s fun to explore the taste from other countries, but it also has its downsides – mostly affecting our environment and climate.

One of the most obvious facts is the travel food needs to undergo when coming from the other side of the world. The emissions used for shipping or flying goods to us can be avoided by eating local growing foods. In addition, food coming from further abroad, especially fresh produce, will not have as many nutrients preserved as food from closer to where we live. Therefore, a local diet can help to reduce emissions and reduce our impact on the climate.

But it’s not only a local diet that matters. Eating seasonally, is also important. It goes hand in hand with eating more locally and is easy to incorporate. When you start looking to make local choices, it doesn’t take much effort to find out what’s in season. After a while, you will remember what is growing where and when. To help you, I have attached a free downloadable guidance chart from my Mission Nutrition cookbook.

Local farmer markets have become increasingly popular over the recent years which is good news! The markets will provide you with fresh, unprocessed and highly nutritious food that benefits not only yourself, but the farmers and the environment at large.

Let me summarise the points above:

Buying seasonal, local food helps to reduce emissions caused by long transport. It supports local farmers and stores in your area, guarantees a higher nutritional value and freshness of the products. Fruits and vegetables in season are also cheaper, it will save you money eventually to know when to buy what.

The production of meat also causes a lot of emissions and has a significant impact on the climate. You may consider one or even more days a week where you explore a different way of eating. You can find a variety of vegetarian or vegan recipes on my website and online. If you are unsure about this step, try combining it with a theme, such as vegetarian Italian recipes etc.

Little goes a long way

Do not worry if it all seems a lot. It can be hard to change our common way of life and eating habits. However, if you think of the world at large, other animals and human beings, it can motivate you to make a change. Considering how your choices can impact future generations or even your own life, may just be what you need to get started.

It’s important to be gentle and to start slowly. If you are new to this, start with one or two days a week, then slowly increase to buy more local food. Take time to look at the guidance chart and see what you can buy in season in your area. Looking up recipes in advance before going to the supermarket and writing a shopping list can also help you to stick to your goal.

Finally, I would like to emphasise the importance of enjoying the process. Food is a big part of our life and changing our diet is much nicer when it is fun. If we can look at change as a challenge that helps us grow, we are much more likely to enjoy it. So, be gentle, plan and enjoy a new, rewarding way of eating for yourself and the world at large!

Please see below some common ingredients grown in the UK.

  • Barley, quinoa (UK grown), oats
  • Wheat, wholegrain, einkorn, emmer and Khorasan
  • British Chia seeds, Camelina seeds, hemp seeds, linseeds
  • Fava beans, peas, chickpeas, carlin peas, marrowfat peas, yellow peas, lentils, beans
  • Seaweed etc.

Hodmedod is a UK growing business, which has a shop full of local ingredients and delicious recipes.

Nadja runs her own website where people can find out more about healthy eating and lifestyle. Access your free seasonal calendar.

Student safety: drink spiking

Recent news reports of allegations of drink spiking and spiking by injection have highlighted how important it is to be vigilant when out socialising. The university’s student services team has put together a handy guide below to help you stay safe.
A group of friends at the local pub having a good time

Student safety: We want to ensure our students are aware of how to keep themselves safe when enjoying a night out and have linked online resources in this blog which highlight how you can look after yourself and where to go for support should you be a victim of spiking. Our student support teams are also on hand to speak to whenever you need us.  

A group of young women enjoying a  night out together in a social setting

What is drink spiking? Drink spiking occurs when a substance, such as drugs or alcohol, is added to your drink without you knowing about it. It can happen in any situation and may affect how you act or behave with other people. However, there are things that you can do to protect yourself. 

How to avoid drink spiking: Please be vigilant with your drinks when in a social setting – this can be a bar, club, concert, or even a house party. Try to get into the habit of never leaving your drink unattended, and don’t accept a drink from someone you don’t know.  Possible symptoms of spiking may include:

  • Feeling drowsy
  • Feeling more drunk than expected
  • Difficulty in speaking and slurring of word
  • Memory loss
A person using their smart phone at a bar in a social setting with a wine glass placed nearby.

How to seek help: If you think you or a friend may have been spiked, seek help from the venue staff or a friend as soon as possible. We also encourage anyone who believes they have had their drink spiked to contact Police Scotland by dialling 101, or in an emergency dial 999.

Police Scotland recently issued a statement including further advice on what to do if you think you or someone you know have been spiked.

More information on how you can keep yourself safe and what to do if you think you have been the victim of spiking can be found on the Drinkaware website.

Are you a sole trader or a small business leader? Pushed for time but want to grow your business? Looking for a fresh spark for you and your business?

Often it’s business leaders, the entrepreneurs and those preparing the workplace of tomorrow in our small and rural businesses that can’t find the time, motivation or funds to continue to develop their own personal skills and access training.

With 24 fully funded places on this year’s Catalyst programme available to sole traders and small business owners based in the Highlands and Islands, Perthshire and Moray, we asked David Massey, managing director at The Apprentice Store, an inspiring social enterprise company, to share his experience of the programme.

When did you take part in the Catalyst programme?

I was actually on the very first group, back in 2016, having been put in touch with Roz by the business support team at Inverness College UHI. The programme was easy to apply for and it was exactly what I was looking for. It was a space to explore and create a different mindset whilst also learning from other people in a similar position to myself.

Person with a blurred background
David Massey, ‘The Apprentice Store’ managing director

Did you have a goal in mind when you started?

Not really. I had the start of an idea for a new nameless project which I wanted to explore.

By the end of the programme, I had registered ‘The Apprentice Store’ and had crystalised a business model which is the foundation of how the business operates today.

In what way did it unlock new thinking?

‘The Apprentice Store’ operates as a social enterprise, one of only around four in the UK that I am aware off. Our social purpose is to create sustainable employment for young people who have been excluded from employment and to assist small and fragile communities to be sustainable by allowing young people to stay living and working from them.

We offer remote quality services such as IT support, web development and cyber security advice to small and micro businesses across the UK.

The programme has given me an insight into a different way of thinking. A process to thinking outside my blue square box, where I feel most comfortable. It was challenging but I recognise that I need different types of people around me to allow the organisation to flourish.

It helped me to mould the ethos of the business and how to model its services and the team whilst supporting the career development of young talent in our local communities.

What advice would you give to those considering applying?

Do it! It will make you look at yourself and the way that you think about doing things. It is different from many other programmes that tend to focus on finance, efficiency, scaling and processes. It puts people at the core of the business.

People need to be of the right mindset and that starts with the leaders. If you look after the people and break the mould in your thought process who knows what you can achieve. Insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Based at the Inverness campus, Roz Thomas is an enterprise lecturer and runs the catalyst programme at CREATE, part of the university’ centre for remote and sustainable communities at Inverness College UHI. She is committed to supporting businesses and helping them to enhance their performance and skills.

Roz Thomas, enterprise lecturer

What does the Catalyst programme offer? 

It is accessible training that is tailored to suit your needs and preferences. It will help you to develop entrepreneurial skills, improve leadership practices and productivity, and analyse, develop and pilot growth plans.

The programme consists of six modules and is taught entirely online with an initial induction on how to use the online tools and resources as well as three twilight, tutor-led group sessions.

It is supported and enhanced by experienced entrepreneurs who input their own experiences that connect you to real-life situations and references, as well as enabling you to expand your existing business networks.

Is there a cost?  

We have 24 fully funded places subject to availability and eligibility. The places are available to small and medium size enterprises and sole traders that are based in the regional communities that the university serves. We cover the largest geographical area of any campus-based university or college in the UK – the Highlands and Islands, Perthshire and Moray. 

How do I get in touch to find out more?

To apply for one of the places or discuss the programme, please contact Roz Thomas at catalyst.ic@uhi.ac.uk

To find out more about support for business and employers at the University of the Highlands and Islands, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/en/business/

Catalyst is funded by the Scottish Funding Council through the University Innovation fund and administered by the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Our work to support dementia education

World Alzheimer’s Day takes place every year on 21 September. To mark this day, Dr Leah Macaden, a senior lecturer in nursing, a senior fellow of Advance HE and an expert in dementia education, provides an insight into the work of our nursing and midwifery department in enhancing dementia knowledge in healthcare practitioners.

Dr Leah Macaden

In the UK, 850,000 people (one in 14 adults over the age of 65) are estimated to be living with dementia. With future prevalence predicted to mirror global trends, dementia has been declared a global health priority by the World Health Organisation.

Deficiencies in the quality of care for people living with dementia are associated with gaps in dementia-specific knowledge amongst practitioners. This has been recognised as a key challenge throughout the UK and has intensified the need for appropriate dementia workforce development.

Our department aims to address this issue with a strategic approach to dementia education across our undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD programmes.

As a senior lecturer in nursing, I worked with colleagues from our educational development unit to develop the ‘dementia enhanced education to promote excellence’ initiative as an integral component of our three-year BSc nursing programme in 2017. The initiative is underpinned by Scottish policy and is delivered with interdisciplinary colleagues from NHS Highland, Alzheimer Scotland and Connecting Communities. Students are certified as ‘dementia friends’ in the first semester of the programme and progress through the ‘informed’, ‘skilled’ and ‘enhanced’ levels of Scotland’s promoting excellence framework for dementia training over three years.

Our MSc advanced nursing / professional practice programme includes an expert dementia practice module and we have two externally funded PhD projects focussed on dementia too. One is exploring technology enabled dementia education for remote and rural practitioners and the other is looking at the role of technology and virtual access to the outdoor environment to enhance wellbeing for people with dementia in care homes.

Supporting dementia practice in care homes

The COVID-19 crisis has had a disproportionate and devastating impact on care homes, including staff and residents living with dementia and complex care needs. Structure, routine and familiarity are vital cognitive ramps for people living with dementia to make sense of their world. It is a well-established fact that an appropriately trained workforce enhances confidence and competence, promoting positive care experiences and interactions both for staff and residents.

As a Churchill Fellow, I was keen to support dementia practice in care homes through education to meet the demands for new learning at an unprecedented pace in the constantly evolving and changing COVID-19 landscape. We secured money from the COVID-19 Action Fund to develop ‘COVID dementia education for care homes’, the first dedicated blended learning resource to promote dementia care excellence in care homes during the pandemic. The resource was developed in consultation with the Balhousie Care Group and is set to become part of the UK’s COVID-19 knowledge bank.

Twenty-seven practitioners have now completed this training and we have secured additional funding to train staff who provide home care in the community. We have received positive feedback from many stakeholders and participants:

“Dr Leah Macaden secured a grant competitively from our COVID-19 Action fund, networking with two other Churchill Fellows from the Highlands to lead ‘COVID dementia education for care homes’ in response to the immense challenges faced by care home staff during the pandemic. We were able to hear first-hand from care home staff about the transformational impact of the training, both for them, the residents they care for and their families. We consider our investment to this cause very worthwhile and believe that the partnerships that have developed as a result of the project will go from strength to strength. We look forward to following the evolution of the training beyond this crisis and seeing how it continues to strengthen the enormously important field of dementia education.”

Julia Weston, CEO of The Churchill Fellowship

“I have been involved in Leah’s unique approach to dementia nurse education since 2012, sharing my perspectives as a dementia carer. As a Churchill Fellow from the region, I jumped at the opportunity to be part of this project. The resource covers the A to Z of dementia care and, as far as I know, is the only training programme that does this. Before the pandemic it was difficult enough to get experts to our remote, rural location to train staff. Then, with the pandemic when we needed it the most, it was impossible. The fact that the training is interactive using a blended approach is a tremendous plus for organisations like ours.”

Ann Pascoe, Founder/Director: Connecting Communities, Churchill Fellow [2012], Sutherland

“The Balhousie Care Group has committed to provide a therapeutic environment for people to live and die well with dementia. This project provided a valuable opportunity during the pandemic for our social care staff in North Inch and North Grove Care Homes to access a unique blend of quality education from practice and academic experts. The resource has equipped us to continue our journey in continuous improvement for dementia care excellence in our organisation.”

Lindsay Dingwall, Clinical Care Quality Manager, Balhousie Care Group, Scotland

“Being an expert group member to develop the resource was rewarding. The pedagogical and interdisciplinary approach used to design and deliver it were unique, exceptional, innovative and pandemic friendly.”

Alka Goel, Associate Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Nursing and Health Promotion, The Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway

“Improving care and support for people with dementia is a national priority. Working with Dr Macaden to design valuable digital resources to support dementia training in care homes during a pandemic was purposeful, rewarding and timely.”

Andrew Gibson, Educational Development Leader, University of the Highlands and Islands

To find out more about our health courses, visit http://www.uhi.ac.uk/courses

To find out more about our department of nursing and midwifery, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/en/studying-at-uhi/nursing

Where learning means more | Far a bheil ionnsachadh a’ ciallachadh barrachd