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Photo Credit: Diocese of Exeter
Photo Credit: Diocese of Exeter
studenthelp service.JPG
UK News

'We want them to feel loved': Churches launch uni student help service for those in local lockdown

by Tola Mbakwe

Churches in Exeter have united to reach out to university students under a local lockdown.

Students at Exeter University are not currently permitted to meet indoors with anyone who is not in their own household. 

The measures follow a rising number of coronavirus cases in the university community at what is usually a key time for new students to make friends and settle in to life in a new city.

Exeter University Chaplain Rev. Hannah Alderson, said: "Exeter University is normally part of the buzzing heart of our city, but this year things are much more sombre.

"In my four years as a university chaplain, this has been the strangest and quietest of Freshers' weeks. 

"The restrictions have been very difficult for all our students and as a University Multifaith Chaplaincy team we are united across faiths to support those who are feeling vulnerable and isolated. 

"Both the practical support and the prayers of the wider Church community are much appreciated at this time."

In response, a group of Anglican churches have launched a student help service. They've created a dedicated email address studenthelp@exeter.anglican.org so students can ask for help if they need it.

The Archdeacon of Exeter, Andrew Beane, who is helping co-ordinate the initiative, said: "We will connect you with a local church who might be able to help you if you are self-isolating, feeling alone, afraid, worried or just want to make a connection with the local community.

"The message that we want to give is that we are here to help."

The service is available to students across Devon, including Plymouth, which is not currently facing the same restrictions.

St Leonards, Exeter Network Church, St Matt's and Unlimited Church are among those taking part. 

Rev. Helen Sherlock from Unlimited Church told Premier she got involved because there was sense that the community was blaming the students for the rise in infections. 

"We just wanted to work out how we can make them feel loved, because I think some of them feel like the people of Exeter don't want them here, which isn't true," she said. 

"We know that young people love food so we've just come up with an idea of sending cookie parcels or Dial-a-Toastie ideas, just to reach out to them in the way that we know that they would welcome."

While Unlimited Church has been giving away hot drinks and doughnuts on the Exeter Cathedral Green, other churches are helping in different ways. 

Rich Kelly, one of the student leaders at Exeter Network Church, said: "We are aiming to mobilise students from our church, numbering towards 100, to reach out to Freshers and go for Covid-secure outdoor coffees and walks in order to provide care and pastoral support as well as an introduction to the city. 

"We can also deliver shopping to anyone we know of who is isolating or talk to anyone who is lonely or upset by the current situation."

Rev Sherlock said their hope is that they can reach both Christian and non-Christian students. She's urged people to be praying for students at this uncertain time. 

"I think our biggest prayer is against isolation. They've just come from six months of lockdown with high hopes of university being something different and exciting. And now perhaps they're living with strangers for the first time away from home. If they're having to self-isolate because somebody in their flat is positive, I think the risk of isolation and loneliness is massive for these young people."

The Church of England in Devon has confirmed with Exeter University that students are able to attend church services as they are exempt from the restriction on indoor meetings.

Listen to Premier's interview with Rev Sherlock here: 

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