May 2021

Disabled Students Society wins national award for being “pillar of support”  

By Melanie Hall

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University College Birmingham’s Disabled Students Society has scooped a national award for being a “pillar of support” and going above and beyond to inspire students during the pandemic.  

The society, which is part of the University’s Guild of Students, has won the Committee Excellence Award at the 2021 National Societies and Volunteering Awards (NSVAs), celebrating the work of those leading the UK’s student societies and keeping members’ busy and lifting their spirits.    

As well as running a virtual café, bake-off, movie nights and quizzes, the society – a new starter set up in the middle of the pandemic last year - organised a series of Wellbeing Wednesdays, inviting guest speakers to share their stories and help arm members with new skills.  

The committee also organised the creation of a charity blanket, which is set to be finished soon to raise vital funds to support disabilities in every form.   

Future plans involve recruiting a wellbeing team officer to “tackle the taboo topic of invisible disability” and driving awareness campaigns to encourage students and the wider university community to get involved and make change.   

There are also plans to work with The Hive Café and Bakery in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, which employs students with disabilities and learning needs. 

A spokesperson for the NSVA Awards Committee said: “Established this year during lockdown, this society has established tons of brilliant initiatives including weekly drop-ins and campaigns - despite having never met in person.”  

Disabled Students Society president Tom Sennett, who is studying for a foundation degree in Digital Marketing at the University after completing a Level 3 in Hospitality on leaving school, said the award was recognition of a lot of hard work and perseverance. 

“Our society is a lovely community of people that look out for each other and we feel liberated by being part of it. It gives us friendship, a safe space and builds our confidence, and it’s great to see our membership go up as more people get to know about us.” 

Tom Sennett Disabled Students Society President

“For someone who struggles with self-esteem and thinking I’m not doing an excellent job, the award is significant to me,” said Tom, who has dyslexia.  

“I know we still have a lot to do, but this award is a very positive thing that we can use in the future to continue the hard work and make a real change within our university and the community.”  

He said members of the society were from all backgrounds and had a range of diverse disabilities, hidden and visible.   

“Our vice president is disabled and in a wheelchair, and her life is affected very differently to mine, but we both have disabilities,” he said. “We have members who are mute and can’t hear very well, and their lives have significant challenges. We have members that struggle with mental health too.   

“Our society is a lovely community of people that look out for each other and we feel liberated by being part of it. It gives us friendship, a safe space and builds our confidence, and it’s great to see our membership go up as more people get to know about us.”  

Making an impression  

Organisers received nearly 500 nominations from over 75 UK colleges and universities for this year’s awards, which celebrated everything from inspiring events and wellbeing programmes to volunteering in schools, hospitals and food banks by students during Covid-19.  

They particularly recognised those that worked hard to make their committees more inclusive and reduce barriers to education through engaging, Covid-safe digital events.  

Tom said they had worked hard to engage members online, but he hoped there would lots of opportunities to physically meet over the coming year.  

“I want to do more face-to-face events as many of our students have struggled with the online meetings,” he said. “For instance, I’m hoping to hire out space where we could do another annual bake-off and a liberation forum event with all of our liberation societies at the University, a place for us to come together and do a unified event. But we do want to keep the online Wellbeing Wednesdays, looking at good mental health and checking up on everyone.   

“Through different events, campaigns and support, we want members to feel empowered with their disability instead of feeling scared and unable to talk to anyone. It’s about increasing their self-esteem and ability to connect with different people. I’m very proud of what we are doing.”  

Cassie O’Boyle, the University’s Guild of Students’ Advocacy and Representation Coordinator, said: “Thank you to all of the staff at the University that have supported this society to get up and running, we can’t wait to see them go from strength to strength over the year ahead.”  

Find out more and join the Disabled Students Society for free.   

Find out more about clubs and societies within University College Birmingham’s Guild of Students.

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