Kate Middleton visits Derby University to see how students are coping with coronavirus
The Duchess of Cambridge visited the University of Derby to check up on students starting during the pandemic.
Kate Middleton donned a colourful mask to chat to freshers about how they have felt studying amid a national surge in coronavirus cases.
Husna Hanif and Laura Oliver, both 18, told the Duchess they had “kept busy” during lockdown – adding that it was “hard not seeing friends”.
She asked the pair if there was enough support at the university – to which Ms Oliver replied “there’s so much support”.
“That’s great to hear,” the Duchess said.
Later on Kate stood in a socially distanced circle after the rain eventually stopped to watch some of the women footballers on the university’s 4G pitch.
She asked students: “Is it really weird not being in lectures?”
One student said they were enjoying the change, but added it was “difficult not learning face-to-face”.
“You’re doing very well,” Kate replied.
Kate had travelled to the city to meet undergraduates to learn about how their mental health is being cared for on campus.
Her visit came as Universities UK, which represents 139 institutions including the University of Derby, published a new checklist to help universities support student wellbeing in the autumn term.
Universities are now supposed to ensure students have access to basic necessities during self-isolation, including food, laundry services, cleaning materials, bin bags, tissues and toilet rolls, the guide says.
A surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks has led to thousands of students having to self-isolate in their halls at some universities, with some hanging signs out their windows saying they did not have food.
More than 50 universities in the UK have confirmed cases of coronavirus as students return to campus, with students self isolating at Manchester Metropolitan and Glasgow University.
Nearly 500 students and staff at Sheffield University have tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of term, and more than 750 students are self-isolating at Northumbria University after testing positive.
The National Union of Students (NUS) has warned that undergraduates ‘trapped in halls’ could exacerbate poor mental health issues.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to get university students back to their families for Christmas despite warnings that rates of infection in young adults were climbing steeply.
The duchess’s visit to the university’s main Kedleston Road site ties in with World Mental Health Day on Saturday.
She was briefed by Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity, on the national picture.
Her first discussion was in a socially distanced circle.
She asked representatives of Student Minds if there had been an “increase in awareness” amongst students of mental health help – and asked if it had been “integrated” into their education.
Kate also heard how Student Minds has created Student Space, a new resource created to support students during the pandemic, which offers information and direct help by phone and text.
The 24/7 text service providing help from a trained volunteer is delivered in partnership with Shout, an initiative from the Royal Foundation’s Heads Together mental health campaign.
The duchess met first-year students, sports societies and nursing students, and chatted to them about the effect the Covid-19 outbreak has had on them.
Kate was told how nursing students have been buddied up with fellow students in the year above to provide them with peer support during challenging clinical placements, and how the university has trained its sports societies to enable students to support their teammates’ mental health.
The duchess, who has a history of art degree, spent her university days at St Andrews in Fife.
It was where she met her future husband and then fellow student Prince William.
In their first year in 2001, William and Kate lived a few doors apart at St Salvator’s hall of residence and became friendly, socialising together and playing tennis.
Both were studying history of art, although William switched to geography in the end.
It was Kate who was credited with persuading the prince to continue his studies when he considered quitting as he struggled to adjust to university life during his first year.
They began sharing an four-bedroom Edwardian townhouse in Fife with friends at the start of their second year, before the group of four students moved into a secluded rented cottage outside the town.
They graduated at the same ceremony in 2005.
The Duchess of Cambridge then met with nursing students to speak about the importance of mental health.
She stood in a spaced out circle from them in front of mock hospital beds with dummy patients, and three nursing students in what appeared to be nursing uniform.
The students told the duchess of the importance of looking after a patient’s mental health.
Kate completed her visit by venturing outside to the sports centre.
The duchess held a university-branded umbrella as she made her way out in the rain to speak to footballers about how their mental health is supported.
She concluded her visit by telling the students she “loved” how mental health work had been “integrated” into university life in Derby.
The duchess received a gift bag from the university on her departure and was thanked for “making mental health a priority”.
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