How has coronavirus changed student life in Sheffield?

Just give us a blue pint to see us through

Sheffield has over 60,000 students, and before the pandemic student life was thriving.

Our biggest worry used to be whether we would get to Tiger Works in time for a £5 round or whether we’d be able to get a ticket to Poptarts. But now, student life has undoubtedly changed.

Many students have faced periods of isolation, whether this be living alone, having restrictions on meeting friends or family, or not being able to engage in social activities. found that “young adults (aged 18-30), people with low household income and those living alone were at heightened risk of loneliness during the pandemic. Since March 2020, being a student is a higher risk factor than usual.”

Students (regardless of what year they’re in) are facing long periods of inactivity, with everyday feeling seemingly the same: wake up, online lectures, eat, Netflix, sleep.

What’s changed about Sheffield’s nightlife?

Many of the first years who moved to Sheffield in 2020 haven’t experienced anything that Sheffield is so famous for. Under normal circumstances, most students would be visiting every pub and club in Sheffield, which varies from the downing Hooch at Club Tropicana, to 90p doubles at Code on a Tuesday.

Instead, students have turned to drinking with housemates/flatmates which can produce some memorable and messy nights, but students are missing out on opportunities to form memories of Sheffield that last a lifetime – are you really a Sheffield student if you haven’t taken on the rainbow pint challenge at Corp (and failed miserably)?

How has the academic experience changed?

This year, university societies have almost all been online, with socials being exclusively on Zoom.

Societies are usually a brilliant way for new and current students to meet new people, experience new cultures. Societies can also get students to engage in new and interesting hobbies, whether it be sport, board games or simply grabbing a coffee from one of Sheffield’s many independent coffee shops. Of course, students can still join these societies, but online socials just aren’t the same as being able to go to ROAR on a Wednesday night.

For some, doing lectures in bed has become a student favourite, but, there is a definite yearning to return to physical learning. Online lectures have been good, providing a sense of routine and keeping our minds active. But they soon grow old. This has caused a severe lack of motivation to work, perform well and engage in studies for the majority of students. Can you really blame us?

How has student mental health changed?

For many, the monotonous cycle of the pandemic has taken a toll on our mental well-being – this is especially true for first-years who were promised a very different experience.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported in 2020 that: “More than one in five said their mental health was much worse, while 63 percent felt Covid-19 posed either a big or significant risk to their mental or physical health.”  This demonstrates the severe impact that the pandemic has had on mental health, with many students exhausted and overwhelmed by the constant pressure and anxiety of online studies, causing grades to drop and work to be incomplete.

The University of Sheffield chose to continue with online exams. In the first lockdown, they added a safety net, allowing for pandemic to be considered and for grades to be operated on a “pass/fail” basis.

But in future lockdowns, this safety net was taken away. This upset some students, who were worried it would end up affecting their final grade. Many students even set up and signed petitions to put the safety net back in place, calling for more to be done to protect students struggling with balancing their mental health, and their academia.

What do students have to say?

Lydia Harris, a second-year sociology student at the University of Sheffield, told us: “Technical issues over Zoom made the course and group projects impossible.” Like many students, Lydia felt that she “was left to it and fell behind in all her work”. Because of the difficulties in her studies, Lydia told us that she struggled in the pandemic to adapt to the new normal: “To be honest, I coped poorly. For me, the lack of routine left me with no motivation; I felt I had no reason to do the work. Most days during the pandemic, my life has felt like a blur.”

Additionally, Lydia felt that the thing she had felt like she had missed pre-pandemic, was “meeting new people” and looked forward to being able to see anyone without “overwhelming anxiety and feeling on-edge”. Even though the lack of social interaction was difficult for Lydia to adapt to, she did describe to us how she felt like she had found different ways to cope: “Running and getting out really does help. Honestly, we’re lucky to live in Sheffield because there is just so much green Also, academic welfare officers have helped me when I’m low, they’re here for you and will support you in your work.”

Holly Reeve, a third-year social work student at Hallam, said her course “has done pretty well with remaining on top of things” with staff being “incredibly understanding and flexible with people who are struggling” something which Hollie acknowledges isn’t common amongst other students she knows. 

She also was able to participate in a six-month placement during the pandemic: “That was a fascinating experience to see how people from all walks of life have coped with the changes of coronavirus”.

However, like many, Hollie found the pandemic made her miss the unique aspects of student life, like nights out. She felt, as a third year, the inability to go on a night out was all the more impactful: “I miss going on nights out. I don’t like the fact I will probably never go on a night out as a student again and I feel that fear of missing out – like I’ve lost two years of my life.”

Throughout the pandemic, Hollie felt she “coped as well as she could have in such uncertain times” but she “definitely struggled in the first lockdown”. In terms of her living arrangements, Hollie faced being on her own in her shared student house, as all of her housemates had gone back home. Hollie mentioned that as a result of this, and the pandemic in general, she’s been left “with a lot more social anxiety than I had before; it’s definitely altered my perspective on things”. However, Hollie felt “she had a good support network and we’ve all helped each other through it”.

In terms of looking forward, Hollie looks forward to being able to “leave Sheffield, as bad as it sounds, I want to go on holiday somewhere and not feel so trapped”. She also looks forward to “seeing all the people she used to see all the time.” Overall, she just misses “normality”.

Looking forward:

University years are meant to be some of the best years of our lives. And yet, the pandemic has caused students difficulty, anxiety, and exhaustion. Student life has changed, with key experiences and opportunities being taken away, especially having to adjust to not being able to see friends, family and explore the wonderful city of Sheffield. Mental health has suffered in the student population.

With mental health declining amongst the student population, more has to be done for student’s mental health and more must be done to support students through their students at this difficult and ever-changing time.

It’s important to note “normal” life looks close. We have to hope we regain what we held close before the pandemic, and hope student culture will once again flourish, with students living life to the full. Hopefully, we can regain the university experience, attend university in person and experience the real Sheffield. We must hope we can be back in the Foundry, blasting tunes at Poptarts, with all of our mates, singing the night away with a VK in hand.

If you’ve been affected by any of the topics raised in this article, please contact the services below:

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