Students Staff
University of Essex

May 24, 2018

Creating a healthy university for all of us

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jules Pretty, updates us on the work he has been leading, to create and sustain a healthy University of Essex. 

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jules Pretty.

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jules Pretty.

We published our Healthy University Sub-Strategy last year, deliberately focusing on both staff and students, ensuring that we take a whole university approach to well-being. There is a greater emphasis on raising the baseline of well-being, as well as on providing additional services and support for our students and staff.

The Healthy University Sub-Strategy underpins the values set out in the People Supporting Strategy, and promotes a positive concept of health and well-being across three key themes: Mental Well-being, Physical Well-Being andFood and Mood. One year on, here is a short review of some of the actions delivered.

Student actions are being coordinated by Student Life in Academic Section and the Students Union (SU) itself.

The SU has been running one of its largest campaigns this May – around exams. It is a stressful time for many, and the SU has exam angels offering water and fruit immediately prior to  exams, and taking a tea/coffee trolley around the library – not only to offer a friendly drink, but the opportunity for a conversation.

A new approach to wellbeing and inclusivity is being developed in consultation with staff with a view to launch from August 2018. The vision for the new service involves greater connectivity between the Students’ Union and the University’s support services, and shared initiatives to support both staff and students. More information about this new service is in the blog by our Head of Student Support, Angela Jones.

Here are a few actions and outcomes to show progress towards becoming a healthier university:

  1. Some 400 staff and students have now been trained as Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA). There are plans to develop a MHFA Listening Network to provide additional support to our staff and students whilst on campus. In addition, workshops on Building Resilience in Periods of Change are being delivered across the University.
  2. Healthy University wellbeing sessions are being run on Thursdays 1-2pm in the Hex, including for Mindfulness and Chair-Based Yoga and Movement. These sessions were well attended, with positive feedback from those who had not previously engaged with physical activity/well-being sessions. During this Summer term the focus is on healthy and strong backs, with a workshop being delivered by a local fitness instructor and rehabilitation therapist.
  3. Stress and Resilience Risk Assessments are being facilitated by the Occupational Health and ER team with each Department and  Section. These meetings enable Departments and Sections to identify stressors and determine what actions and control measures can be implemented to reduce or eliminate sources of pressure and to create enabling environments to allow students and staff to flourish.
  4. Essex Food has created a ‘mindful menu’ available in a number of outlets to encourage healthy eating. This includes the creation of more vegan and vegetarian items on menus.
  5. Referrals to Occupational Health are being made at a much earlier stage; allowing pro-active interventions to take place when the support is needed, enabling staff to remain in work and return from absence earlier.
  6. The Well-being Workout programme enables staff members to build on their physical and mental strength during an eight-week course and continues to enhance health and well-being.
  7. Stair stickers have been installed in the Gateway Building at Southend with motivational messages to encourage individuals to take the stairs instead of the lift.
  8. Nutritional Talks have been popular with presentations on ‘Healthy Meals’, ‘Hydrate and Feel Great’, ‘Supplements – Scam or Saviour’ and ‘Feed your Brain’. Attendance at these events has been well supported, with feedback that individuals now feel they can make positive changes to their diet following the sessions.
  9. A number of Healthy University Champions have been trained across the University to assist with the promotion of the Healthy University Sub-Strategy interventions. The continuation and growth of this programme in every Department and Section is taking shape, meeting our aim to increase the knowledge and awareness of the Sub-Strategy.
Having a walking meeting can be one way of building more activity into your working day.

Having a walking meeting can be one way of building more activity into your working day.

There are activities that each of us can do to improve our own well-being, as well as the well-being of others. Here are four actions that could help the whole University become a healthier place for living and learning:

  • Build more activity into your daily routine: take the stairs instead of the lift, park a bit further away from your place of work, or cycle and walk when you can;
  • Use the outdoors for green exercise: take a break at lunchtime to go for a walk, make your next meeting a walking meeting;
  • Connecting: visit a café or other public space and spend some time with a colleague or friend; try out one of the new healthier food choices;
  • Look out for others: take time out of your day to connect with colleagues.

May 18, 2018

Building on our Athena SWAN Bronze Award

Athena Swan Bronze AwardI am delighted that our extensive work to promote gender equality at Essex has led to the renewal of our Athena SWAN Bronze Award.

Established by the Equality Challenge Unit, the Athena SWAN charter has become a vitally important way to recognise and celebrate good practice in advancing gender equality across the UK. I am incredibly proud of this success because according to Athena SWAN our Bronze Award recognises we have created a “solid foundation for eliminating gender bias and developing an inclusive culture that values all staff.”

Planning our next steps

Now we are determined to go further and we will be looking very carefully at the feedback from Athena SWAN, so that we understand our strengths and weaknesses to identify further steps that we can take to make our culture more inclusive.  In the meantime, we will be working in earnest on the actions we’re already committed to as part of our Bronze Award.

Our progress so far

When we developed our University Strategic Plan in 2012-3, we were clear that we would not be able to achieve our goals without putting equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of everything we do – and we knew that we would need to have a sustained focus on this over a number of years to create an inclusive culture for our staff and students.

In terms of gender equality there are a number of actions we have taken that I am particularly proud of:

  • The appointment of the University’s first female Chancellor in 2014, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti. Shami was a great role model during her time as our Chancellor
  • The Women of the Future Scholarships Appeal raised over £500,000 and has enabled 30 inspirational women from across the world to undertake a Masters degree at Essex.
  • We have set out specific changes to tackle issues of workplace culture and to change our recruitment processes and practices. These include: using positive action statements in all recruitment material; embedding unconscious bias training across the University; running academic promotion workshops and talent development programmes; encouraging staff to engage in informal networks; encouraging flexible working; putting in place career and peer mentoring schemes; identifying and raising the profile of role models; and putting in place robust processes to manage any variations to salary.
  • Having undertaken equal pay audits, we are confident staff at our University, regardless of gender, receive equal pay for work of equal value.
  • Five out of 11 of our senior leadership team are women and 13 out of 25 of our governing body are women. We have increased our proportion of female professors by 5.7 per cent in the past five years to 29.8 per cent, which is 5.2 per cent above the sector average, and increased our proportion of female academic staff over the past four years by 2 per cent to 42 per cent in 2016-17.
  • We are also starting to see a positive impact of some of the actions that were included in our 2013 Athena SWAN Bronze Action Plan. This includes an increase in the proportion of women on our Senate from 27% in 2014-15 to 41.6% in 2016-17.

You can support our drive for equality

Last year, we approved a proposal that all Departments should apply for an Athena SWAN award by the end of 2019-20 and we have recently introduced a requirement for all members of University committees to complete unconscious bias training – and in the light of the recent gender pay gap audit we want to ensure we tackle this head on too.

As we work on developing our next Strategic Plan, we want to build on our achievements over the last five years and to continue to ensure our commitment to inclusivity is embedded in all that we do. This essential work will be difficult but it is not impossible and your support in taking these issues forward will make a significant difference to the progress that we need to make.

May 3, 2018

Thank you Essex future-casters 2025

Our online consultation hub is waiting to hear from you!

Our online consultation hub is waiting to hear from you!

Thank you to everyone who attended our series of future-casting University Strategy consultation events.

Each of the events, at each of our thriving campuses, was well attended by both staff and students. Across the sessions we had more than 550 wishes left on the wishing trees.

Thank you again to everyone who was generous enough to share their exciting and innovative ideas for the future of our University.

We took some great photos from each of our events. Take a look:

Southend Campus event photos

Colchester Campus event photos

Loughton Campus event photos

Unable to attend the events in person?

Fear not! We want to capture your ideas for the future too, so we are launching our online consultation hub on Moodle.

Simply log on using your usual Essex ID and password and take part in our online journey. From our fierce past, to our inclusive present right through to our innovative future, the site will guide you through our process for developing the University Strategy and show how you can submit your thoughts, ideas, comments and suggestions for the University’s work between 2019 and 2025.

Log on to Moodle now to get started.

Need some inspiration?

Take a look at some of our community members talking about their visions for 2025 in these videos.

Want to get in touch?

Questions and queries can be directed to our dedicated email account:

Whatever your role, wherever your campus, whatever your area of expertise, research or study – the future of Essex needs you!


Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Designate)