University of Chester. These 24-hour heroes play a significant role in the support, engagement and retention of students across the University’s sites. Their impact is so positive that they won the Educate North 2017 Student Experience award and have been nominated for a Chester Student’s Union Above and Beyond award, acknowledging how they go the extra mile. Who do you call when you have a worry, a health concern or safety issue in the middle of the night? No, not Ghostbusters, but the Porters at the
The Porters (affectionately known as ‘Quality Portering Service’) provide expert, immediate and effective support to countless students of all ages and backgrounds. With more than 200 years of combined experience between the 16 staff Porters (four shifts of four), they are simultaneously first aiders, welfare staff, security, mediators, counsellors, key holders, consolers, drivers, support staff and excellent ambassadors for the institution. The Porters have been enhancing their skills by taking part in suicide prevention training with the charity PAPYRUS and mental health first aid training, translating decades of on-the-ground experience into recognised qualifications.
As well as their visible presence, the Porters have also promoted themselves online, making them accessible to digital-savvy students. Phil Davies, Porter, explains: “We set up the account @UoCporters on Twitter to promote what we do to students in a non-intrusive way, so they know they can come to us for help. We also use the account to highlight and support useful information, such as student mental health and suicide prevention campaigns, local and national policing operations and initiatives and practical things, such as traffic reports. “We’ve worked with the University’s Graphics team to produce a campaign around reminding the students to wear their ID badges while on campus and remembering their keys. We’ve also developed and distributed a card with our details for emergencies.”
All the Porters are trained in first aid and are often the first responders in an emergency situation. Investment is being made to improve the uniform of the team, including such items as safety vests. Phil added: “We work closely with colleagues in Student Futures, especially with Student Welfare, and we have huge support from the Vice-Chancellor. I personally really enjoy the variety of the role. It’s all about thinking on your feet, helping the students and being there in times of crisis to offer that first line of help or point them in the right direction.”
Colleagues and students at the University are full of praise for the work of the Porters. A postgraduate student said: “The Porters are just brilliant, they are so concerned about individual student experiences and make sure they do whatever they can to help. I remember being nervous about being in my house alone after a break-in a few doors down – I called the Porters and they were so lovely, and came and checked in every wardrobe, every window, checked all the doors…. And didn’t make me feel daft for calling them! #notallheroeswearcapes.”
Delyth Hughes, Deputy Director of Student Support and Guidance (now renamed Student Futures) said: “Since the very beginning of Student Support and Guidance in 1994, the Porters have been a key partner in the delivery of our work. At any point in 24 hours they are ready to help, whether this be for a medical emergency, students of concern where we might need to gain access to their rooms, or a student who is terribly homesick in the early hours of the morning. In every case they manage to strike the perfect balance of authority and professionalism, whilst maintaining a gentle paternalism. Our partnership is key in the delivery of a supportive and caring University community, and we are incredibly lucky to have such a skilled team at the University of Chester.”
Professor Tim Wheeler, Vice-Chancellor of the University, said: “So many departments and colleagues positively impact the student experience, but I must single out the University’s Porters, who put students at the heart of everything they do, delivering exemplary support to students and making their on-campus experience as positive as it can be. “The Porters’ workload is extremely varied and they have a lot of responsibilities, but this is never shown in their interactions with students. They are an integral and vital part of our support system for students; they offer guidance, solutions, a friendly ear, and have saved countless student lives over the years. “Their innovative development of a Twitter account and their calling cards (with the witty slogan, ‘Remember – achieve, don’t mischieve!’) can only help in making more students aware of the Porters’ services and the help available to them. The Porters recognise the role they occupy in keeping our students safe, well and happy on campus and consistently exceed any expectations I, or my colleagues, may have.”
Alex Williams is a Senior Communications Officer at the University of Chester. You can also contact Jayne Dodgson (Director of Corporate Communications, University of Chester) or Nan Pickering (Communications Officer, University of Chester) for more information on any of the issues discussed in this article.
The ProtectED Code of Practice reflects the widening role of university security staff, moving beyond the traditional focus on protecting campus facilities, and preventing and detecting crime. ProtectED encourages institutions to shift their responsibility to students from one defined by geographical campus boundaries to one that encompasses the entire student experience. The University of Chester's Porters reflect, and are an excellent example of, this widening role which is increasingly engaged with issues more related to wellbeing and pastoral care than traditional conceptions of security.