Supporting our students’ mental health and wellbeing requires both a wider strategic approach and attention to the needs of individual students. Laura Waller shares with us how the Sensory Study Room in the Library at the University of Warwick has managed to create a dedicated and accessible study space.
The Library – Accessible Study Rooms
The Library can be an overwhelming space for some students. Bright lights, the ‘post lecture’ rush and the buzz of activity in the group study areas can be pretty overwhelming.
Whilst some students may thrive in a busy group study area, others need an individual, adaptable space to support their needs. One of the Library’s key strategies is ‘to support the whole student to succeed’. Therefore, providing a variety of diverse learning environments to cater to these differing requirements is essential.
Our bookable Accessible Study Rooms provide an adaptable working space for those registered with the University’s Disability Services. Feedback about these rooms has provided an overwhelming sense of how much they are appreciated by students, for many reasons, but predominantly the quiet space they allow away from others.
What could we do better? – developing the Accessible Study Rooms
The Equality Challenge Unit produced a guidance report in 2009 for ‘Sensory Access in Higher Education’ with a recommendation being:
‘’Designate a sensory/quiet room for students on the autistic spectrum and those with other sensory impairments. This quiet space might assist students to overcome any anxiety that their surroundings may be causing them.’’ Equality Challenge Unit- ‘Sensory Access in Higher Education,’ Guidance Report 2009. (5.13 Recommendations: estates managers)
At the end of last academic year, we planned a refurbishment for our Accessible Study Rooms, focusing on improvements for those with sensory sensitivities. Lighting, décor and furnishings were all considered. This was the beginning of the Sensory Study Room – an adapted Accessible Study Room which would allow the individual user to tailor the environment to their sensory needs.
The Sensory Study Room
We introduced lighting options including a bubble tube, colour changing LED strip lighting and lamps. We made a variety of seating options available including; a rocking chair, a bean bag and a wobble cushion. Various sensory objects, relaxation music, aroma cubes and a yoga mat were also made available.
Our Postgraduate Community Engagement Team also rolled out the sensory enhancements and adapted their relaxation room to include a bubble tube, LED lighting options, rocking chairs and other sensory objects.
Collaboration is key
The sensory focus within the Library has initiated collaborative sensory study sessions across Library and wider University teams to promote inclusive student activities. ‘Sensory Refresh,’ a cross departmental drop in session by Wellbeing Advisors, Community Engagement Teams and myself, inviting all students to explore how their senses can impact upon their study, has now been rolled out and well received by both PhD Researchers and an undergraduates.
The room has now been in use for several months, and we are actively seeking feedback from our staff and students, in order to develop the space and support our students further. A feedback board within the room itself has provided positive student reactions, but also suggestions for improvement.
Helen McLaughlin, Welfare and Access Officer for student society Warwick Enable, has supported us by gathering feedback from our community:
‘’At Warwick Enable we have had lots of extremely positive feedback from students about the addition of the sensory room in the Library. A lot of students have given feedback about the sensory room being their favourite space to work in in the Library because of the calm and quiet atmosphere. People have found the addition of the sensory room so beneficial that they have already suggested its expansion.’’ Helen McLaughlin, Welfare and Access Officer at Warwick Enable.
Our sensory focus with student collaboration reinforces Warwick’s goals to ‘Enable our students to succeed’ and to ‘Engage our Communities,’ valuing and supporting diversity within our University. By working with our communities and listening to our student voice, this will help us improve our spaces and services further, making our Library an accessible and adaptable space for all.