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This week I got the pleasure of meeting Leanne, a Peer Support Adviser at the University of Bradford as well as a mum of three studying a Master’s Degree in Career Guidance and Development. I could feel Leanne’s passion and strength through the screen. It is inspiring to see someone pursue a career in something they believe in with such determination. A feel-good read for sure.

Role at the University of Bradford
Leanne Hunt, Student Peer Support Adviser

How would you describe your role?
The Peer Assisted Learning Scheme started back in 2012 in Computing and now has multiple schemes across all four faculties. The sessions are facilitated by students in higher years helping ease the transition into university life for new students. The new students choose what they’d like to cover and the leaders create a session based on that topic.

My job is to co-design and co-deliver training for the students who volunteer to take part in the peer support schemes. I also supervise and support the leaders in their role and am responsible for the debrief programme which focuses on the employability aspect of what they do. I’m passionate about it, I think because I studied at Bradford and felt really overwhelmed at the time. I wasn’t sure I’d fit in and had been out of education for a long time and came from a family where no one had gone to university before me. I went to these peer sessions when I was a student and found them really useful. Then I became a leader in my second and third year and experienced first hand the benefits of being a Leader. When a job came up in the team just after I graduated, I went straight for it to be able to continue working in peer support. I really do believe in it.

How has the lockdown affected you & your work?
At first, I quite liked being at home. I did enjoy it although it started affecting the family mentally and I found it quite difficult to work around three children.

When lockdown began, it wasn’t too bad as work is less chaotic towards the end of the academic year which gave me a chance to get to grips with the changes. But because everything has had to be transferred online, that meant a complete re-design of the training programme and the workbooks that go with it. We had to learn how to use new platforms to a good level so we could then train students on how to run their peer support sessions online. It’s been hectic because the demand for peer support has also increased as a result of lockdown and the need for student support. On top of that, with cases increasing I’m having to take turns isolating with different children when one of them has come into contact with a positive case at school and then trying to manoeuvre all that around the workload has been challenging but positive in some ways; learning a lot more about myself! I’m studying a master’s degree part-time as well in Career Guidance with the research focusing on peer support, it’s been mental!

What exciting projects are you working on right now?
My exciting project is both personal and professional. For my master’s degree I’m looking at the impact of conducting peer support online –with a focus on the students delivering the sessions. I believe students running these sessions can gain so many skills from this for their future career journeys so I’m hoping to capture that. We’ve just started the online sessions but so far it looks really promising so I’m excited about that.

A highlight of your time on campus/ in role so far?
I’d have to say the biggest highlight for me is the Peer Mentoring for care leavers. I initially got the ball rolling when I was approached by a student with the idea, so to see that it took off and the institution is committed to keeping it going, yes it’s a proud memory for me on campus because I believe it’s needed.

A funny/ embarrassing story from your time on campus?
My manager and I aren’t very good with mechanical things (laughs). In the Chesham building, there’s a small glass lift that we decided to use to move a trolley full of training equipment. We didn’t know you had to keep pressure on the button in order for the lift to move so my manager got stuck halfway and spent several minutes trying to work the lift by pressing the button which just made the lift move in small jolting motions. I took the stairs so was watching and trying to help but ended up creased over, crying with laughter. It took us ages to work it out but was really funny.

A surprising/interesting fact about yourself?
I’m a huge fan of Disney and Garfield, I love Garfield! I have books, teddies, pens, notebooks, phone cases, a desk calendar, I’ve got it all!

My favourite Disney film is probably Princess and the Frog. I tend to like specific characters from each film and someone will buy me a teddy or a cup for each character. Nobody has bought me anything for Maximus from Tangled yet, I keep asking but am still waiting!

What inspires you?
I’ve got a few inspirations really. My children are a big factor, everything I do, I do it for them. I strive in my career to show them the importance of education. And that has worked so far, one of my daughters is at university with a full scholarship and is doing really well. My other daughter will be sitting her GCSEs this academic year and has been predicted top level grades and is a prefect. My son attends primary school and is very bright. He has additional needs which to me means a different way of learning, so he inspires me to strive for equality and inclusivity in everything I do.

What makes me strive at work is seeing the impact of what I do. I see the student leaders really engaged in the sessions and see their confidence increase and I get excited for them. I know what peer support can do for the students that run the scheme and I never tire of the excitement.

If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would that be?
Have faith and don’t doubt yourself as much as you do. I come from a deprived area in Bradford where it wasn’t the well known thing to do going to university or engage in education, so I never felt I had the right to compared to others. I always felt I wasn’t good enough and couldn’t get a degree.

If you could time travel 100 years, would you go into the past or the future? And why?
I’d say past, mainly because how the world is right now, I wouldn’t like to go too far into the future. I’d like to go to the past and have a conversation with the psychologist Freud, I love his work and would like to see how his peculiar mind worked.

What are you fearful of in the future and what are you hopeful for?
I think I’m fearful for the sort of future that could come with mass unemployment and what the next few generations will have to face as a result of debt from this pandemic, job prospects and progression. On the flipside, I’m hopeful because this pandemic has caused a societal shift. Finding new ways of working, new ways of connecting and how technology is evolving. I’m hopeful this will all be used in a good way, to bring people together.

 What question are you never asked that you wish you were?
Two questions have come to mind, the first is “Would you like a cup of tea?”. I never get asked that! And the second more meaningful question is “How are you feeling, right now?”. People might say “Are you alright?” but it’s often in a conversational context rather than wanting to know how someone is feeling.

If you enjoyed getting to know Leanne you will love the rest of the ‘This is Us’ series. Check out my previous chats with Neema and Michael and stay tuned for more coming soon!

Also, I always appreciate feedback so if you have any ideas that would enhance this blog series, feel free to drop me a line – h.m.p.coelho@bradford.ac.uk .