Chaplaincy Annual Report 2020-21

Chaplains and faith consultants

Derby

Buxton

Leek

Chesterfield

Faith Consultants

Staffing

Derby

It’s been very good to welcome Father Jonathan Whitby-Smith, as the new Catholic Chaplain. He started in October, following his move to the Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes, Mickleover. Jonathan replaces Father Mark Brentnall in his Chaplaincy role. Tom Vause also stood down as Catholic Lay Chaplain with no current plans to replace him. We thank both Mark and Tom for their contributions to Chaplaincy life during the years they have been involved.

Buxton, Leek and Chesterfield

There have been no staff changes, though there was an opportunity to hold a Covid-delayed goodbye event for the departed Leek Chaplains, and for Hilary Benson (who finished at the end of the previous academic year), to thank them for their contributions. However, the year has been marked by uncertainty. Halfway through it, the decision was made to transfer most current second year undergraduates to Derby over the summer to complete their degrees there, a year ahead of the previous schedule. The final cohort of Outdoor students, plus the BLC undergraduates will thus be the only HE students at Buxton in September 2021, alongside the BLC FE students, and the Chaplaincy’s work will adapt accordingly.

In Leek, Ingrid Keith continued to serve as Chaplain, with occasional advice from Cate Hall in a voluntary capacity.

The Chaplaincy room was taken over when it became necessary to set up a Covid Testing Centre on campus in the room next door. This didn’t impact our work during the year, but it is likely that the Testing Centre will become active again for the beginning of the academic year, so there is currently some uncertainty about when we will be able to take possession of our room once again.

Sue Wheeler continued to be a weekly presence at St Helena’s, Chesterfield when access to the campus was possible.

As staff meetings were forced online, one positive outcome was that the whole team from across the campuses was able to meet, which it did so fortnightly. This was greatly beneficial in the gelling of the team, and going forward, the plan is to adopt with a blended approach of online and in-person gatherings.

Online working also meant that many initiatives weren’t site specific, and hence, not all of the categories in this report are broken down into the different campuses, as has been the case in previous annual reports.

Seven people meeting remotely via a video conferencing platform
A virtual meeting of the Chaplaincy

Pastoral work with students

In Chaplaincy, most pastoral work tends to happen through building face to face relationships, but with Covid restrictions in place, to varying degrees throughout the year, such opportunities were greatly reduced. However, there were some avenues that presented themselves for making connections in the traditional way.

In Derby, this involved a stall at the two-day Freshers’ Fair, held outside (AD, GS, RW, AA). Success was mixed. There was some good engagement on the first day, though restrictions about what could be given out and understandable reticence about face-to-face encounters meant that the usual level of student interest was much reduced from previous years. Also, wet weather on the second day saw a low student turnout across the event. The Chaplaincy also had a stall at a Support Services Event (AD, AA), also, during the Freshers’ period, though, again, it was poorly attended due to adverse weather conditions. Moreover, Covid restrictions also meant that we were unable to host the large groups we usually see early in the year as part of the welcome weeks.

As the first semester unfolded, the Chaplaincy maintained a physical presence on site at the Multi-Faith Centre (MFC), but with students only permitted to be on campus for three hours per week, primarily for lectures, only relatively small numbers called in for prayer and for pastoral support.

Moreover, the social space, which the Chaplaincy team manages, and is often full of life, couldn’t be offered, and neither could the weekly Fairtrade Lunch.

Following the January lockdown, the MFC then closed until Easter, but a physical Chaplaincy presence became possible again as restrictions the slowly lifted, though again, numbers of students on site were small.

Consequently, throughout much of the year, the Chaplaincy team had to seek online means of making pastoral connections. This forced us into, what was for many, an unfamiliar online world, both in terms of the technological skills required, but also in working out how to build relationships online, especially when body language can’t be easily read in a virtual exchange. By the year end, mistakes had been made, much had been learnt, and we had been able to support students, either via the Teams platform or by phone.

This included joining a team alongside Student Wellbeing and the Union of Students, between October and Christmas, in providing ‘voluntary’ support, to students in self-isolation. These were students with Covid-19 themselves, or who had been in contact with someone who had it. Students were systematically telephoned by team members to check that they had access to food and prescriptions, were on top with their work and were coping with being in isolation. The vast majority were fine, appreciative of the call and looking forward to the end of isolation, but managing well. Those who needed extra support in practical ways, or support with mental health issues, were referred to Wellbeing. (IK, SW).

The Chaplaincy was also able to continue providing support through ‘stop gap’ payments, via food vouchers, to students referred by Support Services/US.

On a very positive note, the year has seen a development in our use of social media. The Chaplaincy Facebook pages became filled with new and interesting posts, many of which had a pastoral focus, and which enabled us to reach, sometimes, hundreds of viewers.

Less positively, we (DJ, SW, IK) shared an online session with Wellbeing at the Library’s November Study Fest event, but only had one or two takers. Also, and in response to a request from the US, the Chaplaincy offered an online stall at the Refreshers’ Fair, an event aimed at encouraging students to re-engage, or engage for the first time, after the Christmas break, but sadly there was no engagement during this session.

Pastoral work also happened with specific groups of students.

There was ongoing work with international students via The Meeting Place at St Alkmund’s. In addition to BM’s work there, AD, IK and AA attended a number of their online meetings, though, like a lot of online student groups, they struggled for numbers and engagement. As restrictions eased towards the summer, AD and GS supported its Pizza Night Social. With BM moving from his student-focused role at St Alk’s, plans are afoot to maintain and improve our international links next year.

Jonathan Whitby-Smith began the process of refocusing the work with Catholic students. A decision was made by the Catholic Diocese to sell Newman House, its chaplaincy residence on The Broadway, with attention now being given to more campus-based activities; plans are afoot to have a weekly mass at the MFC once the new academic year begins.

Muslim students were well supported by AA, whose facebook posts developed much interest; KM fielded enquiries from Buddhist students, and provision was also made for Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and Baha’i’ students.

On a sad theme, one of the student deaths in the course of the year saw AD lead an online memorial service.

In Buxton and Leek, there was little opportunity for a staff presence on campus when the Covid situation allowed it. IK was shielding until late May, but there was productive work with the BLC safeguarding leads in providing additional in-person pastoral support capacity (through YR and previous Leek Chaplain Jane Watson) and an online “two-minute silence” when tragic events in both Buxton and Leek caused some disturbance among our FE student community.

In Chesterfield, SW found Twitter a beneficial tool in supporting and encouraging students whilst unable to meet in person. Maintaining contact this way has led to a subsequent “in person” supportive contact, once restrictions allowed, which has been very rewarding, and highlights the value of this method of contact.

As we look towards the new academic year, we’ve developed new publicity materials for use across campuses. Following advice from the Student Experience team who said that short videos get a lot of student engagement, we produced a Chaplaincy video (much acclaimed, by the Student Experience Team!) for Student Induction, which will be circulated to all new and returning students.

This included input from students with whom we’ve worked, and amongst their remarks were included the following:

"I always felt I was amongst a group of friends who I could trust with whatever was troubling me."

"The Chaplaincy is a very lovely place where I can get to know people from different backgrounds and religions."

Pastoral work with staff

Derby

Contact with and support for staff has continued, primarily online, with occasional on-site face-to-face meetings where possible.

Via AA, contact with Muslim staff also happened on matters relating to faith enquiries and personal and social issues, and this contact was maintained during the Covid-19 period.

KM has also developed the work of Meditation with staff, including twice weekly online sessions, plus one-to-one follow-up sessions at the end of each semester. The numbers continue to be steady, with growing interest.

Buxton and Leek

The exodus of staff from Buxton that began last year has continued, and provides opportunities (for those we hear about) to express appreciation. The Chaplaincy has offered opportunities to talk about the changes, in groups or individually. Our weekly call-out for Midweek Prayers continues to provide a useful mechanism for some staff to alert us to pastoral needs, even if there’s no intention to come to prayers. One staff member who would never come talked about how comforting it was during lockdown to receive this weekly email as a reminder that life was continuing in spite of everything…

IK also worked through the Disability, Access and Wellbeing Network on an initiative to support diabetic staff by publishing an article in the Derby Daily about coping with diabetes in the workplace, and inviting anyone who wished to network to get in touch. There was only one response, but this may lead to other staff with health issues sharing more about particular work-related challenges through DAWN.

Work with University committees and departments

Structurally, this continues to express itself through the Pastoral Services Committee (PSC) which meets three times each year. PSC was chaired by Jo Jones, Head of Student Services, at its first meeting but following her departure from the University, Kirsteen Coupar, Interim Assistant Registrar took on the role for the rest of the year. Chaplaincy reports are received and discussed in the context of the meeting, and this year areas explored included the University’s new Religion and Belief Policy, on which comments were invited, plus consideration of the progress of the recently established People of Faith and Belief Month, and support for International Students.

The Chaplaincy has maintained its good relationships with a number of departments, a number in relation to student support.

AD is invited to the regular Student Services Managers’ Meetings which he endeavours to attend on a monthly basis, and there are good links with Student Wellbeing, and the Union of Students, but the closing of the International Student Centre, with support for international students being absorbed into Student Services, made it difficult to make the connections with overseas students that we’ve had in previous years. The Multi-Faith Centre (not a University department as such, but an integral part of the scene!) where AD is a co-opted member of the MFC Trustees, continues to be an important partner, and good relations have been established with its recently appointed Director, Geoff Sweeney.

At Buxton & Leek College, the Learner Journey and Enrichment teams have been key colleagues for IK.

There was a chaplaincy presence on both the Extra-Curricular Working Group (AD) and the Buxton Engagement Group (IK), both of which were concerned with student provision and engagement, outside the main curriculum. As the year unfolded, it became clear that after applying themselves online for their academic programmes, there was a weariness amongst the student population towards more online engagement for extra-curricular activities.

AA sits on the University’s Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing Committee, and emerging out of it has seen the instigation of a new Faith and Belief Network for staff under the lead of Professor Melanie Pope. Chaplaincy team members have attended its monthly meetings (AD, IK, AA, DJ, SW) in which staff, having a faith commitment or interest, can articulate how that conviction is/isn’t able to be expressed in the workplace, and what that means for the place of faith in the public square. Via EDIW, AA and AD, in conjunction with the MFC delivered online training on Overcoming Islamophobia to University staff (25).

It is also good to have a positive relationship with the University’s Board of Governors. The Dean of Derby, Peter Robinson, has recently been appointed as Bishop’s nominee, and its chair, Stephen Smith, meets with AD twice yearly.

RW and AD have also been part of the University’s Incident Management Team.

Fairtrade and other social justice issues

The team has continued to be a vital ingredient in the work of the Fairtrade Committee (IK, GS). In part, this ensures the delivery of events for Fair Trade Fortnight, which this year included a live and public Inter-Faith discussion on climate change, and a video about BLC’s Fairtrade work. The latter involved working closely with the BLC High Needs Department.

The Chaplaincy (AA) had also attended the regular meeting of a Race and Religious Hate Crime Project of the OPCC (Office of Police and Crime Commissioner), but with a change in Commissioner at the last elections, there is some uncertainty about the development of this group.

An online quiz for Black History Month was put on by the Chaplaincy, but there was little take-up.

images projected on to the side of the Multi-Faith Centre
Images projected on to the side of the Multi-Faith Centre for Inter-Faith Week

Festivals, celebrations and memorial services

As part of Inter-Faith Week in November, AD worked with students from the SLLET course (Sound, Light and Live Events Technology) to project a series of images and words onto the outside of the MFC. As numbers on campus meant that only small numbers would see it, the event was live streamed and recorded for distribution to the main University publicity channels, enabling a broader engagement. Again, we worked with the theme of ‘Pilgrimage’, developing last year’s presentation and included extracts from the main faith traditions represented at the University, as well as more generic ideas; the final production was well received.

In November, the Book of Remembrance Service, which recalls those in the University community who have died in the previous academic year (ie. 2019-20) was unable to be held in person, but a form of it was recorded which then went out to those families affected.

It was a short reflective service in which the names of the departed were read from the Book and candles were lit in their memory. Many thanks to James Metharam, a film production student, who supported the Chaplaincy in producing the recording.

Also in November, AD organised and led an online Memorial Service following a student death.

There was also Chaplaincy input into BLC online Act of Remembrance.

In December, the annual University Chaplaincy Carol Services couldn’t happen in their usual way in Derby’s Atrium, and Buxton’s Dome so, again in conjunction with students from the SLLET course, a lot of work was done to produce something that could be live streamed and as well as being watched at a later time. Although the live production met some technical hitches along the way, special thanks must go to those SLLET students for an end product that featured live and pre-recorded contributions from all four campuses.

The service, which was a mixture of carols, readings, and prayers, plus a Fairtrade mulled wine recipe(!), involved over 40 students and staff. The Vice-Chancellor gave her welcome and an appeal was made on behalf of Crisis at Christmas which supports those who are homeless.

Just under 100 watched the live broadcast and there were 800 views of the material over the course of the following week. It was a great exercise in creativity.

This year’s Cathedral Awards Services didn’t take place as there were no Awards Ceremonies this year but plans are afoot for November (Derby) and December (Buxton) services this year. AD and IK sits on the Awards Day Committees to input over these Services.

In April, the Holy Month of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid-al Fitr were marked with Facebook messages from AA.

For the second year running, the University held a ‘People of Faith and Belief’ Month, in May, akin to other already established monthly celebrations (Black History Month, LGBT+ Month). AD, AA, and IK formed part of the planning group, alongside representation from the Student Experience Team and EDIW. Again, this happened online taking the form of ‘thoughts for the day’ and ‘faith role models’. Content was invited from both staff and students, and it was supplemented by input from the Chaplaincy team.

Although there wasn’t so much material offered this year, in part because of a weariness with online communication, this still felt like an important piece of work in that it is a clear statement that the University is willing to acknowledge and celebrate public expressions of faith and belief, recognising that they form an integral part of people’s identity. Hopefully, next year, there will be opportunities for onsite activities.

People playing musical instruments (flute, violin, piano) remotely on a video conferencing platform
The University of Derby Christmas Carol Service 2020

Worship, prayer and meditation

In Derby, during the first semester, whilst some students were on campus, and again after the Easter break following the gradual relaxation of lockdown measures, opportunities for daily prayer within the Christian and Islamic traditions continued to be available, and the Quiet Space was maintained as a place for stillness and reflection.

In the Christian tradition, a simple form of Midday Prayer took place every weekday (with a few exceptions!) in the Quiet Space in the first semester and again after the Easter break. Numbers have been very small but there is something about a regular praying presence on the campus that has real value; the fact that it is offered is what matters, not how many people come, though it is always good when others participate.

Student Catholic Mass (JWS) took place on those Sunday evenings at St Mary’s in the city, when face to face worship was possible.

Muslim Jumma Prayer continued to happen collectively (when permitted) on Fridays, and individual students used the prayer space during the day to fulfil their daily prayer commitments, though numbers were, unsurprisingly, lower than in a usual year.

A weekly online Bible Study (AD, IK), using the parables of Jesus as a focus, was offered throughout much of the year; sadly take up was very small with only a handful of students engaging occasionally, though when they did, the effects were very good!

Both Qu’ran Circles and Arabic Classes (AA) were offered online and a small but gradually increasing regular number attendees engaged on a weekly basis.
Buddhist Meditation was led on a regular basis in an on-line format by KM and attracted steady numbers of both staff and students.

Facebook postings were greatly developed during lockdown. There were good numbers of ‘viewings’ for the weekly reflections offered by both Muslim (AA) and Christian (AD, GS, IK, JWS, SW) traditions, though it is always difficult to assess the level of engagement that a view represents. Nevertheless, the postings contribute to raising Chaplaincy profile.

Also, weekly online prayers for Buxton and Leek staff and students were offered, whilst, in Chesterfield, a small private room remained available for prayer.

In Buxton, the Chaplaincy resources churches to mark World Student Sunday, sometimes arranging for students to speak in churches. This year, for February 21, we offered intercessory prayers for the University, which were taken up to different degrees by various churches.

Work with student societies and groups

As indicated earlier, there was a certain weariness amongst the student population towards more online engagement for extra-curricular activities, and understandably so. However, this made it hard for the Chaplaincy to build links with new students, although relationships with existing students were maintained to a certain degree.

Amongst the more encouraging activities was the Interfaith Buddies Group (AD, AA) which began its second year and met weekly on-line, with a few face to face meetings outside in the early summer. A small but very committed group (between three and six students at any one meeting) from Christian and Muslim traditions gathered to listen to each other.

Amongst the comments from students who participated in the group were the following:

"Huge thanks for running such an amazing Interfaith Buddies Group! It’s been one of the highlights at the University."

"Being a part of the Interfaith Buddies Group was an incredibly enriching experience."

The topics discussed covered a range of issues from ‘how we approach our scriptures?’, to ‘faith and the LGBT+ community’, to ‘how faith helps to support good mental health’. The year finished with a social walk in the local countryside.

Remaining members of “The Discussion,” the faith-focused student-led group that formed in Buxton two years ago, were contacted and encouraged to remain involved; however, the group did not survive the restrictions of Covid.

Community building

This was particularly difficult to undertake under the Covid restrictions. The University Choir, which brought staff and students together from across disciplines, was unable to meet to sing though hopes are high for restarting in October.

However, in January, the Chaplaincy hosted an online local knowledge quiz for international students. This saw 20 students attend, some of whom were still resident in the home countries, but hopefully it helped to encourage a sense of place and connection to Derby and its environs, even if they were doing it from India!

Community building at BLC begins each year with the Support Services induction. This year the Chaplaincy co-ordinated work on a joint video and padlet. This provided an opportunity for chaplains to introduce themselves and what they offered, followed by live Collaborate follow-up sessions. Sadly, there was very little engagement from students – at this stage everyone was new to the technology...

Intellectual exchange and curriculum interaction

RW, as a member of the teaching staff, naturally brings a Chaplaincy presence into this field, but other chaplains have also been able to maintain established contact with a number of different departments. Material was adapted to facilitate on-line delivery, and although Covid has generally, though not exclusively, meant that face-to-face interaction couldn’t take place with students, recording of online sessions does allow for the possibility of ongoing interaction with what chaplains offer. Over the year, there has been the following:

College of Health, Psychology and Social Care

Input on ‘Spirituality’ into Nursing curriculum, for District Nurses, Health Visitors, Occupational Therapists, School Nurses x60 (AD).

Input on Silence in the Christian tradition for MA Dance Movement Psychotherapy x7 (AD, in person!).

Panel discussion on Religious/Cultural Awareness for Occupational Therapy students (x30). AD set up and chaired the event. AA and KS were two of the panelists plus Rachael Ita, an elder from New Life Christian Fellowship. It featured in an article written by one of the lecturing staff for the main professional journal for OT, highlighting it as a pioneering model for facilitating religious literacy!

College of Arts, Humanities and Education

Humanities

Input on G.M. Hopkins poetry for English Literature students x20 (AD).

Education

Panel discussion on Religious Diversity, Islam and Sikhi, for PGCE students (primary education) x100. AD set up and chaired the event. AA was one of the panelists plus Anisha Johal, a former student from the Sikh community.

College of Science and Engineering

Joint projects (Carol Service and Inter-Faith Week projection – see details elsewhere in the report) with students from SSLET (Sound, Light and Live Event Technology).

Input on Fairtrade for Global Development students (IK).

Buxton and Leek College

11 workshops on the Multi-Faith Workforce, covering all Level 3 year 2 students in every curriculum area (AA, IK).

Two Multi-Faith workshops for student Teaching Assistants (AA, IK).

Each college has been pleased to have the contributions and are keen to develop the involvement in 2021/22.

In addition to these activities, the Chaplaincy were also pivotal in a joint project with the MFC, which involved delivering an online training on Islamophobia. AA led, with support from AD.

A series of online Inter-Faith conversations was also initiated (AA) for the Chaplaincy Facebook page. These were between chaplains, faith consultants and representatives from the wider community, and covered the themes of religious festivals, the environment and Fairtrade.

Also important to mention is the weekly Get Real, the Philosophy group which DJ started about ten years ago. It includes both staff, students and alumni and this year continued to operate online, tackling a wide range of issues, with the discussions continuing on Facebook. In the course of a year, all major areas of modern philosophy are visited.

The Chaplaincy also hosted a virtual stall at Festival of Learning (IK, DJ, SW).

Relationships with local faith communities

The Chaplaincy and Faith Consultants team are rooted in their local faith communities, which contributes to the University’s connections with the city and wider county. Moreover, having such a rich spread of traditions within the team mean that there are many links between the Chaplaincy, and the wider Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jewish and Baha’i communities.

The Joint Churches Liaison Group met online for its annual gathering in September, at which its annual report was presented and Chaplaincy teams had an opportunity to share with members from the supporting church communities, the highlights and struggles from the past the year. The Buxton and Leek CLG also met separately in April.

The Chaplaincy has strong connections with Derby Cathedral, especially via AD who is one of its chaplains and regularly preaches on themes emerging from his work. There are also links with Mickleover Methodist Church via GS, and with the local Catholic communities via JWS, RW, YR and MF. There are also links with a variety of local ethnic minority groups via DJ (Eastern European Orthodox Christians), and AA (Muslim community).

AA’s developing connections at various mosques in Derby is making him a vital link between the University and the local Muslim community. In this context, he gave weekly talks at the local Pakistani Community Centre and at the Islamic Centre during the month of Ramadan. Furthermore, he delivered a session on "supporting Muslim colleagues during Ramadan" to Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Fire Services.

He has also established good links with the local radio station, Ikhlas, and was also interviewed on BBC Radio Derby in relation to an incident at Batley Grammar School that had attracted national attention.

The Buxton Chaplaincy is a member of Churches Together in Buxton, which is a key partner for us. It continued to meet on Zoom throughout lockdown and also instigated a new monthly Zoom prayer meeting. We attended both meetings as far as possible.

In Chesterfield, SW has not been aware of any meetings of the Chesterfield Interfaith forum over the past year but, with easing restrictions, she is hoping to reconnect with this group in the new term.

SW was invited to attend a focus group during the appointment process for a new Rector at Holy Trinity Chesterfield, the parish church for the Chesterfield campus. As a church, it has indicated a wish to build relationships with the University and SW’s presence was to offer the candidates an opportunity to ask questions about the University and explore how they might be able to connect. SW is looking forward to building relationships here once the successful candidate has taken up their post.

Chaplaincy training and development

During the course of the year, the following chaplains attended and undertook the following training/developmental activities:

Training

Attended

Concluding remarks

Finally, a number of thanks need to be expressed:

Edited by Adam Dickens and Ingrid Keith.