Making sure that students can continue to access mental health and wellbeing services during the lockdown period whilst they continue to learn from home is vitally important, says Wales' largest further education provider.

By adapting some of the ways in which support services are delivered, Grŵp Llandrillo Menai is continuing to meet learners' welfare and counselling needs as part of their overall response to the coronavirus pandemic.

This week, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, the Grŵp has launched a Wellbeing Calendar with daily activities to promote positive mental health. This is one of several initiatives put in place to support the delivery of the Grŵp Llandrillo Menai Wellbeing Framework.

Chief Executive Dafydd Evans explained: "Safeguarding our learners' physical, emotional and social wellbeing is extremely important so that they can continue to enjoy the college experience as well as successfully gain qualifications.

"The coronavirus pandemic has thrown many challenges our way - including how we can look after our community of students and staff and support their mental health and wellbeing whilst learning from home.

"We were very quick to adapt the ways we provide support for our learners in light of the lockdown restrictions."

He added: "These are very uncertain times for all of us, and many - particularly vulnerable young adults - will be experiencing extremely high levels of anxiety and concern.

"We in the further education sector have a duty of care to make sure that we do everything we can to make sure that our learners remain engaged in their learning during this period.

"It is absolutely crucial in this respect that we continue our involvement in joint initiatives with others, such as the Colleges Wales Colegau Cymru's Active Wellbeing Strategy, and ongoing collaboration with our existing partners including Betsi Cadwaladr, local authorities and the third sector."

A recent Estyn inspection report rated Grŵp Llandrillo Menai's care, support and guidance for students as 'excellent'. Sam McIlvogue, Director Learner Services said: "Looking after mental health and wellbeing has a huge impact on learning and helping learners cope with the current situation is a top priority for us at the moment.

"We're dealing with an unprecedented level of demand for support. Students are accessing our services for many different reasons - from experiencing anxiety to feelings of isolation and separation from friends, and practical concerns such as financial and ICT worries.

"Undoubtedly, social distancing and other restrictions have exacerbated these concerns in many cases. Our students are telling us that it's hugely reassuring for them to know that we're here to provide continued support whilst helping them to identify ways to improve their self care and build their resilience to cope."

She added: "By using technology like Zoom and Google hangout meetings and regular telephone calls, our welfare staff are in touch with learners on a regular basis, sometimes daily. We've been able to continue to offer our counselling service and both existing learners and new referrals are taking up this service, whether it's by phone or video link.  

"We've also been using our social media platforms to share positive messages, wellbeing tips and highlight the welfare services among our students. The wellbeing calendar is yet another way to provide support by giving small, practical steps to help address some of the emotional challenges that can arise whilst learning from home."