Sue is a little older than the average University student. Sitting across from me in the crowded Refectory, she giggles: “I am not going to tell you how old I am, but I am old enough to be your grandma”. She’s Secretary for MatSoc, the mature students’ society. MatSoc meet once a fortnight for coffee and tea, and occasionally for a Friday dinner at Old Bar. More than a society, they think of themselves as a community, providing support and advice for all kinds of students. “We’re not equipped to be giving official advice”, Sue tells me, “but most of us are Leeds residents so we know what’s here in terms of help, so we sign-post people”.
Sue points out that they do have an administrative problem. Most mature part-time students have demanding personal lives to balance against their studies, whether it’s their own families, work or health issues – or all three. With so much to deal with, many of the members don’t have the time or capacity to put in the work that MatSoc needs in order to grow, reach more people, and become a more active society. And while they have had people requesting more activities and events from MatSoc, Sue emphasizes that it is that casual, informal feel to the society that is achieved through their chats over coffee and tea, that makes Mat Soc such a great society for its members. “I do think we’ve made some really nice friends by just being that kind of low-key, informal, peer-support, if you want to call it that”, she says, “because it’s then when people open up about their personal issues”.
And while they are called ‘Mature Students’, they are all-inclusive, and don’t discriminate against age. “The last chair, who was 24, and myself – we were looking at the label, the title that we have, because, actually, we don’t discriminate on age. If someone that’s 19 wants to come, why wouldn’t that be good?”. She recognizes, giggling, that this is unlikely, but that might also have to do with the title. “I don’t like that word”, she laughs. And she has a point – just because two students are the same age does not necessarily mean they’ll have similar interests or that they’ll get along. But MatSoc provides the space for people who don’t find many things in common with the 18 year-olds they share lectures with to find support, talk to other people going through similar struggles, and potentially find people with similar interests.
There are other services, like the Lifelong learning center, that offer similar support for older students, with regular activities and meet-ups. However, this, Sue points out, is a school provision, run and organized by the University. MatSoc, as a society, wants to remain student-led, as that is essential for maintaining the community feel of the society which makes it so great. For that community feeling to stay alive, however, they also need an active committee, to keep offering activities and support for students and representing every age group over 21. An active social secretary and marketing committee would make a huge difference, and it’s something that they lack at the moment. Sue reflects, “I do think the potential is very good. MatSoc is here, it’s like a constant presence, and I just hope it can carry on”. I hope so, too.
Follow MatSoc on Twitter here: @MatSocluu
(Image courtesy of MatSoc)