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Oxford Road during Freshers' week

Student outreach ambassadors confronted with a deserted Oxford Road at start of term

  • Oxford Road 'has never been this quiet' as Covid-19 guidelines significantly alter student life
  • Student outreach workers are struggling to connect with new students
  • Fears growing for mental health of students during anxious time

Outreach workers welcoming students to Manchester have faced a freshers’ week like no other as covid-19 regulations left Oxford Road “shockingly empty”.

Fears are growing for student wellbeing as lockdown restrictions create an uncertain and lonely environment. “It’s heartbreaking” says Maral Assadzadeh, who works for Fusion, a charity supporting students moving to university.

Having been involved student outreach for over four years, she is concerned that “Oxford Road has never been this quiet" and that "with the restrictions it’s harder to meet students, meet their needs”.

Maral fears that Manchester’s campuses are lacking in “vibrant energy and life that students bring” this year.

She has found that students are “so anxious and cautious”, particularly with further lockdown measures looming.

Quiet Manchester Campus in Freshers' Week

In previous years, student ambassadors and outreach workers have connected with hundreds of thousands of students on Oxford Road throughout September.

“Normally you can barely walk down the street”, said Grace MacDonald, who has been a student ambassador for Ivy Church which meets on Oxford Road for two years.

She has found it “difficult to engage” with students in the current uncertain climate.

Where you would normally find large groups of new students exploring Manchester’s campuses, she has generally observed smaller groups of two or three, socially distanced and wearing masks. While young people have recently been blamed for an increase in coronavirus cases, student workers say that most Manchester students appear to be complying with government regulations.

Maral said: “I’ve noticed that with so many in halls testing positive, students realise how crucial it is to follow the rules.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer has today warned that deserted student spaces like Oxford Road are indicative of a “looming mental health crisis” among students, dismissing claims that students are to blame for Covid spikes. He has called for the government to put into place a tailored support package, describing university as “a very lonely place to be” this autumn.

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