In November 2022 the Unite Foundation put out a job advert for two care-experienced or estranged students to support the growth of a new student community. They are known as Community Catalysts and their purpose is to help improve connections between, and build a sense of community for, care experienced and estranged students.
The team were employed as part of a 6-month pilot (expanded to 7-months) which has been a great success and generated a lot of learning for both catalysts and the charity alike. The Unite Foundation will be recruiting more students to continue the catalysing this summer, keep your eyes peeled if you’re interested!
We had a chat with Daisy and Humerah to hear what they have learnt about helping bring a community to life.
Hello, Catalysts! Would you like to introduce yourselves?
Hi, I’m Daisy. I’m in my final year studying psychology at the University of Reading. I took on this role because I wanted to help bring our community of students together a bit more.
Hi, I’m Humerah! I just finished my second year in Forensic Accounting at Sheffield Hallam and start on placement in July as a Corporate Finance Analyst. I wanted to make our community more inclusive and help people connect with others in similar situations.
How would you describe your role?
Daisy: As a Community Catalyst it is our job to create content in the community’s online social network, then take on other members’ feedback and analyse responses to our posts to provide content that the community wants to see. We also encourage people to create their own posts, share info they find helpful and engage with one another online in a safe environment. It’s about looking at how people are engaging and suggesting changes to the community that will support its growth in a sustainable way.
Humerah: In my experience, being a community catalyst entails responsibilities like creating and sharing content made by us or others for the online platform. We try to make it fun, engaging, and helpful by considering responses from the wider community and from each other. We spend some time analysing posts created in the past month and see what works, what does well and what could be improved on. We also look at analytics on the website, seeing what times and days most members are active to ensure that we are sharing at good times for members. The whole point is to try and encourage others to join in and connect!
What have you learned about building a community and what people are looking for?
Daisy: Over the last 6 months it’s become clear that many people in the online community just want to meet likeminded people and make friends. We did a piece of evaluation in the form of a competition in March 2023 which had almost 200 responses from care experienced and estranged students across the UK. A huge 84% of respondents saying what they wanted most from the space was to make friends.
Do you think the online social network makes it easy for people to make new friends and feel that they belong to a bigger community?
Daisy: From the evaluation, it was nice to see that a lot of people did feel like they belonged in the community, and that the online platform had provided them with useful information, a safe space, and a place to make friends. We also had lots of constructive learning to take away. Some people said they were unsure whether the social networking site was a safe space and worried whether it was one that will remain constant i.e., not close in the future. We want everyone to know we’re trying to create a safe space for estranged and care experienced students online and in-person, the social network is run by estranged and care experienced individuals, and it’s here to stay!
How important do you think it is for people to meet other people who might share similar experiences?
Humerah: We’ve found people really want to hear each other’s experiences as it helps them feel more seen and less isolated by what they are going/have gone through. One of Daisy’s posts about people’s stories had a lot of traction both publicly and via dm (and I don’t think the Unite Foundation should worry about this content or say it shouldn’t be shared, we are all adults, and it is what people want!). The This is Us podcast and blog would also benefit from being advertised more in our social network, as people want to see this content and want to be involved too.
How do you think people feel about ‘breaking the ice’ in a brand-new social network?
Daisy: It can be hard and sometimes it can feel a bit quiet. We’ve learnt that there are a couple things that contribute to how quiet the online space can be. Some people are confused about how the platform works as it’s not familiar to them and doesn’t work like Instagram or Facebook, whilst others are unsure about how to break the ice online. I think more tutorials about how to use the platform should be a standard thing that people get when they join the community, and our role is to post content and encourage people to join in.
Humerah: We noticed that some members just like to be silent listeners/readers and don’t interact with posts but knowing that the informative posts with links have been clicked onto is more than enough. I think that since Daisy and I have started writing more posts, the engagement has increased but also behind the scenes the direct messaging increases too. Most members just want an area where they feel safe enough to share their own experiences and to also meet other people going through similar circumstances. The platform itself is quite unique, some people may struggle to see it as a place to be active and message others sometimes, or just not want to be involved in that way, which is totally okay!
I think following the community catalyst role, I will still be active within the community, and I have personally enjoyed doing questions of the week and getting to know more about Ira and the whole community.
What sort of content do you think people want to see at the moment?
Daisy: Content-wise, we have learnt that many people want informative posts (e.g., jobs, general advice). Humerah and I post a lot in terms of general information – but not a lot about job opportunities or employment advice, so I think this is something that could be added. Additionally, a lot of people want to go to online and in person meet ups which are always shared on the network. We can definitely share more about those, especially in terms of how well they went afterwards, this would help create a safe and active space, especially for those who have social anxiety or are shy, so they know what to expect if they chose to go to an event. Also, lots of people still aren’t aware that the Unite Foundation can give grants to help people run their own meetups.
Humerah: We’ve learnt lots of people want to have freebies / enter giveaways too which is understandable, especially as a student. I agree that more job opportunities and financial advice/help is what people tend to look for so more of that would be beneficial.
What have you personally learnt from being a Community Catalyst?
Humerah: This role has helped in my personal development where I was able to recognise my strengths and weaknesses and with this role being my first official job it helped me to see and enter a whole new aspect of working life, which is scheduling hours. I had experienced some personal difficulties around March, but Ira was very understanding, and I was able to become more honest and open about how I was feeling which helped me to develop my own interpersonal skills.
Any final reflections or tips for the future?
Daisy: Keep this role! In terms of breaking the ice online and maintaining growth, continuing the Community Catalyst role would help, as the online social network has become livelier from our posts, which has helped prompt others to create their own content. Catalysts could even have set topics that they post about and analyse too, which could help build consistency in the network.
Humerah: I agree keeping community catalyst role is beneficial for the community to keep the social network growing and changing with what the community needs. This will also help with any future developments as new people join our network. I’m excited to see the future of our community!
To join the community online click here. And check back soon to hear more about the next round of recruitment for Community Catalysts.