On a cold, damp Monday morning this week my team in the Farnham and Bordon Labour Party launched a campaign to encourage young people to register to vote.
At first it seemed like the reception we would receive matched the weather.
One of my colleagues approached a UCA student, offering a leaflet, only to be told: “Whatever you are selling, I don’t want it!”
Undeterred, he called after them that it was vitally important in this general election year. The student paused, halted and replied: “Actually that is really important”.
He and his friends returned to take our leaflets and walked onto the campus discussing the issues excitedly.
This proved to be pretty consistent. Many students felt that an election could not come soon enough. And, most were exasperated by the current government’s failure to grapple with their concerns.
We had a chance to explore these in more detail at the UCA Refreshers Fair later in the week.
Some issues were to be expected, but others were unexpectedly dark and deeply disturbing.
Lots of the students talked about relentlessly rising fees and their fears that they will still be paying their debts into their 60s, thanks to the government’s latest rule changes.
I felt compelled to explain how the Lib Dems had broken their promise on tuition fees when they helped the Tories to power in 2010.
Most of my audience, were of course, far too young to remember Nick Clegg so I’m not sure that this helped much other than to reinforce their mistrust in politics altogether.
High rents, high fuel bills and the difficulty of getting secure places to live locally came up repeatedly, proof if it were needed that our young people are not protected from the cost of living crisis. And, many were really animated about the government’s poor record on the NHS and the threat posed to their future by climate change.
More unexpectedly for me, however, was the extent to which these young people talked about poor mental health.
It is, of course, good that people are talking openly about mental health. But it’s clear that many students are really struggling with academic and financial pressures, frightened for the future and because they’re away from home they’re divorced from social and emotional support networks. It’s no wonder that the pressure in rising on mental health services.
Thankfully, UCA has been very diligent providing well-being services for students. But nationally universities are battling with the demand for mental health services which has risen threefold in the last decade.
This is extremely serious because the consequences of poor mental health for students range from poor academic performance and dropping out of university, to self-harm and suicide.
So, it was really timely to hear shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson pledge better mental health support for young people would be part of Labour’s manifesto.
As well as supporting higher education she said Labour will give schools the additional resources needed to hire specialist counselling or mental health support. My experience at UCA underlines just how important this is, for the future of our children and our country.