Becca, Postgraduate Representative
Starting a new chapter of your life always appears a bit daunting despite the excitement this new path has to offer – you’re a in a new environment on your own challenged with finding new friends, which some people find easier than others. Having arrived late in the academic year, the fear of being alone for a considerable amount of time became one of my main concerns, but then I encountered Populus, its founder Sam and her drive to tackle loneliness by providing different opportunities through which people can meet and friendships can blossom. The idea of tackling loneliness by holding different events might at first not seem out of the ordinary and some might even claim that societies are doing the trick, as they connect people who share the same interests, but this can and will exclude people. Populus is in this respect different, as it provides a space for everyone regardless of interests, faith, political views – an idea that fascinated me and made me start working for Populus.
The last couple of months have been an interesting experience, as I did not only meet a lot of people through Populus that I would never have met otherwise, but I could also see the joy that these events brought to people and how new connections and friendships developed. I have to stress that it was a pleasure to interact with people coming to a Populus event for the first time, as they often faced their shyness to reach out.
Katie, Events Assistant
I’ve really loved having the opportunity to work with Populus over the past year and watching it grow from a small organisation into a wonderful charity. The way in which Populus has helped people at St. Andrews is really priceless and I think it has played an important role in reducing the stigma of loneliness along with giving people a voice. Some of my favourite parts have been simply being able to meet new people at events and chat with them about absolutely anything and of course being with such a friendly team of committee members made the experience even better. I am sure that the success of this year will continue and Populus will have a lasting impression in St. Andrews.
Phoebe, Hall Panel Coordinator
Back in May 2016, I was pretty happy. I had completed my first year at uni, made wonderful friends, spent many days exploring St Andrews and had managed to keep up my hobbies alongside uni studies. For the first time in a while, I felt motivated to learn, and curious about the possibilities that lay ahead. It felt pretty nice. In September 2016, I set myself the challenge of being more outward, more sociable, more positive as a person, and as a friend. I have always been a rather shy, quiet person, but realised that in order to make the most of my time at uni, I would have to come out of my shell and approach a few new people! It was then that I discovered Populus. I began to help out with charity bake sales, tea and coffee speed-friending events, beach walks… suddenly I realised that this is way of living, this connectedness with those around us, the collaboration, communication and friendship, was what I was searching for. The Populus team became a tight-knit group of friends, and thanks to Sam’s enthusiasm, insight and pure determination, we began to create a wider network, reaching out to students and locals alike. It was so wonderful. Yes, we had our ups and downs, but I cannot tell you how powerful it was to hear that a mere conversation or a ‘hello’ had brightened someone’s day. That’s what it was about. About supporting anyone and everyone. Pure and simple, it was about friendship and being there for others on the good days and the bad. It made me appreciate kindness and friendship so much more than before, and I was heartened and moved to see that others felt the same way. I can honestly say that it has been a remarkable year, and I am so grateful to the Populus team, all the fantastic volunteers and the many inspiring people I’ve met along the way for all the support and the many conversations and stories we have shared. Here's to many more years to come!
Camilla, Talent Administrator
Being a committee member in Populus’ first year has been a very challenging and rewarding experience. Among the team we have continuously worked to become better and learn from our mistakes. Spearheading our efforts, Sam has usually come up with amazing ideas, but it is as a team that we have made it all work. For me one of the hardest things was staying passionate while dealing with the fear that no one would show up at an event. And while some events have been significantly better received and attended than others, even the slow ones have more often than not given me and others from the team the confirmation that what we were doing made sense. My favourite moment is hard to pinpoint, but I think that it can be described as an amalgamation of the abundantly different conversations that I’ve had with people at our events. It’s been a very thought provoking year, and I look forward to see where Populus will be in another year’s time.
Mansi, Student Advisor
Populus has had such an amazing first year and I couldn’t be happier to have been a part of it. Getting to connect with students and the St Andrews community in events with 500 people or 5 people is an experience that is irreplaceable. My favorite events are always ones with our trusty conversation cards. It’s amazing to see people start conversations with them, and then end up clicking to point where they become actual friends; I myself have met one of my best friends like this. Populus is a student driven charity that has the sole goal of improving students’ lives; and it is achieving this goal and will continue to do so in the coming years.
Ruxy, Social Media Butterfly
Joining Populus was a pleasant surprise to me as I discovered people that promoted acceptance from the bottom of their hearts. It’s been an enriching and fulfilling experience to see Populus grow so much over the year, through every conversation, event or person we reached out to. The reason why I decided to get so involved is because I saw the dedication of a bunch of people to actually provide this space where you can be fully yourself, with all the awkwardness or the joy a new connection can bring. I have heard so many people call this idea “cute”, “lovely”, “awesome” and that was another thing that made me realise there is more to do with Populus, because some people don’t even realise that they need this kind of events that simply promote friendship, until they hear it from a stranger. It’s reassuring for me to know I will always find a cup of hot chocolate, a smile and a funny conversation card at Populus. I want for everyone to feel that that safety net is there to catch you through your hard times.
David, Assistant Director
Little did I think at the beginning of this year that I'd be making over 500 pancakes for people in halls. It didn't cross my mind that I'd be explaining to people that there was no catch to the free cup of tea we were offering. Nor did I expect such an overwhelmingly positive response to our first year as Populus. Not every stage of the journey so far has been easy, far from it. We've had battles with venue bookings, wrestled with charity application forms, and had to work hard to find ourselves. There is no part I would take back about this year though. Nothing in the world is perfect but Populus is something that is worth every ounce of time I have given it. When I hear about people's experiences in St Andrews of being alone, when I see how thankful people have been to have us there, it makes it all worth it. I cannot wait to see where we go as a team over the next year. Each one of our committee have been phenomenal and I owe a debt of gratitude to them for all they've done. Moreover, we are all indebted to Sam, our founder, our leader, who has paved the way and been the single largest factor in Populus being such a success and being such a help to people. Here's to many, many more years!
It turns out that writing about the first year of Populus is more difficult than actually launching it, and that’s probably because I either haven’t had the chance to put the feeling Populus gives me into words, or there are simply no words to describe a project which this time last year was just an idea without a catchy name.
Meeting amazing people and making huge impacts on student life in St Andrews has been so rewarding, but none of this could have happened without our hall panel, our volunteer force, and the unquestionable talent and commitment of our Executive Committee. Not only have these guys contributed, but they have shaped Populus into what it is today. We have also been fortunate to receive the utmost kindness and support from The Mansfield, our fabulous and always encouraging University advisor Bonnie Hacking, and of course, the community of St Andrews. So for me, this reflective blog piece is one massive thank you, dedicated to everyone who gave suggestions, gave their time, and gave us their attention in what transpired to be the best year we have had in St Andrews (yet).
For me, loneliness and isolation is too often a major factor in people’s lives, but Populus has reassured us all that it is an issue which can be spoken about, which can be helped, and which can be normalised. I can’t wait for another year in St Andrews, for additional members of the team, new ideas and new impacts to make!
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