• Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024

How the ‘Sunday Scaries’ walking group tackles student loneliness

ByMia Siitonen

Feb 12, 2024
A group of students celebrate after a walk with the Sunday Scaries group

Sunday Scaries is an Edinburgh-based, student-led walking group, aiming to create community through the Scottish winter.

Founded last year by University of Edinburgh fourth-year students Tara Williams and Evie Raphael, Sunday Scaries meets every other Sunday for a walk in or nearby the city, usually ending with a pint or coffee.

University can be an overwhelmingly lonely place at times. For many students, it is the first time in their lives that they have lived away from home and the familiar comforts of friends or family, whilst also suddenly having to look after themselves, keep up with the pressures of an intense academic workload and, for many, balance part-time work.

Research conducted by YouGov revealed that almost all students (92%) experience feelings of loneliness at some point during their studies, yet less than half feel comfortable admitting this, or asking for help. Meanwhile, a survey of 15,000 students at Scottish universities, conducted by the National Union of Students, showed that 74% reported low wellbeing.

Students’ reluctance to reach out for help might in part be attributed to the lack of support available: universities spend on average just £39 per student on mental health support, compared to significantly more (£2,690) per student on marketing. Such figures raise serious questions as to the responsibility that universities have for the wellbeing of their students, and suggest that not nearly enough is being done to support them.

These struggles are often exacerbated in the winter.

Speaking of the motivation behind starting Sunday Scaries, co-founder Evie Raphael said: “Winters in Edinburgh tend to drag, and they can be quite isolating when uni life usually centres around nightlife. Sunday Scaries gives people an opportunity to get outside and make the most of the little light we get whilst also building a community of like-minded people.”

The group’s core values – building community and getting out into nature – are backed up by scientific research supporting the positive effect that they have on mental health.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 70% of UK adults agreed that being close to nature improves their mood. Similarly, the benefits of exercise on our mental health are well-documented: adults who engage in regular exercise are 20-30 per cent less likely to become depressed, but just ten minutes of brisk walking can have a positive effect on the mood.

Finally, it can be difficult to escape from the drudgery of the everyday routine of university, and it is easy to forget that we live on the cusp of a wealth of incredible scenery.

Co-founder Tara Williams highlighted this, saying: “for our last year we wanted to get out of the university bubble a bit and get to see more of the area surrounding Edinburgh and appreciate how lucky we are to be so close to nature living in this city.”

“Escaping the city, even if just for a few hours, can be transformative in feeling connected to the world outside of the university bubble that’s all too easy to find ourselves trapped in.”

Many people who have participated in Sunday Scaries walks have come alone, knowing no one, but leave having connected with others, and engaged in conversations that go beyond small talk. Walking side by side is an excellent catalyst for conversation, and in a world where the ways in which we connect with one another are becoming increasingly less tangible, the importance of this cannot be overstated.

Sunday Scaries meets every other Sunday, at a different time/location. For details and updates, follow @sundayscaries_ on instagram.

Image courtesy of Sunday Scaries.