Society Spotlight: Oxford Beat | University of Oxford
Beat logo and illustration of a young woman
Beat logo and illustration of a young woman wearing a orange top

Society Spotlight: Oxford Beat

This week (1 – 7 March) is Eating Disorders Awareness Week so the Society Spotlight is Oxford Beat. The society’s president James Nevett who is a finalist studying History at Brasenose College spoke to us about the society, raising awareness of eating disorders and how students can get involved.

“Beat is the UK’s eating disorder charity, it does research to find out the prevalence of eating disorders but is much more than a research body and works alongside the NHS. Really it is the frontline for people looking for support with eating disorders and runs helplines and other mediums such as online chat. There are also an astounding amount of resources available on the Beat website.

Oxford Beat is the student-run society that is run almost like a franchise, with campus reps (of which I am one) which feed back to Beat on campaigns and resources at our University. We have three main aims as a society:

  1. Raise awareness of eating disorders
  2. Fundraising for Beat
  3. Campaign for better support for students with eating disorders

How does Oxford Beat raise awareness of eating disorders?

The Oxford systems comes with its challenges and strengths. The college system can mean that support can be limited to campaigning but the benefit of a college is that once you have reached one person they can use it to spread the word throughout the college. We ask them to put posters in common rooms and during the pandemic it has been through raising JCR and MCR motions which makes it easier to reach 100s of students all at once. Each college has its own processes but once you get something moving it moves quickly and you’re reaching a variety of students.

How does the society fundraise?

Over the past year we have been supported by RAG which has been a great way to fundraise for Beat. We also run independent fundraising which could be anything from bake sales on a Saturday afternoon in a college common room to the Beat Oxford 10k run which usually takes place during Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This can raise between £1,000 and £1,500.

We’ve also been picked by colleges and college chapels as their charity which helps us to raise £100s for Beat.

What does Oxford Beat campaign for?

We campaign for better support for students with eating disorders. At the moment there is no one at the University who specialises in eating disorders and we’d like to see a clinician or dietician who could provide these expertise. College nurses don’t have the expertise and the Counselling Service is not funded for long-term specialist support. It aims to support students with eating disorders as best it can while students are waiting for NHS provision.

The next step for students looking for support would be Cotswold House which is an NHS specialist facility for adults with eating disorders. Unfortunately Cotswold House can only help students when they get to a critical point and that point is also when they would be no longer fit to study under the University’s Fitness to Study guidelines.

We’d like to see an initial investment into a specialist. We estimate around 5% of students at Oxford have an eating disorder and without support this is having a detrimental effect on their learning. Studies have found that when we intervene earlier people are more likely to recover. All students should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and eating disorders shouldn’t get in the way of this.

We have a meeting scheduled with the Vice Chancellor to talk about how we can make specific improvements to help students with eating disorders. We want to have a proactive discussion with the University, we all want what’s best for the students and we can all work on this together.

How can I get involved in Oxford Beat?

You don’t have to have experienced an eating disorder to support us. If you want to raise awareness and support people with eating disorders you can become a member. Our main role is not to support people with eating disorders but to share information and spread awareness. We have a mailing list and you can follow us on Facebook to find out more.

Personally I haven’t experienced an eating disorder but wanted to get involved. Towards the end of Freshers the University sent an email asking if people wanted to get involved in becoming a Beat campus representative. I hadn’t even heard of Beat but my friend from school had bulimia so I had the perspective of the indirect suffering caused by eating disorders and caring for loved ones.

I thought that this could be my calling at University and it was something that no one else was doing. So I went to London and I did the training and now I’m the society president campaigning for better support.

Where can I go for support with eating disorders?

If you have an eating disorder or think you may have one you should contact your GP for support. Beat runs a helpline which is open 365 days a year from 9am–8pm during the week, and 4pm–8pm on weekends and bank holidays. Call Beat on 0808 801 0811 or visit their one-to-one web chat.

*If you or someone you know is at immediate risk call 999 or the Samaritans on 116 123.*

If you are looking to support someone who has an eating disorder, or you suspect has an eating disorder the Beat website has a variety of resources to help you.”