Uni Life

How COVID Has Affected the UON Clubs & Societies Community

UON’s Clubs and Societies are an important part of the University culture. Keighley Bradford finds out how they are coping during the current disruption.

The year kicked off strong for many of UON’s clubs and societies thanks to the annual O-Week Expo. However, following the Government’s COVID-19 restrictions which commenced in March, clubs and societies were forced to re-evaluate and adapt their annuals plans and practices. For some, this has been a seamless transition; for others, operations have had to cease (for now).

Club Operations in the Face of COVID

Newcastle Christian Students, NUni Toastmasters and UoN Writers’ Club are just a few of the clubs which have managed to switch gears by adapting to virtual events. The UON Cheerleading Club and the University of Newcastle Rugby League Club, as contact sport-based clubs, have had to suspend training, games, and competitions indefinably until restrictions lift. Meanwhile, despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, the Master of Architecture Committee is optimistic in being able to work with the situation by viewing it as a “catalyst for change” in the way they operate.

Newcastle Christian Students (NCS for short) have managed to transition their regular activities, such as Bible Talks and socials events, onto online platforms like Facebook and Zoom. “We’ve mixed up the format a bit to get people [more] involved,” Isaac Vanderhout, President of NCS, noted, in addition to commenting on how the club’s been opting to use Zoom’s breakout rooms and weekly themes to encourage people to stay connected. However, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing, with NCS’s group for international students, ‘FOCUS’, suffering the most from COVID as many of these students have returned to their home countries prior to countrywide lockdown.

NUni Toastmasters (also known simply as NUni) has fortunately been able to keep operations running similarly to that of their face-to-face events. “We are all able to practice our impromptu speaking with our table topics session each week, as well as [try our hand at] many roles, such as chairperson, timekeeper, or speaker,” Rosemary Reynolds, Vice President of Public Relations at NUni said. Since NUni is a club which aims help improve an individual’s personal communication skills, their greatest challenge in this new virtual environment has been assessing body language and eye contact of members to give feedback for improvement.

“Where exactly [do] you look in a Zoom meeting when there are faces all over the screen?” Rosemary Reynolds, on adjusting to virtual events.

UoN Writers’ Club is also pushing through after having to put many of their 2020 plans on hold. While they have been one of a few clubs lucky enough to easily transition to an online format, Club President, Tyler Bridges, notes “We are trying our best to keep [the club] alive with our Scribblings on every few weeks to keep club members connecting and writing during this time. I feel confident that after isolation we will be able to go back to normal very easily and may even see a greater engagement as people try to take advantage of more social events – but let’s hope I didn’t just jinx us on that one”.

UON Cheerleading Club (UON Cheer for short) started the 2020 season off strong, with 70 members joining the club, an elite level 3/4 team introduced, as well as new uniform designed for the teams. However, UON Cheer is uncertain if they’ll be able to compete this year due to the restrictions on large gatherings seeming unlikely to lift anytime soon. “[As] a high contact team sport, the COVID pandemic [has] forced the cancellation of all club training, competitions and social events for the foreseeable future,” Georgie Cooper, General Committee Member (Social Media and Events) for UON Cheer commented. While they have been able to offer their members online training sessions due to their host gym, East Coast Allstar, as well as have weekly catch-ups via Zoom, Cooper notes, “our club culture and team bonding is built during training and at social events, so it’s hard to replicate that online…especially [for] those who are new and only just discovered cheer leading and our club”.

University of Newcastle Rugby League Club (go Seahorses!) have similarly been left in the situation of indefinitely postponing their rugby league and league tag seasons. “We have had to temporarily shut down as our primary activities within our club involve being in groups with physical contact and the sharing of equipment,” Vaida Shaw, Registrar and social committee member said. This year marked not only the club’s 50th year but the addition of the inaugural women’s rugby league team. There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment for the Seahorses’ future, with a large number of players having relocated home, dropped out of uni, or left their college residences. However, there is some hope from the Newcastle Hunter Rugby League (NHRL) (the league of which the teams participate in), with them having suggested a possibility of a shorter competition season later this year (though this is all still up in the air).

The UoN Master of Architecture (MoA) Committee is optimistic in the face of COVID-19, maintaining positive, viewing the situation as a “catalyst for change”. Daniel Jagger, a Media Director of MoA notes, “as Architecture students, there’s something unique about how we’re taught here at UON. We’re receptive, resourceful and resilient; we’re problem seekers and investigators”. Like most facilities, COVID has virtually eliminated the collaborative and supportive environment of face-to-face learning, which in turn has affected not only the student and teaching staff but how the MoA Committee operates. “We’re all determined to graduate, to produce great work and share our work with the greater Newcastle,” Jagger continues. “[So] it’s really important to keep everyone’s spirits high and engaged, as this effectively benefits our productivity.” One way the MoA Committee has achieved this is through hosting virtual events, such as live stream cooking.

The Bigger Impact on Club Members and the Decisions Executives Have to Make

For sporting clubs like UON Rugby League and UON Cheer, it’s unknown when they’ll be able to return to normal operations. UON Rugby League had been planning a large celebration for May to celebrate their 50th year. The reunion was intended to be a momentous occasion uniting Seashores past and present. However, due to COVID, the Committee has had to postpone the event, hoping to be able to go ahead for a belated celebration in 2021. “We also had jerseys and training kits ordered to celebrate our achievement of 50 years…It’s safe to say that COVID-19 has put a strain on our club that we have never felt before and we can only hope that we can come back better and stronger.”

Meanwhile, for UON Cheer, their biggest competition of the year is ‘AASCF Nationals’, where they compete again university cheer leading teams across the country. Last year their Co-Ed team placed 5th and their All-Girl team placed 7th. This year is a different story. “It’s too early to say whether this event will go ahead in any capacity, and if we will have enough time to perfect a routine once we do resume training, but we’re staying hopeful!” As a club catering to both competing and social members, UON Cheer has been impacted on what they can offer their social members. They were in the midst of confirming their Welcome Cocktail Night as lockdown took place, and presently they’re uncertain how their annual end-of-year presentation night will unfold.

“[End-of-year events] are always a nice way for all the people who have been involved in different things throughout the year to come together and finally get to meet,” Tyler Bridges, on the sense of what community clubs offer through end-of-year celebrations.

For MoA, their greatest concern at the moment is their end-of-year exhibition, where they showcase architecture students works to the public. “Generally, this time of year the committee is out investigating and connecting with industry practices and seeking other methods of crowdfunding. Due to the nature of COVID-19, this has been greatly restricted thus calling for alternate ways of engagement.” Rest assured the exhibition will go ahead, however, the nature of the exhibition (eg. physical event or virtual event) is still being discussed.

When COVID restrictions shut down social gatherings, NCS was a week out from their first camp of the year. “We were finalising sleeping arrangements & transport for around 100 guests and students when we had to transition to an online-only format.” It was a challenge, however, NCS managed to pull off a great online ‘camp’ thanks to Zoom. “It wasn’t the same as a face-to-face camp, but it did provide a way [for] students to hang out and learn from the Bible in a fun setting. This experience of going online at short notice showed us what was possible and has helped us transition our other activities online too”.

The Future of Clubs and Societies Post-COVID

Major events are a resounding concern for UON clubs and societies at the moment, however, there are also other issues they may be facing in the near future. While COVID has given club executives new skills and abilities to survive, Bridges notes the reality for some clubs, “it may be hard to recover this year and [they] might have to pick up again next year. Financially, some clubs may suffer too…[and] although we get SSAF funding, there are some clubs that need to get revenue in physical events to be able to buy resources,” something which isn’t looking feasible this year.

Every club and society are facing different circumstances which may indicate their survival. “Our club is quite lucky in that people will always want to play rugby league for their university/college,” Shaw notes. “I think that our club will be able to get back on track, but it won’t be done without a lot of hard work and determination. In regard to others, I know that there are some that may struggle to come back from this which is upsetting.”

Executives are confident that with the support of their peers, clubs and societies will be able to pull through these hard times. “While no one knows how soon we will be back to ‘normal’…I’m optimistic that we will come together stronger after this isolation experience and appreciate our freedoms a little more,” Cooper comments. “COVID has shown us how often we take friendships for granted, so maybe people valuing relationships more, will encourage them to seek out friends through the clubs and societies on campus,” Vanderhout adds.

“At the end of the day, we’re human, we’re social beings. There will always be the desire to seek societies and clubs to engage with others and seek connection. For entities that solely rely on the face-to-face format, they will have to redefine, but only to their benefit.” – Daniel Jagger, on the future of clubs on campus.

Final Words From the Executives

From NUni:
We welcome others who would like to join in, and we are open to all of the community here at UON. Our club time of 4pm each Tuesday [and] our meeting usually run for about 90 mins, but you are able to come and go.

The shutdown has had a bit of an effect as we had a post-grad student, Dean, coming along each week, and then [we] realised we didn’t have his email to let him know of our changes. If you are out there, Dean…

From UON Cheer:
Many university clubs, societies and the student central/student life team are doing a great job to adapt to this unprecedented situation. We are so lucky to have access to technology that allows us to stay connected and help each other through these uncertain times. I’d encourage everyone to find a way to keep social and engaged in your interests during isolation – university clubs are a great way to do so. We also highly recommend watching ‘Cheer’ on Netflix 😉

From UON Rugby League:
The Seahorses are excited to get back to what we do best and are looking forward to bringing people back together with rugby league and league tag. We hope our fellow clubs and societies are hanging in there and wish them well throughout this time.

If anyone is interested in joining our men’s rugby league, women’s rugby league or women’s league tag team please get in touch with us via our Facebook page. Once our season returns, we will be happily welcoming new players to our game and club.

Go Seahorses!

How To Get Involved

If you’d like to join a UON club or society, you can learn more here.

You can also follow our featured clubs and societies at:

Master of Architecture: Instagram
Newcastle Christian Students: Facebook, Instagram, Website, info@newcastlechristianstudents.org
NUni Toastmasters: Facebook, nunitoastmasters@outlook.com
UON Cheerleading Club: Facebook, Instagram
UON Rugby League Club
UoN Writers’ Club: Facebook, Instagram

For Our Friends at Club and Societies:
Remember, Yak is here to help in any way we can. Tag us in your social media posts for a shout out from our Promotions Team, or email your event details to yakatuon@gmail.com to be added to our What’s On Calendar. If you have a story you think we’d be interested in, feel free to email us at any time.


Feature Image: Phoebe Metcalfe, Yak Media Designer

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