A festival designed to support student mental health and wellbeing was held at Newcastle College University Centre (NCUC) last week.

The ‘Restival’ was hosted by former actress and Newcastle College alumni Holly Matthews. Now a self-development coach, Holly runs wellbeing events through her business The Happy Me Project, an online and in-person straight-talking self-development membership, podcast and award-winning and best-selling book.   

NCUC Health and Social Care Lecturer, Natalie Ellis attended one of Holly’s events and was inspired to replicate it for students in an education setting, saying: “Young people are facing real stress and pressures, so supporting the mental health and wellbeing of students is crucial to their future success. I wanted to provide them with a day that helped them to relax and explore ways to look after their own wellbeing, while still being educational and supporting their learning.” 

Natalie enlisted The Happy Me Project to help organise the day for students studying degrees in health, to help them alleviate their own stresses while learning more about topics of health and wellbeing, mental health and the importance of self-care. 

Students spent the day taking part in wellbeing activities including laughing yoga, hypnotherapy, meditation and even letting their feelings out in a soundproof ‘emotions pod’, while karaoke, a Lego walk, massage and make-up masterclasses were also on the agenda. 

“Coming back to Newcastle College University Centre to support students with their wellbeing was a huge honour and felt very full circle for me personally," said Holly.

"Getting messages from students (including one who told me the whole day had given her hope that life can one day feel better) after the event let me know the importance of bringing ‘Restival’ to students and the impact this can make.  

“It’s wonderful to see colleges like Newcastle College taking their students wellbeing seriously and giving them the tools to support themselves.” 

The day also featured inspiring and motivational talks from Holly, as well as former Big Brother winner Anthony Hutton, who brought his ‘Never Throw in the Towel’ mental health workshop to the ‘Restival’ for the third time. 

Now a successful barber, Anthony uses his pop-up barber shop, workshops and men’s retreats to encourage men to open up about their mental health following his own battles. He told students at the event about his own journey and encouraged them to talk to each other about their feelings.  

He said: “It was amazing attending the college to get the opportunity to spread the message of the project, which is ‘talking is a strength not a weakness’ and I believe it’s so important to get this out to the youth of today.” 

More than 60% of colleges in the UK have seen an increase in demand for mental health support, the Association of Colleges (AoC) Mental Health Survey Report 2023 revealed last year. The report also highlighted how demand continued to outstrip the supply of services and that greater access to community health services and in-college support was needed.  

Newcastle College has dedicated support teams in place, offering students access to mental health and fitness resources as well as learning mentors, mental health first aiders and counsellors, but having seen a growth in demand for these services in recent years, also aims to provide additional opportunities for students to develop resilience and become educated on the topic of mental health.  

James Edge, Assistant Principal of Newcastle College, added: “Mental fitness is such an important subject and one we have to keep talking about. I think it’s very important that we continue to provide opportunities for students to hear from people who have a story to share, to help with discussion and understanding.   

“Both Holly and Anthony were fantastic guests, and I can’t thank them enough for sharing their own experiences, insight and advice with our students. The ‘Restival’ format was a fantastic experience for our students and I’m looking forward to seeing even more of our students benefit from this great initiative.”