Two students sat in a love heart in St Salvator Quad wearing academic gowns
President of the Students’ Association Dan Marshall with fellow Sabbatical Officer Amy Gallacher. Student Officers played a leading role in the creation of Can Do.

“We can still gather together and still do some of the things that make life feel more normal. We just have to do it in a safe way. We’re [also] really lucky that in St Andrews we have so many amazing outdoor spaces.”

Dan Marshall, Students’ Association President

Non-stop sport

Despite the difficulties of coping with ‘significant and sudden’ changes in Government regulations during the initial Covid-19 outbreak, and then having to cope with the complete closure of indoor facilities, sport remained a driving force for the St Andrews community throughout 2020.

With 52 sports clubs and a Sports Centre membership of over 6000 staff, students and locals, restrictions on what people could and couldn’t do impacted some sports and activities significantly, while other indoor activities could simply be moved outside. But with confusion over restrictions, combined with an increased sense of cabin fever and lowering levels of positive mental health, it was clear that Saints Sport had an important role to play.

As such, activities continued as much as possible, always within the sport-specific guidelines and under regular discussions with sportscotland and the governing bodies of sport. Rigorous reviews and adaptations to the physical layout of the Sports Centre saw a newly Covid-adapted space re-opening to the public, albeit for a short time.

Duncan Caithness, Assistant Director (Sports Development), commented: “Since the outbreak of Covid-19, we have reacted, reflected and responded to significant, sudden and ever evolving changes. From the very beginning the Saints Sport attitude has been to focus on what we CAN DO and not dwell on what we can’t do.”

With competition no longer possible, many outdoor sports saw their figures rise twofold. The Junior Saints summer programme was adapted according to guidelines so that more than 100 local children could still enjoy the physical and social benefits sport brings, not to mention the added benefits to their working parents. The programme was just one of the areas funded by the Principal’s Strategic Response Fund, created through generous donations from alumni, friends, parents and staff to support our community during the pandemic.

Child at sport camp

Children at sport camp
The three weeks of activity included disc golf, footgolf, orienteering, arts and crafts, and athletics for more than 50 local children per day. Photo credits: Duncan Caithness

Throughout the period’s subsequent tightening of restrictions – not to mention a voluntary lockdown – sporting students and staff continued to adapt to the challenges of Covid. During the latter half of 2020, students once again proved their ability to adapt and adopt creativity in a crisis – from giant turkeys taking part in a socially distanced Christmas fun run to Judo sessions by the Burn, the ‘Can do’ approach included disc golf, footgolf and golf lessons, as well as online challenges and classes.

Student at a golf driving range, mid swing.
Sport remained a driving force in St Andrews, with free driving range sessions being made available as part of Can Do events in December 2020.

AU President, Sophie Tyler, said: “So many of our outdoor sports like football and rugby saw a big increase in their popularity, but the athletics and cross-country club attracted all the new lockdown runners!

“However, what I think has been especially brilliant to see is how creative our clubs have been in adapting sessions for outside. We’ve seen everything from Judo sessions down by the Kinnessburn to dance sessions on the outdoor tennis courts. They have really made the most out of the situation and kept people engaged.

Student standing outside of sports centre holding a big collection of deodorant cans with both hands
Sophie Tyler, AU President, accepting a donation of hand sanitiser on behalf of Saints Sport in 2020.

“It’s vital [during times like these] to focus on physical health and emotional wellbeing. Covid will eventually pass, but mental and physical health will always be something we need to look after. The pandemic has made people more stationary and increased emotional wellbeing issues, even for people who have never struggled with those problems. We need to make sure people are supported during the pandemic, so their issues don’t continue long-term.”

“Just because the Sports Centre has been closed that hasn’t meant we have stopped at any point. We have all been working flat out on facilitating as much sport as possible and setting up new projects to work on to make Saints Sport even better and get things ready for when restrictions lift.”

Blowing away the bubbles

“I have always said that St Andrews is in its own little bubble. We are fortunate to live in an environment where most people want to look out for each other.”

Watson Bell, ACE team

Group of students on the beach with surfboards
“Once we were in the water, we were oblivious to the cold and just had fun.” Watson Bell with his group at the event.

One of the last outdoors events to be organised before Christmas was literally designed to blow away the cobwebs of a community restricted by Covid.

Co-hosted with beach-based activities group Blown Away, dozens of students and staff members took part in the event which saw them learn to surf in the icy waters of the North Sea. The outdoors event fulfilled one of the main themes of communicating Can Do: connectionmeaning and getting outside.

The brave group, who participated over three sessions held on the West Sands, included the University’s Commercial Manager, Watson Bell.

He said: “When I saw that there was availability for the event, I immediately signed up. I have walked the West Sands beach so many times, but I have never ventured into the water! It made sense that my first time in would be in December…”

Group of students running on the beach
Watson, pictured centre right in blue, running ‘Chariots of Fire’ style before surfing on the West Sands.

Having lived in Miami, Watson had enjoyed water sports such as snorkelling, paddle boarding and kayaking, but was he ready for attempting to surf against the winter West Sands wind?

“It was absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “We had a blast. The only time we were cold was prior to getting kitted out in our dry suits. Once we were in the water, we were oblivious to the cold and just had fun. It is something I would definitely do again, regardless of the time of year.

“I have always said that St Andrews is in its own little bubble. We are fortunate to live in an environment where most people want to look out for each other. The combination of the spiritual history of this town, the energy that academia brings, the nature that surrounds us and the diversity of the community make it a perfect place to live.

“Can Do events are vital for both the students and staff. Our physical and mental wellbeing hinge on us being active! I loved being a part of a group of people that were benefiting from something our team put together.”

Can Do-ughnuts

“Student wellbeing is essential at this time. Events run by Can Do can help alleviate this problem, and foster a sense of community, which helps stave off loneliness during lockdown.”

Kyle Rodrigues, fifth year MPhys student from Singapore.

Student eating fudge doughnut
“The overall university experience has been stolen from many students during the current year. It is impacting freshers particularly as it is stifling their ability to take part in the wonderful community of St Andrews and preventing them from making connections.” Kyle Rodrigues.

One popular event that started in the middle of February 2021 not only encouraged students to get outside, but to treat themselves too, and all with local produce. In special partnerships with local businesses such as Fisher & Donaldson, ‘Foodie Fridays’ was so in-demand it became more frequent, with Belgian waffles, burgers and macaroni cheese all making an appearance on the Can Do events calendar. The concept, in which the Can Do team organised discounted deals to be served outside in a contactless environment, was simple but effective, allowing students some essential R&R, whether alone or in their household bubbles.

Student sitting on a bench with a doughnut in his right hand and coffee cup in his left hand
“I was lucky enough to be here in St Andrews, in our relatively isolated community, where things that were occurring in the outside world felt far away and disconnected to the calm hot summer we had. I talked to my elderly neighbours for the first time. They furnished me with fresh apples from their garden and a pie plate to try my hand a baking.” Gavin Irvine, fourth year Chemistry student from Ohio.

The events were shared and promoted on University social media channels and staff and student newsletter, In the Loop, with the first events attracting (socially distanced) queues around the block of the Medical Building. Covid-19 compliance posters were on display at each location – which included outside Agnes Blackadder Hall – with a QR code. Fancy a legendary fudge doughnut and a cuppa for £1? Easy. After just a few taps on mobile devices, food could be ordered and picked up completely contactless, with many students choosing to walk and eat with their treat for the day. Can Do staff were on hand to ensure social distancing, answer questions or offer some friendly words to passing students.

Two students standing together each eating a fudge doughnut
“I think it is very important to try and do anything we can to still feel connected in times of staring at a screen all day everyday so having something to connect the student body is a step in the right direction.” Lorelee Dixon, a first year Physics student from Birmingham (left), with her household bubble buddy, first year Biochemistry student Aheelyn Galan-Nunez from Monifieth, Dundee.
Student standing outside collecting food from a hatch in the wall
“I think that having a ‘can do’ approach is important because so much of the information we’re receiving focuses on what we can’t do and that we already miss so much from when things were ‘normal’. It’s nice to have a focus on what we can still do at this time, whilst hoping for more things to be added to that list as time goes on.” Hawa Ould-Ahmed, a first year Medicine student from Manchester.
Male student sitting on the grass with a fudge doughnut in his left hand
“The Can Do approach is vital. I think given the current climate the University NEEDS to be looking out for their students and staff.” Tommy Poskin, from Kansas City, a first year PhD organic Chemistry student (and MChem 2020 lockdown graduate).

Many students described the foodie events as the ‘highlight’ of their week, which forced them outside and to remember the importance of self-kindness.

“The pandemic has been challenging,” said Tommy Poskin, who missed his in-person graduation in the summer of 2020. “I have always tried to spin the days in the most positive light possible but sometimes that is hard. My St Andrews experience during the pandemic is likely similar to many who find days and weeks feel like they merge together and that time itself seems frozen.

“We are all expected to work as much as we can currently, but all work and no play is a recipe for burn out in UG and PG alike. The doughnut was super good! Was certainly worth the trip over from the Purdie building.”

Walking back to happiness

“I do not think that I ‘give back’ to the community, because it is the local community who gives me the opportunity to spend time with two beautiful dogs.”

Alina Blau, student volunteer

Student walking two dogs on the beach
Alina with ‘her’ two local dogs, Lily and Jess, on the West Sands.

Alina Blau, a third year student of IR and History from Berlin, volunteers with the Dog Walking Society, which matches students with local dogs in need of outdoor exercise and play. Alina had decided to stay in St Andrews during the initial outbreak because it’s ‘so small and safe’. During the pandemic months of 2020, Alina was regularly walking Jess and Lily, two border collie sisters, for a local mother who was glad of the extra help.

“When I came to St Andrews, the beautiful scenery just screamed at me to go on walks and the many dogs that you can spot here every day did the rest. I used to have a dog myself, so I decided to become part of the Dog Walking Society and waited to be matched.

“Usually, you get paired with a dog or two and then continue to walk ‘your’ dog, which makes sense because you get to know the dog(s) and the owner. You can see how the dogs start to recognise you, which is really nice.

“Going on walks has helped me a lot during the pandemic. It is a good reason to leave the house, take a friend with you and spend some time with dogs while walking on the beach. I would recommend it to everyone, not only during the pandemic, because it makes you feel so much better during a stressful semester.

“I do not think that I ‘give back’ to the community, because it is the local community who gives me the opportunity to spend time with two beautiful dogs. I gain so much happiness from these walks, and Jane, the owner, knows how great this is for students. I am really thankful that there are so many dog owners in St Andrews who are willing to share their dogs a little bit with us!”

Find out more about St CANdrews

For further information on the Can Do initiative, including advice on hosting an event, email [email protected] or join the Teams channel. Upcoming events – held under current Covid-19 restrictions – are published on the University events calendar.

The latest coronavirus guidance is kept up to date and published on the University website.

Words and photos throughout (unless otherwise stated) by Gayle McIntyre, Corporate Communications. Design by the Digital Communications team. Special thanks to Lauren Sykes, all interviewees, photographic subjects and contributors and the Can Do team.


Email: [email protected]
Phone: +44 (0)1334 46 7323