By Julia Brookes
The Pandemic Podcast is run by University of Leeds students and focuses on broadcasting stories of student life during covid-19; it is a space to explore where the raw and honest events of current life. With three episodes of the podcast out and more on the way, the podcast has already told stories of those who suffered badly with catching coronavirus as well as experiences of students studying abroad. Many of us may be trying to avoid the constant news cycle, so it might seem strange to actively listen to material centred around the pandemic, but when I chatted to Ella Matthews, the founder of the podcast, she expresses how the stories are relatable and pertinent. ‘It’s almost comforting knowing that everyone is going through this. The pandemic can feel so personal – Why is this happening to me? Why am I in this situation? Why can’t I see my friends? Hearing that everyone else is in the same boat is comforting, hearing about how other people cope is levelling.’ Listening to the podcast is definitely grounding, as a first-year myself when I listened to the pilot episode in which Evie Mendoza, a fellow first-year student discusses catching covid and feeling horrifically isolated, I suddenly realised I wasn’t alone in my experiences.
When talking to Ella about her intentions and ideas behind this community, she explains how she ‘wasn’t really intending to create the Pandemic Podcast’. The idea came out of Ella’s concern for first years this September ‘I contacted my course leader and asked what was happening for the first years, particularly in terms of their mental health; as someone who had been to university and struggled with my well-being, I was concerned for first-years who were going into accommodation and not able to mix with anyone. I couldn’t even put myself in that position.’ The podcast is founded on the need for a space where one could make friends and important conversations could happen organically. ‘It is something I did kind of fall into, but I’m so glad that it happened’ adds Ella.
The driving force of the podcast is its desire to give a voice to students, who aren’t being heard elsewhere and who are being heavily criticised in the media, but in a time where every member of society feels frustrated or ignored – what makes the student story so special? Ella’s reasoning for this lies in the repeated side-lining of the university students by the government. ‘School exams have been cancelled, but all our assignments are still going on – we have no idea if we are getting marking reductions! All the expectations academically for students are the same but we are not getting the same back.’ And it seems more than apparent that it is with the government that most of this failure lies not the universities themselves. ‘It’s a struggle for students right now who are losing a lot of money, and to not even be mentioned in the Prime Ministers address is hurtful. We are having to be this platform for student voices because the government is not doing it.’
This platform extends from the podcast episodes into the Pandemic Podcast’s social media platforms. On their Instagram, each day the Insta Stories have a different theme bringing you everything from book recommendations and food recipes to self-love speeches. The posts are a great daily check-in, a welcomed break from a normal stream of influencers.
For those who want to join the Podcast community, in which the weekly meetings focus on making sure the team are ‘supported so they are able to support others.’ Ella is more than keen to get everyone involved: ‘we are looking for graphic designers, editors, and anyone who wants to tell their accounts. It’s just such a safe space; we care about how you are. We want to hear your story and how you’re coping right now. We’re not trying to change it, we are just trying to hold that space for you to say: this is how I feel.’
Episodes of the Pandemic Podcast are available to stream on Spotify. @the.pandemicpodcast on Instagram. The Pandemic Podcast is created in association with Ella’s organisation @caretobebetter.