‘Students have a fairly healthy attitude to alcohol’

Anne Cooney is the ‘healthy campus’ co-ordinator at Athlone Institute of Technology

Annie Cooney, health co-ordinator at Athlone Institute of Technology. Photograph: James Flynn/APX

Annie Cooney, health co-ordinator at Athlone Institute of Technology. Photograph: James Flynn/APX

 

I bring more than 30 years of experience in healthcare to my position as healthy campus coordinator in Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT).

With 30 years of working knowledge, and qualifications in many areas including general nursing, midwifery, sexual health, primary care, health promotion and social health, I can safely say that I bring a bit of everything to the job. I’m also currently undertaking an MSc in research, investigating social capital and older people in the Irish midlands.

Healthy campus initiative

Since 2001, when Prof Ciarán Ó Catháin forged a partnership with the HSE, the Healthy Campus initiative has gone from strength to strength and is now a major part of the campus community here in Athlone IT.

Projects such as Healthy Campus can influence health-related knowledge, health beliefs and attitude, and it can also set patterns for future health behaviours.

I also believe it has the potential to affect future health and social gain for society. The Healthy Ireland framework is our policy guide and has set out a number of actions that give direction regarding future development of health promotion within the third-level sector.

AIT is a vibrant community in the heart of Athlone, which is currently participating in The Irish Times/ Pfizer Healthy Town programme. As Healthy Campus co-ordinator, I’m part of the overall student services supports, which include offering advice and backup to students to help them succeed in academic and personal life.

I generally work on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays but that can change depending on the particular demands of the job on any given week.

My day starts when I get up at 6.45am and go for a 30-minute run on the bog with my dog, Harley. This gives me a good start to the day and also ensures Harley gets her exercise too. While I get ready for work, my husband, Mark, brings our daughter to school.

I get to AIT at about 8.30am and an average day will include meetings with academic staff, students and outside community agencies, schools, regional and national health-related support groups, sports clubs and organisations regarding student-led projects in the health-promotion area as well as planning and implementing health-promotion initiatives for staff.

I love dealing directly with students, and those carrying out academic projects which are health-related often come and meet me for information and advice.

I also give talks to classes about the Healthy Campus initiative and the practical application of health promotion.

Usually I will take a half-hour lunch break and aim for a brisk 10-minute walk in the afternoon. Then it’s a quick dash to collect my daughter, Carla, and her friend from school after 4pm.

Like so many, I have the unhealthy habit of checking e-mails when I get home. Unfortunately, admin waits for no man or woman.

Transformative

The Healthy Town programme is a truly transformative initiative. The eight-week programme, now in its fourth year, combines health-promotion events, information meetings, health checks and physical activity sessions to encourage the people of Athlone to improve their health. All events are free.

AIT has long-term links with the local community and I work closely with local agencies on a continual basis with health-related projects through our healthy campus office. With our combined assets – including staff, students and facilities such as the international indoor arena, outdoor track and recently opened gym – AIT is an ideal partner for the Healthy Town programme.

There’s even a parkrun every Saturday on campus, supported by the HSE and a number of volunteers.

While there are lots of cliches about students and drinking, we find the students at AIT have a fairly healthy attitude to alcohol overall. In fact, the campus pub was closed in 2014 and the space was converted into an alcohol-free recreational area for students.

It’s working really well and that space is now used by more students. There’s a table-tennis table, coffee area, a quiet corner, a TV and lots more.

Tobacco-free campus

This year, the college became the first third-level institution in Ireland to have a complete ban on tobacco products on its campus.

This tobacco-free campus concept is one that is very close to my heart and is part of our overall Healthy Campus initiative.

At AIT, our move towards a tobacco-free campus is in line with proposals to make Ireland tobacco-free by 2025. A recent study suggested that more than 3,500 deaths have been avoided since the introduction of the workplace smoking ban in 2004, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

In terms of the tobacco-free campus, it will undoubtedly have an effect, and you can already see the first-wave benefits, such as cleaner air, but it will be a while before we see the long-term advantages.

The Healthy Town programme has lots of potential and is working very successfully here in Athlone.

And at AIT, we’re committed to working with the local community using our resources to connect and promote health, however we can.

Working on a college campus is fantastic because there is a great energy and buzz about the place.

I get to work with people of all ages and backgrounds and also with some really committed inhouse partners.

For example, our student unions are very proactive in all forms of health initiatives. And you could certainly say that no day is the same and there is always an interesting project to get my teeth into.

But, at the same time, there is also quite a bit of freedom within the role and I get to design, develop and implement many health-promotion initiatives for both staff and students – all depending on available resources, of course.

Finding the time for everything is definitely the hardest part of the job but a bit of organisation goes a long way. I am currently contracted to do 21 hours a week but that usually stretches well over that. In fact, I would say 40 hours a week would just about cover it.

So while undoubtedly I have a busy job, it is very rewarding and great to see everyone pulling together to achieve the same goal.

 

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