Leeds student uses photography to help get students talking about bereavement and grief

  • Maisie 

By Maisie Lawton

A Leeds University undergraduate has launched a photography project to open up general conversation about grief and loss for students.

Loss can influence every aspect of our well-being, from physical and mental health effects to the lack of function and connectivity.

University of Leeds student Alicia Ward, 21, created a photography project, ‘What does your grief look like?’ after losing her dad suddenly in July.

She wanted to share her experience and other people’s by using a creative outlet to reveal the number of students affected by grief.

It involves students talking about the person they have lost, what they were like and answering the question ‘what does your grief look like’.

Once lockdown restrictions are lifted, the participant will meet briefly for five minutes to have their photograph taken.

“The response I got was overwhelming, I received so many messages, and it’s shown to me how much it’s needed for students to have this outlet,” Alicia said.

For more of Alicia Ward’s work click here.

Most universities do not in fact offer bereavement specific counselling but instead refer students to outside services, such as Cruse

Good welfare services are paramount for bereaved students, but students claim they are overlooked with no specific data about numbers of young people affected by the loss of a loved one.

There is a lack of awareness and research around bereaved students despite evidence that due to chaos, pain, distress and sense of isolation they are amongst the most vulnerable groups.

The response Alicia got indicates that this is an issue that is not being met in the student body.

Experts acknowledge bereavement involves experiencing changes in relationships, social status and economic positions brought by the death of a relative or friend.  

Participant in the project Ben Cox, 22, said: “I wanted to do it because hopefully it can inspire conscious thought around people using their loss to give them strength and find peace – giving them the confidence to share and talk about their own experiences.”

Alicia is hoping the project will serve to open up a general conversation about grief that shows the students going through this that they are not alone.

“Nothing will ever take those memories away or the behaviours and morals we had instilled on us by those we loved and who loved us dearly.”

– Ben Cox

Alicia was inspired by Simon Bray, a Manchester-based artist and creator of the Loved and Lost Project.

Alicia reached out to Simon regarding his project. He said: “Socially and culturally, it’s a real taboo we still don’t talk about. It takes a small group of people to bring a community together and decide to raise awareness, volunteer or start a project.”

Loved and Lost began many years previously, after losing his father, who had prostate cancer for five years: he died in December 2009. 

Each participant is asked to find a photograph of themselves with their lost loved one. Simon then returns to the original photograph’s location with them to replicate the image for the participant. 

It is a chance for the participant to tell their story of that day, the person they lost and remember those valuable memories.

He said: “What I wanted to do was give them a platform to share what they wanted to share, and to ask them about the person that wasn’t there anymore, and to think about what it was like to go back to the place to take the picture”.

Simon Bray - Loved & Lost Project  

“This platform allows others to acknowledge their loss, celebrate the person they love, and show that the loss they have experienced does not control who they are.” He said.

For futher information on Loved & Lost click here.

Loved and Lost has reached an audience of over 3 million people worldwide through coverage from The Guardian, BBC Breakfast TV, BBC Radio and exhibitions at Colwyn Bay, Manchester Cathedral and now at Weston Park Museum, Sheffield.

“Imagery allows for expression beyond what we can speak of, an experience that contributes to the restorative process in overcoming the painful impact of loss.”

– Simon Bray

Bereavement charities point out that given the wide-ranging impact of grief and how it changes people in the most personal ways, it’s accepted that bereaved students need time and support to recover and learn.

They determine that given time and help, bereavement may produce maturity, personal growth, resilience, and a stronger well-being.

Online grief support groups are involved in promoting research and knowledge of the impacts of bereavement and provide help to people who have lost a loved one.

Support Line provides a list of agencies that give support and information; click here to find out more.

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