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Exploring the benefits of compassion – in education and in life

16 March 2022

3 minutes to read

Exploring the benefits of compassion – in education and in life

Over 500 people from around the world attended the University’s first Festival of Compassion in November.

Held over 10 days, the festival hosted a wide range of free online and on-campus activities to explore how we can foster compassion to build stronger communities.

The diverse events included:

You can view all the recorded sessions on the Festival of Compassion site.

A Big Day Out was really inspiring and so thought-provoking. I was completely in awe of the speakers and what they stand for. I felt completely privileged to be at the event and to attend the workshops. Thank you. Event attendee

In addition, daily cafés on campus explored different festival themes, while the Compassionate Cafe in Exeter celebrated a multicultural community with music, food, book signing, games, conversations, knitting and even LEGO to build a better relationship with nature.

Yoga class

Yoga leader Nikki Darling takes a class

Project Lead Maarten Koeners (College of Medicine and Health) had previously established the Playful University Club, and was keen to explore the subject of compassion further.

“To be compassionate, to be sensitive to suffering in self and others and commit to try to alleviate and prevent it where we can, is an ability that you can learn and develop, and has the potential to make the world a better place – if you have the courage and freedom to do so,” Maarten explained.

A big thank you for so many wonderful events – I’ve had such a busy week attending so many that I’m pleasantly exhausted. It was really fun to be involved. And wonderful to meet so many lovely people. Event attendee

“The challenge, I believe, is to acquire the awareness, skill and freedom to develop and foster abilities that can help you to be and act compassionate – be that for ourselves, for others, an organisation or a community.

“My ambition and vision to create this event started with my passion for strengthening the link between learning and joy through play – which I was fortunate enough to explore and expand through an Education Incubator project. This passion has set me on a journey to create something that promotes a sensitivity to suffering/struggling in self and others with a commitment to ‘take action’ and try to alleviate and prevent it.

“I wanted to start a conversation to unpick what ‘being compassionate’ means by presenting some of the key current thinking from our leaders in social and educational change. In addition, I wanted to offer practical experiences about how to actively implement compassion for wellbeing, for ourselves, within education, in our community and even how to do it playfully – giving a first-hand glimpse into how things could be different and more kind for everyone.”

I really loved this because it did not feel as though I was in the company of teachers, even though I was. The people who spoke at this event, and organised it, are how I wish all teachers approached life and their work. Event attendee

Seventy-two events were held over the two-week period, with around half the attendees from staff, one quarter from students and one quarter from outside the University. Evaluation showed attendees rated the events an average of 4.5 out of 5.

Future plans include producing resources and experiences to enable the creation of a kinder and more compassionate campus. For example, establishing spaces like ‘The Compassionate Café’ (mimicking the festival cafes), the already running ‘Playful Lab’ (a place to learn and experience the interconnections between play, learning and innovation) and organising future events/festivals. If you are interested in contributing to any of these initiatives please contact Maarten.

The Festival of Compassion was made possible by an amazing team, including project coordinator Ophelia Lindley, volunteers, students, all speakers and practitioners, our headline sponsor UPP and our other sponsors T-cup Studios and HeadsUp Technologies, Exeter Alumni Annual Fund, Independent Thinking and AGAR.


For more information please contact:


Dr Maarten Koeners
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