Volunteering at university may be something you have never considered, especially if a busy schedule of course work, socialising and a part-time job already leave you short on time. But if you are a new or returning student, volunteering can have a positive impact on different aspects of your life.
For starters, it’s often a brilliant way to explore your new home town or city, learn about the local community, meet people from different backgrounds, and make new friends. Many university volunteering schemes run social events for volunteers and in some cases, annual award ceremonies to thank volunteers for their efforts!
Volunteering and helping others has been shown to enhance mental wellbeing, with benefits including increased self-esteem, better relationships, more socialising opportunities and a healthier lifestyle. At a time when the higher education news is dominated by stories of the pressures on students and the rising numbers accessing mental health services, it is important to consider the steps you can take to look after your mental wellbeing, which will ultimately help you to fulfill your potential at university.
Getting involved in a volunteering project can also help boost your career prospects. Many schemes offer training to student volunteers (see the examples below) and allow you to gain practical experience of working in a particular field. This may directly apply to your chosen career path, or it may help you gain a clearer understanding of the direction you would like to take in life. Your experiences can also help you to develop transferable listening, thinking and speaking skills that can enhance your future prospects, no matter what your area of interest. Above all, it shows employers that you are proactive and not afraid to get involved. Are you convinced yet? Here are some examples of current university volunteering schemes to get you inspired:
Projects to inspire you
South Wales Police are now recruiting students based in Cardiff who would like to volunteer to join Police Officers and Police Community Support Officers in a range of exciting operations. This includes crime prevention walkabouts and running the Student Safety Bus that moves around the city, providing support to vulnerable adults and helping students to get home safely. Volunteer training includes conflict management, first aid and bystander training. The team are welcoming applications for the next academic year here, and make sure that your application is in by July 31st.
The police student volunteers and South Wales Police
University College London have a broad range of volunteering opportunities for their students, including baking with elderly members of the community, Headucate (delivering interactive mental health workshops to school children), or Taste not Waste (helping to redistribute unwanted food from student halls to London’s homeless shelters). UCL Union also has a dedicated Volunteering Services Unit that helps students to start their own volunteering project. You can apply for start-up funds and will be given staff support and project management training, if successful.
The University of Dundee's Peer Connections programme is open to applications from all undergraduate and postgraduate students. Volunteers are involved in activites such as welcoming new students, offering buddying and mentoring to students (online and in person), and organising social events. Training for the role includes suicide prevention and awareness, peer mediation, and education on life skills and health issues.
The University of Nottingham Students' Union run CommuniTea; a new student-led project which involves student volunteers throwing tea parties for care home residents in the Nottingham area. There are a number of ways that students can get involved, including organising and fundraising, in addition to running the tea parties.
The UK student mental health charity Student Minds also encourage students to volunteer their time by offering peer support to their fellow students; in Student Minds' words "we are dedicated to giving students the knowledge, confidence and skills needed to support peers experiencing mental health difficulties." Get in touch with the organisation to find out how you can be involved, and read case studies from students who have gone down this route.
These are just some examples, so make sure that you explore the volunteer pages of your university's website to see what is on offer. Another great way to find out about volunteering opportunities is to get involved in Student Volunteering Week, which unusually takes place in February each year. Most universities will promote the volunteering schemes they have available, with dedicated events and stalls throughout the week. You can also check out the SVW site for tips and resources for volunteering, as well as listed opportunities at your institution.
The importance of facilitating volunteering at universities
Student volunteering relates to two key themes running through the ProtectED Code of Practice; partnership working and peer-to-peer support. ProtectED accreditation requires universities to develop a PSWP (ProtectED safety and wellbeing partnership) at their institution. This brings together individuals from internal university departments, the Students' Union, charities, police, NHS, local council etc. to work together to enhance student safety and wellbeing. This allows the group to develop projects and agreements to this end, addressing problems through collaboration, sharing ideas, expertise and resources. ProtectED measures also include facilitating peer-to-peer support for students, through either volunteer or paid roles. This helps create a supportive learning environment where students can get help and advice from their peers in a friendly and accessible manner. If you are planning to set up a student volunteer scheme at your institution, some good advice is available here and here.