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Student Blogs: The benefits of volunteering at university

December 5th marks International Volunteer Day. This is a day to celebrate the hard work of volunteers all around the world, and raise awareness of the positive effects of volunteering on individuals and communities. Many universities across the UK run, or are in association with, a variety of volunteering schemes, ranging from one-off opportunities to semester-long, or even year-long, projects. From supporting children with their reading in school, to making your local area cleaner and safer, to helping build the on-line presence of smaller, local charities. There really is something out there for everyone, it’s just a matter of taking the plunge and doing it!

Why should I think about volunteering?

At the heart of all volunteer schemes is the idea of making a difference. By giving up even an hour of your time, you could be helping to change the lives of vulnerable children, adults, or even whole communities.

It’s no secret that many projects are run with little (or no) government funding, and are solely reliant on people like you giving up their time. Your one hour a week could be giving a child in care the opportunity to talk to someone about how they are feeling, or their hopes and aspirations for the future — issues they may not otherwise get the chance to speak about. Your one hour a week could help provide homeless people with a decent, hot meal and maybe their only friendly conversation of that week. Your one hour a week could help an elderly neighbour feel safer in their home, and reconnect them with the wider community. One hour a week is such a small amount of time to give, but it can make a world of difference to the groups of people that need it. And that feeling of knowing you have done some good is definitely a major benefit in itself.

Projects like these are also a great way for you to make friends whilst doing something beneficial for everyone involved. It can be really easy at uni to not take the opportunity to socialise with people outside of the group you are living with, and those on your course. Taking part in a project will give you the chance to interact with people you may not otherwise have had the opportunity to meet.

Any type of volunteer work will also look impressive on your CV and set you apart from other candidates during an application process. If you are looking to work in a particular field, maybe working with children or vulnerable adults, having some experience will make you more attractive to employers, and show that you are really interested in this line of work. Even if you don’t know what career path you want to take yet, any type of volunteer work will show that you have great people skills, initiative and commitment.

What sort of opportunities are out there?

I am at Cardiff University, and our Students' Union works in association with a whole range of volunteer schemes run both by the university and other local charities, including:

  • Environmental Champions: The project is in partnership with Cardiff Council and Student Volunteering Cardiff. Volunteers can attend a range of events throughout the year (making it very flexible) and help with litter picking, bench cleaning, and talking to people in the local community about what they can be doing to keep their area greener, cleaner, and safer.

  • Waste Not, Want Not: This scheme runs for a few hours, two evenings a week. Students help to redistribute food, that would have otherwise gone to waste, to local homelessness charities. Preventing waste makes sure that the food is going to good use, and also helps the environment.

  • Inclusive Sports: Volunteers help support adults and children with learning and physical difficulties to take part in a variety of sports. Rather than taking on a coaching role, volunteers instead offer assistance to those taking part. Sessions run for an hour and a half — once a week for adults, and once a fortnight for children.