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.
Cardiff Council after-school clubs: This is a great project for those that are willing to give up a little bit more time. Volunteers are needed to provide one-to-one support to children with additional needs, assisting them with activities such as arts, crafts and sports. The scheme runs weekdays between 3:30pm and 6pm, but there is plenty of flexibility as to which days you work.
Confident Futures: This is a mentoring scheme for young people aged 14-19 in care, aiming to encourage these young adults to develop their skills and consider higher education opportunities. Volunteers can talk about their own experiences of university, and offer advice. The meetings run for two hours, every other Tuesday.
Let’s Get Social: In association with Cardiff Research Wales, this project is asking for volunteers with particularly good social media skills to help them to build the charity’s online presence. They are not only looking for people to help promote them via Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat etc., but are also seeking photographers and videographers to shoot promotional content and develop a library of resources. This is an amazing opportunity to help a local charity, whilst also developing your own skills.
What should I do now?
While the schemes listed above are specific to Cardiff, your university will more than likely run some very similar projects that you can be a part of. I would suggest the following steps:
Have a look at your Students' Union website and try and find a ‘Volunteer’ page. This should set you on the right track to finding out what is on offer, and what the application process is.
If you want to find out more information before applying, why not go and talk to someone at your Union in person? Most universities have volunteer offices where people can give you a more detailed insight into what projects are currently running, and what scheme may be best suited to you.
Be realistic about how much time you can offer. What days will work best for you? How will this work around your timetable? You really don’t want to feel overwhelmed by your workload and, equally, you don’t want to over-promise how much time you can give to these charities.
Volunteering is an incredibly valuable experience, both personally and to those you are helping. It may not necessarily be possible for you to volunteer right now (as we are coming to the end of the semester), but have a think about whether this is something you could be doing at the start of a new year.
Ellie is in her third year at Cardiff University, studying English Language. She also writes a blog ‘Forget the World’ about lifestyle and university experiences.
Note: 'Student Blog' pieces highlight the student perspective on issues relating to ProtectED. Consequently, this article reflects the views of the author and not ProtectED.