Bit later than I’d hoped (exams in full swing now 🙁 ) but here is, as promised, my update on volunteering at Cardiff and what it means to be a volunteer here. This a topic really close to my heart so be prepared for a long post!
Bit of background, volunteering at Cardiff is a really unique experience. We have our own charity called Student Volunteering Cardiff (more commonly known as SVC ) who run loads of projects and all sorts of community outreach programmes. You can work with the homeless, in a school, with young people in care, children and adults with disabilities, the elderly, or if you are passionate about the environment then you can work on that! The number of opportunities available is crazzyyy. Also, if you don’t want to commit to too much, you can sign up to a one-off volunteering list where you will told about any one-off events coming up for you to get involved with.
I’ve volunteered for long time now and coming to uni, volunteering was a priority for me. I was so pleased to find a community of students and staff who were amazingly friendly and who welcome new people with open arms! To start, here are some great reasons to volunteer!
- It connects you to your local community – Cardiff will be your home for the next 3+ years so I think it’s really important to give something back to the community around you! Schools benefit so much from having student volunteers teaching kids, the homeless shelter benefits from the extra pairs of hands, so many families get vital respite through student volunteers playing with their kids, who may have disabilities, every week. I’m so proud of what we give back to our community as charity.
- It helps to dispel the unfortunate student stereotypes – As students, we often get frustrated by how we are perceived by society. For some reason, people seem to think we don’t care about anything apart from where we are going on a night out or where to host our next house party. Not true. Volunteering out and about in the community is way to give a really positive message about students – we are young people, and we do care about helping others out, and we are actually really nice! Giving a bit of time every week spreads the word!
- It gives you vital experience – You may have noticed, but a degree doesn’t seem to be enough any more when you go to a graduate job. You need to show your potential employer other skills. What makes you different? Here are some things that volunteering experience proves: compassion, team work, leadership, time management, communication – I could go on, but I’ll leave you to find out all the benefits for yourselves 😉
So, you ask, what can I do at SVC?? There are 3 different roles available:
- Volunteer – Choose a project (or more than one if you fancy!) and arrive when you are required to be there, do some awesome things for people who need your help, and go home satisfied that you have done good stuff!
- Project Coordinator – These guys will be running the projects that volunteers work on. This means organising all the volunteers, making sure everyone is happy with what they are doing and for some projects organising what you will be doing with service users each week. You work in pairs so you never have to worry about being on your own!
- Trustee/Exec Member – Like any charity, SVC has a board of trustees, what is unique here is that the board is made up of students. Each trustee also has a role which is reminiscent of a normal uni society – we have Events Officers, a Chair, a Vice-Chair, a Social Sec – you get the idea! You can be doing really amazing things like choosing new projects to start or creating awesome events. It’s a hugely unique experience to have as a student, you are directing the future of the charity and it’s also great experience of the Third Sector.
New students would usually start as volunteers and then become a coordinator if they would like the extra experience, and then become a Trustee if they want to. This year I have been a coordinator for the amazing Amelia Trust Farm project. It’s a combination of environmental and working with adults who have disabilities. We basically help out on the farm with anything that needs doing and then interact with the service users every week, building up a great, fun relationship with them.
The year as a coordinator starts with a residential weekend of training, you’ll be staying with all the other coordinators and getting to know your Exec and SVC staff. You get training on leading a project, how to sell your project and what it means to be a coordinator. This then leads into the Volunteering Fayre! We took a trip to the farm with our supervising member of staff to take some pictures to show to potential volunteers. Here are some of them…
Myself and my partner coordinator, Lucy, set up camp in our allocated space at the Fayre and decorated it to high heaven. We had bunting, props (wellies and tweed jackets!), percy pigs… We went all out to get a great group of volunteers – and we found them! After a few weeks of waiting for applications and DBS checks to come through we set out to start working at the farm!
At the very end we decided to go back after our long Easter holiday and have a BBQ to celebrate all the work we had done over the year, our fabulous volunteers and to see the farm in all its summer glory. Obviously it rained, but we were there for a British BBQ and that’s what we got! This included holding an umbrella over the cooking food while everyone else hid under a gazebo.
We had a fantastic year and were especially sad to say goodbye to the service users who we had built a really great relationship with. Next year I’m going on to be on the Exec for SVC as Communications Officer, so don’t worry, you’ll be hearing a lot more about volunteering from me 😉 I’ll leave you now with my top tips to get the most out of your volunteering experience 🙂
- Choose something you enjoy! There’s no point in doing a project that you know you won’t enjoy, play to your strengths! That way the people who you are working with
will enjoy your time there so much more than if you were always wishing you were somewhere else.
- Keep to your commitment! An unfortunate thing about volunteering is that, because people are giving their time for free, they sometimes think that they can drop their commitment with little or no notice. If your project starts at a certain time, be there on time! You may not realise it but you will be letting down not only your supervisors but also the people who were benefiting from seeing your lovely face! Often you will be visiting vulnerable people who look forward to seeing you each week – unless you have a good reason, try not to let them down!
- Use your support network. At SVC there is an awesome support network – if you have problems with your project, you aren’t enjoying it, or you disagree with something then you can talk to people about it. If you are upset about something, don’t be afraid to talk!
- Get involved! Don’t be afraid to throw yourself into a new situation – learn from the people around you and lend a hand where ever you can. You’ll learn very quickly about your new environment, be that a school or a soup kitchen.
- Remember that volunteering is about having FUN! Cheese alert, but it’s true. You meet new people, you make great friends. Working in a team with like-minded people who love what you are doing as much as you do is amazing. Enjoy yourself and you will be making some of those uni memories that people talk about 20 years down the line.
So that was my ridiculously long post about volunteering at Cardiff. When you’re arriving as a Fresher it’s an amazing way to meet new people, get involved in something different, and have some fun 🙂
If you have any great volunteering experiences or questions about volunteering at uni then leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you 🙂