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On Friday 25 May, we held our annual Volunteering Awards Ceremony, a chance to celebrate all the fantastic work our volunteers have done throughout the year. Our guest blogger, Mitra Dastbaz, wrote about the night;

It’s been a busy month of exams for UCL students, so the 15th Annual Volunteering Service Awards Ceremony on the 25th May 2018 was a well-deserved celebration of all the incredible volunteering work that our students have taken part in over the year.

With both organisations and volunteers in attendance to celebrate (alongside guests such as Mayor of Camden, Jenny Headland-Wells, and Vice-Provost of Education and Student Affairs, Professor Anthony Smith), the students’ impact on the local community has clearly been monumental. The idea that volunteering considerably enhances academic life was a broader underlying message reflected in the presence of the charity Olly’s Future, and the Office of UCL’s Vice-Provost (Development), who presented the Alumni Award to celebrate voluntary work after graduation. 

For her work with the UCL Medical School’s flagship programme ‘Target Medicine’ in widening participation and improving access to medical school for BME students, Dr Lois Haruna-Cooper was awarded Alumni Volunteer of the Year. UCL New York Alumni Club won Alumni Group of the Year, whilst Janet Kitchen attended on behalf of the winners of the Lifetime Achievement Award, the UCL Alumni London Group.

The Student-Led Project Awards were, as noted in the speeches, particularly hard to judge. First Runner-Up prize went to Enactus High Impact – whose business development plan for people that are homeless aims to ease the process of re-entering the competitive job market – whilst Politeach took the second prize for their work in putting ethos to action, and instilling a sense of debate and political engagement within local primary school children through interactive workshops. In a feat only replicated five years ago, Impactive took home prizes for both Newcomer of the Year, and the Project of the Year – with a project that’s expanded rapidly over the year, now involving over 30 members, Impactive looks to its integrated team of UCL student engineers to tackle challenges facing people with disabilities, prioritising a collaborative approach above all else. As Impactive Project Leader Mohammed Afify noted himself, in delivering the project, “you find the impact was real - not just sweet talk to lure in volunteers”.

The success of all of our projects highlights that it’s important to remember that the ‘UCL experience’ doesn’t hinge solely on the academic – to Politeach volunteer Taanpreet Singh, volunteering offers a means of meeting new people: “you’ve automatically got something in common, and it’s a great way of building connections”.

With over 2100 students engaged with volunteering this year, their cumulative efforts have totalled over 62,400 hours of voluntary work. As the Awards highlighted so wonderfully, UCL is an environment that’s proven itself particularly receptive to this drive to volunteer, and organisations like Spectrum have allowed volunteers to “see how the children had developed over the time they’ve spent volunteering, and how appreciative all the families were”, in the eyes of one Spectrum member.

It was Spectrum itself who took home Volunteering Organisation of the Year in a back-to-back win, having won last year too. The work that Spectrum, a UCL student-run charity, has done for children with special needs in Camden has made a significant impact on the local community, and volunteers themselves noted how wonderful the organisation has been in the sheer creative scope they grant their volunteers.

Later, Ann Feloy’s heartfelt tribute to her son, Oliver Hare, saw her emphasise – instead of a stellar record of marks and extracurriculars - his thoughtfulness and selflessness. In granting the inaugural Oliver Hare Altruism Award to Dougie Head – whose own selflessness in supporting a fellow student through a difficult time in their studies was similarly praised – Olly’s Future highlights a legacy of kindness and compassion that epitomises both Olly, and the extensive body of student volunteers we’re lucky enough to have at UCL.

On the back of such wonderful achievements, the Volunteering Service’s plans for the next academic year are certainly ambitious. With Science Shop – a programme pairing Masters’ students with local organisations and community partners – being set to roll out within the next year, students have more opportunities than ever to enrich their academic lives with a community-driven focus. The next academic year is set to be another fantastic one for UCL student volunteers; roll on 2019!