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Alexandra-Loredana Petrache is a PhD student at UCL. Last year she led a volunteering project with UCL Film Society working with the charity One Housing to support people affected by homelessness. Here’s her account of the project, why she started it, and what volunteering is like as a postgraduate.  

Tell us a bit about the project and why you got involved? 

I’d always had a passion for media and film and was interested in working with the homeless community. I came up with an idea that enabled people experiencing homelessness to give insight into their lives through a lens. I wanted to give them an outlet for their stories and show everyone that they’re more than their living situation - so I went to the Volunteering Service to help me out. 

What impact do you think you’ve had on the people you’ve been volunteering for? 

The people we worked with really enjoyed it and were happy when we talked to them. We weren’t professionals, so to hear that was nice.  

We collaborated with two other Student-Led Projects, who were running similar creative workshops with the One Housing community. They painted and made things – we created a great film showcasing the experience. They were all so talented! We then held a joint exhibition displaying the work produced across all the workshops. I was proud of the other volunteers - we helped train each other and develop one another’s skills. 

How has volunteering fitted around your studies?  

It wasn’t easy – when you’re in the lab 9 to 5, and you have deadlines, it’s a bit tricky to do. I went to meetings with the Volunteering Service and One Housing Group, recruited and trained volunteers (some were also PGr), carried out the interviews and edited them. It all took time but through it all I was always supported. I was supported by the volunteers, One Housing Group and the Volunteering Service. Everyone was very accommodating, and I was grateful that Volunteering Services staff agreed to meet me in the evenings, fitting their work around my studies.  

A lot of postgraduates mention time – how was timing for you?  

As a research PhD student, I do work 9-5 so trying to do things in the afternoon and evening is a bit hard. I was just really passionate and wanted to make it happen. I also wanted to give the Film Society a really good volunteering opportunity 

Why should people volunteer?  

By volunteering, you can make a noticeable change in our communities. It makes you feel happier, it makes others happy, and it’s so rewarding! It helps you create bonds with people and see the world in a better light. 

Do you have a favourite volunteering moment?  

I enjoyed forming strong relationships with other volunteers because you share the experience with each other. I could see that the Film Society volunteers were really enjoying it and were doing their best to ensure it helped those who experience homelessness and showcased their stories. 

It was great to see everyone so involved. The people we helped out were so talented and they really challenged the misconception that those that are homeless don’t work or don’t want to work.  

What would you say to people who are new to volunteering? 

Pick something you’re passionate about and just to start somewhere, however big or small.  

Bottom line is that it can be challenging to balance studies and societies- depending on the degree, of course. With good time management and passion, it can be done, though, and it can be very rewarding. I feel very grateful for the experience and happy that the activity contributed to people’s growth: be it through improving editorial and filmmaking skills, to contributing to community awareness to the incredible art and stories people experiencing homelessness shared with us. 

If you, like Alexandra, would like to explore your interests in helping the local community, take a look at how you could create your own Student-Led Volunteering Project. For more opportunities with people affected by homelessness, take a look at our volunteering directory.