Natasha Wilcock is a year 6 Medicine student at UCL and has been volunteering with Girlguiding St Pancras as a unit leader and assistant commissioner. Read on to her about Natasha's experience of volunteering.
Tell us a little about your volunteering?
I volunteer for Girlguiding and within this I have 2 main roles. Firstly, I am a unit leader for Rainbows (girls aged 5-7) and Guides (girls aged 10-14). This involves running weekly meetings for each unit, preparing these meetings and planning and delivering fun trips and holidays. Secondly, I am an assistant commissioner, which means I help oversee the units across Camden and my main role here is running trips and holidays for girls across our area and helping other volunteer leaders to run their own units.
How did you find out about the role?
When I moved to London for university, I knew I wanted to get involve with Girlguiding here. One of the really special things about Girlguiding is that as the UK’s largest organisation for girls and young women, we have units and opportunities in every area of the country. I got in touch with the local team and in my first week of my first year, I met with the local commissioner, she assigned me to my lovely Guide unit and I’ve not looked back since.
Why did you want to become a volunteer?
As students, we can often get wrapped up in a university bubble, but universities are not islands- we are living within a community.
I was keen to feel part of my local community in Camden and also use my skills to benefit local people and Girlguiding has helped me to do this.
What difference do you feel you’ve made by volunteering?
Girlguiding gives girls a safe space to be themselves, make new friends, learn new skills and grow in confidence. Within my unit, we have a strong focus on supporting the individual. We always get the girls involved and ask what activities they want to do and get their feedback afterwards. This helps us to shape our programme and make sure it’s meeting their needs. But we also work hard to push them and help them develop skills which will make them happy, well-rounded and resilient adults. From teaching them how to look after your own mental health to how to pitch a tent, I hope all of these skills will set them up well for their future.
What impact has volunteering had on you?
For me personally, volunteering has enabled me to create many new long lasting relationships. From friendships with fellow volunteers from a huge range of backgrounds all of whom teach me new things and add new skills to our organisation. Within Girlguiding St Pancras, we work hard to support our girls and volunteers to make positive change in their community beyond our own organisation. Building relationships with other community organisations and their teams has taught me a great deal about the work being done by local groups and how we can work together to create the most benefit for those in need.
As a volunteer, I have developed many transferable skills useful for studying medicine including managing teams with different roles for a united purpose, communicating with people of all ages but also many more specific technical skills including safeguarding and first aid.
What’s the best thing about volunteering?
We pride ourselves on giving girls from all backgrounds new experiences which they wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for Girlguiding. In 2017, I took all of the Guides in our area for a sleepover on HMS Belfast called “Kip on a Ship” we slept in the original soldier’s quarters and in the morning one of the girls raised the ship’s Union Jack and it was the most incredible view for all of us to wake up on the Thames! We also take the girls to do lots of adventurous activities from sailing to rock climbing to indoor skydiving which they love! Lots of them feel really nervous beforehand, but as a leader you work hard to build them up to it, make them feel safe and support them through it. The feeling of seeing them reach the top of the climbing wall or sail across a lake and to see how proud they are of themselves is the best thing you can imagine!
For the younger girls, Rainbows aged 5-7, I run one-night sleepovers which for many will be their first night away from home without their parents. There is always lots of nerves but so much excitement beforehand! We have a fantastic team of adult and young leaders who support the girls every step of the way and we plan a really exciting programme to keep them busy the whole time! We don’t get a lot of sleep, but the excitement and pride of welcoming them to their first ever sleepover is incredible and the independence skills they learn from this set them up well for school and beyond.
And the most challenging? How did you overcome the challenges?
The most challenging part of my volunteering roles is time management. Medicine as a degree has a high level of contact hours and these are often unsociable in the clinical years, so it can be challenging to maintain a role volunteering role which also has a high time commitment.
I am lucky to be surrounded by an incredible team of fellow volunteers who also dedicate a lot of time and energy into Girlguiding so I can delegate a lot of tasks to them particularly in busy times such as exams. It has also been important to plan ahead and manage my time well to ensure if I have a busy period with medicine that I have completed my essential volunteering tasks ahead of time.
Tell us about something memorable that’s happened to you whilst volunteering
Every second I spend volunteering with Girlguiding is memorable for its own reason and there are so many incredible memories I have created with so many wonderful people. The moments which will always stay with me are the girls and young women in my units being courageous, determined and passionate. On an indoor skydiving trip, some of the girls understandably felt nervous about trying this activity for the first time. But after lots of reassurance and information, I was so proud to see them step into the tunnel and the joy in their faces as they flew into the air will never leave me.
I’m also so proud when they make a difference in their community. Teenagers particularly get a lot of negative attention in the press, but they are living through incredibly challenging times and continue to put the needs of others before their own. Every Christmas (pre-Covid) we make cards for a local dementia specialist care home and then spend an evening there singing carols, giving out cards and chatting to the residents, many of whom get few visitors over the festive season. The care which these young girls take to speak to each person and make an effort to get to know them is something many adults would not be able to do.
Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?
I would thoroughly recommend volunteering particularly as a student. It allows you to have fun, meet new people all whilst learning and developing new skills. It also allows you to make a real difference in an area you feel passionate about. Often at university, it can be difficult to feel as though you are having a direct positive impact on others and we can feel detached. But within my volunteering role, I can see first-hand the impact our work is having on the lives of local young people.
How has COVID-19 impacted your volunteering and how has it changed what you do?
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we faced a huge challenge as our face to face activities were no longer permitted but our work was even more needed as young people faced isolation at home. So we moved to weekly meetings on zoom and increased our frequency even meeting through the holidays and holding virtual sleepovers and camps. It has been a fantastic way for both the girls and adults to stay connected and we have had so many adventures online- from origami, to virtual protests to google earth trips around the world and so much more!
It hasn’t been without its challenges, but the girls and volunteer leaders have shown true resilience over nearly a year of online meetings to have the best fun possible!