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What does your typical Reading Week look like? Is characterised by some intense studying? Or maybe by some intense procrastinating (no judgement here)? Well for almost sixty of our UCL students, they did something out of the norm by spending one day volunteering with a charity hacking a problem that will benefit their organisation.

This is now the seventh series of Social Hackathons we’ve organised - it seemed like both our community partners and students really love them, so of course, we delivered. This November we had four amazing community partners who wanted UCL students to come up with practical solutions to problems affecting the organisation.

Day 1 - Ronald McDonald House Charities UK

We kicked off the week of Hackathons with Ronald McDonald House Charities UK (RMHC UK). The charity has four houses in London, with 100 bedrooms between them for parents and siblings to stay whilst their children are in hospital. RMHC wanted to organise Christmas parties for the families staying in their houses and tasked our students to help make this a memorable Christmas for their beneficiaries and UCL volunteers got straight into party-planning mode! Volunteers spent the morning discussing what was required, how events would need to be different and how to spend the their £500 funding for the events. RMHC UK were completely blown away by the results and quality of work produced.

UCL volunteers' brainstorming ideas for the parties.

Christmas can be a really tough time for our families, having a child in hospital and being away from their loved ones. We always aim to bring lots of festive cheer to our Houses throughout the holiday season, and [the volunteers'] incredible ideas will help us do just that. We really cannot thank the volunteers enough for their time, energy and passion.

– Natasha Brame, Ronald McDonald House Charities

Day 2 - Evelina Children's Heart Foundation

The second Social Hackathon was with Evelina Children’s Heart Organisation, a health charity that supports children affected by congenital heart conditions and their families. Their service is heavily dependent on volunteers to support the various programmes ECHO do, ranging from hospital support to marketing and communications volunteering roles. Volunteers revamped their volunteering strategy by making changes to the roles to make it more attractive, looking at how and where the opportunities can be promoted and even drafted fundraising letters with the aim that the secured funding could support their volunteering programmes. The day ended with students writing up a proposal on the new volunteering strategy which will be used at ECHO’s board of trustees meeting and will hopefully be implemented in the new year.

Day 3 - Breteau Foundation

Our third Social Hackathons for the week was with The Breteau Foundation- a global non-profit organisation that aims to provide quality education to disadvantaged primary school children. Over the course of the day, the volunteers developed and pitched both offline and online STEAM educational project ideas for young girls that can be scalable in Latin America. The online project, ‘Choose Your Adventure’, presented by the first group was based on a website that let young girls learn more about famous Latin American Women in different STEAM fields through a series of levels in a game-based format. The second group explored the possibility of having girls craft out practical items using single-use plastics and fabric to raise awareness on recycling (they even gave it a try and created a few fun sculptures!).

The Latin American team at The Breteau Foundation were thrilled with all the ideas that came from the session and will be keeping in touch with our volunteers to give them updates on how their projects turn to reality in the near future.

Day 4 - St. John's Hospice

Last but certainly not least was our Social Hackathon with St John’s Hospice. They support patients by providing respite and end of life care and rely heavily on their stakeholders to keep their organisation running. They wanted volunteers to look into ways they can increase their engagement with corporates and the community alike in order to generate funds and interest in the organisation. Students looked into creative ways to recruit and retain integral stakeholders for the organisation. Coming up with an engagement strategy is no easy feat, but our volunteers managed to come up with comprehensive reports for St John’s Hospice to take forward.

We also had our student Sabbatical Officers join us for this round of Social Hackathons – if you’re unfamiliar with them, they are elected officers who work to make the UCL student experience better. Rather than just tell them about our Social Hackathons, we thought it would be a good idea to get them stuck in directly – and that they did! 

I really enjoyed my Social Hackathon experience. As Activities and Engagement Officer, it was a great opportunity to learn first-hand what it's like to volunteer and support a charity, especially alongside UCL students. It was a really fun and intellectually stimulating day - I'd definitely recommend UCL students take part if you can.

Ilyas Benmouna, Activities and Engagement Officer at Students' Union UCL

Each time we host a Hackathon series we get so impressed by how well students take up the challenges and really give their all to support a community organisation. We’ll be hosting another round of Hacks in February reading week, so keep your eyes peeled when we open up applications!