UCL students volunteer with organisations all over London, playing a vital role in the sustainability of London's communities. Since the UCL Volunteering Service was established in 2002, thousands of UCL students have been able to connect with the local community through volunteering. With around 400 partner organisations across London, the UCL Volunteering Service now supports over 2000 student volunteers every year. Not only do students volunteer with local organisations, but the Student-Led Volunteering Programme has also allowed UCL students to set up their own volunteering projects in partnership with local organisations, whilst the Community Research Initiative allows masters students to engage directly with the voluntary and community sector of London for their dissertation research projects.
This year we are going to be exploring what opportunities are available in each of London’s Boroughs, and this month we're focusing on the Borough of Camden, home to UCL’s Bloomsbury campus, as well as a wide array of fantastic volunteering opportunities.
Developing a Sustainable Camden
The Borough of Camden is a crucial space for sustainable development. Camden 2025, which sets out the vision for the Borough of Camden in 2025, aims to make Camden the "most sustainable borough in London", including improving the air quality, creating accessible spaces, and reducing the use of packaging and plastic. These goals are in line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 11 to create sustainable cities and communities (Photo from Knowledge Quarter).
Sustainability is also a key priority of the UCL Bloomsbury campus in Camden, highlighted through the UCL Sustainability Strategy, which sets out a clear vision for a sustainable UCL. Part of this strategy is the Wild Bloomsbury campaign, which is slowly introducing nature-based solutions to Bloomsbury, with the aim to create 10,000 square metres of extra biodiverse space. With the aim to combat both pollution and biodiversity threats, campaigns such as Wild Bloomsbury allow UCL to take a direct role in addressing the Sustainable Development Goals.
Sustainability and Volunteering in Camden
Volunteering plays a vital role in the creation of sustainable communities. With the support of the local council and organisations such as Voluntary Action Camden, Camden has a vibrant and enduring voluntary network of more than 2,400 voluntary and community groups across the borough. This network helps to improve the lives of communities in Camden every day. For instance, during Covid-19, Camden Council invested £992,000 into the local voluntary and community sector in recognition of the vital support it provided to residents throughout the pandemic.
Camden 2025 also emphasises the importance of maintaining this sector in the future:
"Camden’s voluntary and community sector will be resilient and responsive to resident need, working with a range of partners to deliver innovative programmes that work closely with people to improve their lives."
Strong community networks, like those in Camden, are of global importance. As global communities move towards tackling these goals, local volunteering sectors play a vital role in helping to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Organisations in the Borough of Camden are helping to tackle these global issues such as poverty inequality, hunger, and education through the shared effort of the volunteering sector.
UCL has an enduring history of engagement with the volunteering community within the Borough of Camden. With around 50 partner organisations across Camden, the UCL Volunteering Service connects crucial community organisations with thousands of UCL students.
Community organisations in Camden
Lifeafterhummus Community Benefit Society runs a surplus foodbank just around the corner from UCL’s Bloomsbury Campus. Located just north of Euston Road, behind the British Library, the team at Lifeafterhummus works to collect surplus from around 45 local supermarkets and stores, which is sorted and redistributed to over 80 local households, 11 local hostels, an after-school club and a church group.
In addition to food, they also collect and sort through clothes and household item donations, mending and redistributing these to the local community.
Their work not only prioritises supporting the local community through these donations, but also aims to reduce waste. Lifeafterhummus prevents over 15 tonnes of waste per quarter. Using a combination of bicycle, foot, and car, 36% of collections and 72% of redistributions are carbon avoided. If you want to get involved as a volunteer with Lifeafterhummus, they have many opportunities available to UCL students. Volunteer at their foodbank as a collector and redistributor, or as an in-house helper. If you are interested in their clothing swaps, sign up to volunteer to sort though or mend their clothing donations.
Age UK Camden
Age UK Camden is a local independent charity who have been supporting older people in the Borough of Camden since 1965. Now helping over 15 000 local residents each year, they provide a wide array of projects and services which aim to support and uplift the local community.
Age UK Camden’s aim is to help make later life fulfilling and enjoyable by helping those over 55 to stay active and independent in later life, with a particular focus on tackling issues of vulnerability and isolation across Camden.
UCL student Kirsty Goodman shared her experience as a Telefriend Volunteer:
"Once a week I ring a gentleman who is suffering from early stages of dementia to check in with how he's doing. I like to think that having a regular conversation with a new person has helped combat some feelings of loneliness. I think he had greater peace of mind that someone would be checking in and could alert the services if he had an emergency."
If you are interested in volunteering as a Telefriend, you can find out more here. You can also get involved with Age UK Camden as a Digital Inclusion Volunteer, Shopping Support Volunteer, or as a volunteer at their Charity Boutique.
Student-Led Volunteering at UCL
The UCL community has played its own part in contributing to the volunteering sector of Camden. Not only have thousands of students volunteered with our partner organisations over the years, but the Student-Led Volunteering Programme has allowed UCL students to set up their own volunteering projects in partnership with local organisations.
Student-Led Projects are a fantastic way to build new skills, meet new people, and directly connect and impact the local community. Over the years, UCL students have worked to run countless workshops at schools, support those effected by homelessness, and tackle waste and sustainability problems within UCL and the broader community.
Green Walkers aims to tackle litter on the UCL campus and in the surrounding area. Together, volunteers carry out litter-picking walks around UCL, Warren Street, Bloomsbury, and Somers Town. In addition to a hands-on experience with issues of litter and waste, volunteers have also worked with representatives from a waste management and recycling company in order to learn more about recycling, even making a visit to a recycling plant to see first-hand the process of London’s waste management.
Zeena Sa’Di, who started the Studet-Led project after seeing the amount of litter in the area surrounding UCL, spoke about the amazing response her project has received:
"Starting the project was really scary because I wasn’t sure if people would want to join us, especially as it was cold outside! But I was shocked by the number of people who were interested! I think students and our generation in general are more affected by what’s happening to the environment, and are also more aware of it than previous generations."
If you’re interested in environmental issues, especially in London and around UCL, you can get involved with Greenwalkers as a Litter Picking Volunteer.
Zero Food Waste
Zero Food Waste is a Student-Led project that tackles food waste across the UCL campus. Working with UCL’s cafes, volunteers redistribute excess food to homeless shelters and foodbanks in the local area.
Co-Leader of the project, Patricia Gimeno Le Paih, spoke about the highlights of her experience working on Zero Food Waste:
“It has helped me realise that so many people are interested in food waste and how people would go an extra mile to help reduce food waste. I have gained really good skills, such as administrative skills and leadership skills, and I have also gotten to know so many people on campus!”
Zero Food Waste has been able to build important connections with many local community organisations, allowing students to get involved and make a difference.
You can learn more and sign up as a volunteer with Zero Food Waste here.
Community Research Initiative
The Community Research Initiative is a fantastic opportunity for Masters students to connect and get involved with the local voluntary and community sectors for their dissertation research project. Students are provided the opportunity to partner with a voluntary organisation to collaboratively carry out research. They also have access to skills session and training, networking opportunities, brainstorming sessions, and one-on-one support throughout their project.
The Community Research Initiative has allowed students to engage directly with Camden's voluntary sector. UCL MSc Social Policy & Social Research student Emily Petch worked with Camden United FC throughout her dissertation, working in collaboration with members of the organisation to speak with young players. This research allowed both Emily and Camden United FC to gain new insight, and implement feedback in order to make Camden United FC a player-led organisation.
If you are a masters student interested in working with local voluntary organisations, you can find out more about the Community Research Initiative here!
Get involved with volunteering in Camden!
If you want to get involved with volunteering, you don't have to look far! The Borough of Camden is full of fantastic opportunities, right on UCL's doorstep.
Volunteering is a perfect way to get involved with your local community, learn new skills, and take part in the global effort towards sustainability.