Volunteering plays a vital role in the sustainability of London’s communities. Each year, over 2000 UCL students volunteer throughout the community with the help of the UCL Volunteering Service, which connects students to over 400 partner organisations across London. 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 for their dissertation research projects.

This month we are taking a look at volunteering and sustainability in the Borough of Hackney, home to the UCL East campus, as well as a vibrant volunteering sector.

Developing a Sustainable Hackney

Sustainability plays a huge role in the development of the Borough of Hackney. Hackney Council’s 2018–2028 Community Strategy, which sets out the vision for the Borough by 2028, highlights their intention to “put sustainability and quality of life at the heart of the way it helps shape places.” Their vision is one that promotes environmental and social sustainability in all aspects of the borough’s community.

There are several organisations whose vision for sustainability is shaping the borough’s future. For example, Sustainable Hackney’s mission is to bring together the people and organisations in Hackney to promote an increased awareness of the environmental issues, and to work together with the community to implement positive solutions. Sustainable Hackney sets out their sustainability vision in Greenprint for Hackney, and emphasises that a sustainable approach to development must encompass all aspects to the borough: “Sustainable Hackney aims to protect and enhance the environment, create a sustainable community and contribute to social, economic and environmental justice locally and globally.”

Sustainability at UCL East

The UCL East campus plays its own role in the sustainable development of the Borough of Hackney. As outlined in the UCL Sustainability Strategy 2019–2024, the campus itself is a showcase of UCL’s sustainable solutions, providing an opportunity to test innovative ways to create an environmentally conscious campus whilst also providing a pleasant and effective service for students and staff using the space.

UCL East has implemented a range of innovative sustainable solutions around the campus, including:

  • A car free site with approx 1,500 cycle spaces
  • 560 sqm of green roof on One Pool Street
  • 1,000 sqm of solar panels on our Marshgate building will generate clean, renewable energy

These solutions allow UCL East’s campus to contribute to borough-wide sustainability efforts.

Sustainability and Volunteering in Hackney

Volunteering plays a vital role in creating sustainable communities, building networks of connection, support, and understanding, whilst tackling social and environmental issues.

The Hackney Council 2018–2028 Community Strategy recognises that:

“Volunteers are a really beneficial asset for a local community and help to promote cohesion and allow people to build wider social connections while boosting the self-esteem, physical and mental health, confidence and employability of the individual.”

These communal networks contribute to global sustainability efforts, like those outlined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These SDGs highlight the most prevalent issues that need attention as we move towards a more sustainable global community. Organisations in Hackney are helping in this effort towards sustainability, tackling problems such as education access, child safety, and housing through the work of the local voluntary sector.  

Community Organisations in Hackney

UCL has an enduring history of engagement with the Borough of Hackney’s volunteering community. With many partner organisation across Hackney, the UCL Volunteering Service helps to connect students to a huge range of organisations and opportunities in the community.


ReachOut is a Hackney-based organisation that helps to support young people to reach their full potential. They run a mentoring program aimed at children living in disadvantaged areas, allowing them to improve confidence in both their academic aspirations and character strength. Their program involves with one-on-one mentoring and team-based activities.

BSc Social Sciences student Siri Rajesh Reddy volunteered as a one-on-one mentor with ReachOut, as well as helping out at their afterschool sessions to teach maths, English, and sports activities. Siri shared an insight that volunteering had given her into the importance of the volunteering in the community:

“[Organisations] tend to work in communities that require the most help, as government resources do not reach them. So I think volunteering is a great way to help bridge that gap and contribute one's time and resources, if available, to such organisations and help them have the impact they hope to have.”

The work being done by ReachOut aligns with SDG #4: Quality Education, which emphasises the importance of global efforts to achieve accessible education for all. ReachOut’s work with disadvantaged students particularly aids in the effort to achieve Target 4.5: By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.

If you are interested in helping out with the work that ReachOut undertakes, you can get involved as a Volunteer Mentor, where you will join ReachOut for 2 hours a week as a mentor to young people in need of a positive role model.

National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is the leading children’s charity in the UK. For over 130 years, they have specialised in child protection and the prevention of abuse.

NSPCC is the UK’s only children charity with statutory powers, and this allows them to take action to safeguard children who are at risk of abuse.

The work done by NSPCC directly addresses SDG #16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. Target 16.2 is to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children, a goal which lies at the heart of NSPCC’s work.

Based in Hackney, they have a number of opportunities for UCL student volunteers to get involved in the work that they do. For those passionate about helping young people, and spoken word poetry, make sure to have a look at the opportunity to become a poetry night volunteer with NSPCC. If you are interested in engaging others in the work that NSPCC carries out, check out their opportunity for a student engagement volunteer.

Peter Bedford Housing Association

The Peter Bedford Housing Association aims to provide housing and support to those who need it, in addition to providing resources to empower people with education, employment, and creative talent. Their work centres around those who have experienced homelessness, drug and alcohol dependency, and those with poor mental health, disabilities, or complex needs. The goal of Peter Bedford’s work is not only to help those in crisis, but to empower people to move on and achieve independence.

This work done by Peter Bedford helps in the global effort towards building sustainable cities and communities, represented in SDG #11. Their effort is closely aligned with Target 11.1: by 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.

If you are interested in getting involved with the work that Peter Bedford carries out, check out their current opportunity for a volunteer customer services assistant, where you will undertake office duties to help support the organisation.

The Literacy Pirates

The Literacy Pirates is an education charity working to support young people aged 9-13 to develop the literacy, confidence, and perseverance to succeed. The Literacy Pirates connects young people to professionals to publish their writing in the form of storybooks, studio recordings and films which are premiered in a local cinema. 

The work of The Literacy Pirates aligns closely with SDG #4: Quality Education. In particular, their work allows the community to tackle issues relating to Target 4.6: By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.

If you are interested in working with The Literacy Pirates, you can get involved as a virtual literacy support volunteer. Join online after-school sessions to support young people in small groups, championing their work and practicing reading.

The 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.

Sociology of Childhood & Human Rights MA student Julie did their dissertation research in collaboration with Hackney Playbus. It was a perfect collaboration with Hackney Playbus, specialising in an accessible service providing play for young people around East London. Julie was interested in how skills in play were acquired by parents whilst they were at the Playbus, and how these skills were translated into the home. The project - and Hackney Playbus - were also really impacted by the Covid lockdowns. Pivoting to digital tools like Padlet allowed Julie to continue with their research and produce a community-engaged piece of research that was useful and beneficial to the Playbus. 

Get involved with volunteering in Hackney!

If you want to get involved with volunteering, the Borough of Hackney is full of incredible opportunities. Right on the doorstep of the UCL East campus, you don't have to look far to find amazing ways to impact the community and contribute to the global effort towards sustainability.

You can check out our full range of volunteering opportunities here. Make sure to our map to see all of the opportunities available to our students across Hackney!