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From 7 November to 20 January, we'll be celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Volunteering Service with an exhibition in UCL Wilkins North Cloisters.

We've included some of the images from the exhibition on this page to give you a taster of what's in store.

Inspired by the exhibition?

Would you like to be part of the future of community volunteering at UCL? We’d love to hear from you. Click on a button to find out more, or drop us a line at [email protected]


UCL students have been volunteering within local communities since at least Victorian times. However, until August 2002, there wasn’t a central place for students to get support with their volunteering. That changed with the creation of the Voluntary Services Unit, a joint endeavour between UCL and the Students’ Union.  

In the two decades since, the Unit has become the Volunteering Service, and has grown to be one of the largest such teams in UK Higher Education. The Service now supports around 2000 students to volunteer each year.  

This exhibition examines some of the ways UCL students and London’s communities have worked together over the last twenty years and asks – what’s next? 

A training session for UCL facepainting volunteers, 2003
Newsreader John Snow and UCL student, 2007
James Xi Xu, who was appointed an Olympic Torchbearer in recognition of his volunteering whilst at UCL, 2012
UCL DanceIt!, one of our Student-led Projects, 2019


There are many connections between our voluntary sector partners’ areas of expertise and the academic interests of UCL students. Psychology students often pair up with mental health charities, law students with advice centres, scientists and engineers with STEM education projects, and so on. 90% of students we support say that volunteering enhances their studies. 

In turn, our students care passionately about extending educational opportunities to others. Student groups run workshops in London schools, help out in informal settings like afterschool clubs and youth organisations, mentor with educational attainment charities, and are also involved in adult education. 

IT Training with members of the Third Age Project, 2009
Volunteer with participants of the UCL Maths Challenge, 2010
UCL student and children at the African Community School in Dalston, 2017


Sustainability has been a constant theme with UCL student volunteers over the last twenty years. They have been heavily involved in local environmental projects, working with partners like Heath Hands, the Calthorpe Project, TCV and Thames 21.  

Student-led projects work within local schools to raise awareness of environmental issues amongst children and young people. In recent years, food waste and the impact of the clothing industry have been significant areas of activism, as has the link between social and environmental justice.  

Junk In the Trunk was a student-run project encouraging students to donate or swap unwanted goods rather than send them to landfill, 2011
UCL volunteers at Adelaide Nature Reserve in Camden, 2006
UCL Roots and Shoots volunteers with conservationist Jane Goodall, 2013


The UK and the rest of the world have seen a lot of change in the last two decades, and these changes have a very local impact. For instance, the financial crash in 2008 and subsequent austerity programme stretched the finances of charities whilst increasing demands upon their resources. Similarly, those charities and community groups were at the forefront of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and have supported new arrivals to London fleeing conflict elsewhere in the world.   

UCL student volunteers have played their part, helping in frontline services such as advice centres, food banks, refugee projects and with homelessness charities. They have also supported charities with fundraising and campaigning. 

UCL Street Store ran pop up clothing banks and campaigned on homelessness, 2013
UCL student volunteer advisor at Latin American Disabled People's Project, 2016
UCL Fun Team have run play activities within children's wards since 2013, but adapted their programme to support Afghan refugee families in Autumn 2021

Our Neighbours

One reason students volunteer is to connect with the city they live in. A lot of volunteering takes place in the neighbourhoods closest to UCL – Somers Town, West Euston, Kings Cross, Holborn and Fitzrovia. In any given year, around 50% of student volunteering takes place within the borough of Camden. 

In anticipation of the opening of UCL East, the new campus on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, we have been building new partnerships with east London community organisations. UCL has a set of new neighbourhoods, with new opportunities for collaboration between students and communities. 

UCL student volunteers at a Camden Council event for LGBT+ older people, 2009
A kite making club bringing together UCL students and members of The Camden Society, an organisation for people with learning disabilities, 2009
UCL volunteers at West Euston Ability Bikes in Regents Park, 2013

Student-led Volunteering

Over the course of twenty years, we’ve seen successive generations of UCL students develop fantastic new community projects. These groups create activities and services that wouldn’t exist otherwise.  

As with all volunteering, partnership is key. The groups always work with community partners to ensure that their projects meet real needs in an effective fashion. Each group is supported by the Volunteering Service, with training, funding and guidance from our Student-led Projects team. 

Established 2003, Teddy Bear Clinic has been our longest-running student led project. They teach primary school children about health issues through play, 2007
Kathys's Club ran activities in care homes for older people with dementia, 2009
Many of our student-led projects have won awards for their work, including UCL Maths Challenge, 2008.
The Double Exposure team worked on a photography project with vulnerable tenants of One Housing, putting on an exhibition in Camden, 2019

Sports and culture

London’s sporting and cultural life would grind to a halt without volunteers so, unsurprisingly, UCL students have been active in these areas too. They volunteer within London’s many museums and help out at community festivals and cultural events. UCL’s international student community have run activities for local school children as part of our Language & Culture Day programme. 

Members of UCL’s sports teams also take time out of their own training and match schedules to volunteer. They coach children and young people and help out on community projects making sport and physical activity accessible for all.  

UCL Netball Club members coaching at a local school, 2010
UCL students at the Lunar New Year celebrations in China Town, 2014
The Handel & Hendrix in London museum has been a popular place
for UCL students to volunteer for many years, 2016

The future

Student volunteering at UCL has come a long way, with around 2000 students now getting involved each year. We’re always looking for innovative ways to connect students and community organisations – for instance, in the last few years we’ve launched the Community Research Initiative, Social Hackathons and the UCL Charity Consultancy Challenge. 

We’d like to do more. In the coming years, Students’ Union UCL is committed to getting even more  students involved by making volunteering more visible and appealing, making it easier to volunteer and by better connecting volunteering with the rest of UCL. 

We’re excited by the prospects for student volunteering at UCL – we hope you are too! 

The Community Research Initiative connects UCL Masters students with voluntary and community sector organisations for collaborative research and knowledge exchange, 2022
UCL Charity Consultancy Challenge team at Thomas Pocklington Trust, 2022
Social Hackathon at Breteau Foundation, 2022
IntoUniversity and Keen London at our recent Volunteering Fair. We've worked with both charities for twenty years - in that time, hundreds of UCL students have volunteered with them, 2022