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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!