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Caroline Crawford and Jo Xizi Yu are the Project Leaders for Art Without a Home, one of our Student-Led Volunteering Projects that works with people affected by homelessness. They talked to us about why they decided to become Project Leaders, the skills they’ve developed along the way and how it feels to run a community-based project.

Can you tell us a bit about your project?

As Project Leaders of Art without a Home, we planned and hosted weekly art workshops with residents from One Housing. Every week, we set up our creative space with various themes and plenty of supplies. Our participants normally walk in when they like and stay as long as they prefer. We sat down to work on our own artwork while chatting about the theme of the week, our lives and art.

How did you find out about the role?

CAROLINE: I found out about the role when I visited the Volunteering Service’s fairs through the international students organisation.

JO: For me it was the student-led volunteering directory

Why did you want to become a volunteer? 

CAROLINE: I’ve always enjoyed volunteering. After I moved to London for my year abroad, I wanted to get more involved in the community where I studied and lived. When I found out about this project, I thought the concept was very cool.

JO: Me too. All my work experience has been volunteering, I’ve always enjoyed it. My past experience was mostly working for a NGO in China raising awareness of mental health and destigmatising mental health disorders. With Art without a Home, we’re trying to offer a safe space for people affected by homelessness to take care of their mental health. I felt quite passionate about the idea behind this project.

What difference do you feel you’ve made by volunteering?

CAROLINE: We provided outlet for creativity; our workshops were very casual instead of highly structured ones, so it really helped people to be comfortable in their creative space.

JO: I think we created a space with very nice energy, which was welcoming and non-judgemental - everyone could create something. Our participants were either very social, and talked to us a lot, or just focused on their own work. I think this kind of flexibility was very important.

What impact has volunteering had on you? 

CAROLINE: The experience made me become more responsible and empowered in a leadership position. I learnt a lot about time management and taking initiative, even among challenging times. I am happy I did it because I felt more engaged with the city around me, I felt like a part of something bigger. To sit down, have a chat, have a cup of tea while painting or making something was very peaceful. The experience has been very grounding for me.

JO: It has been a very rewarding experience for sure. I’ve done a lot volunteering but not so much as a team leader. These few months have taught me to be more responsible, especially in the planning period. I felt the same as Caroline - our art workshop every week was more than just volunteering for me. It was a great opportunity for me to calm down and work on something of my own. We had some great connections and it was so nice to socialise over art.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?

CAROLINE: For me it was to getting to meet new people and feeling more connected to the community.

JO: Doing what I can for the community while gaining new skills. 

And the most challenging? How did you overcome the challenges?

CAROLINE: Organising the logistics at the beginning was very challenging and also when the project was coming to the end. Right before the lockdown started in London, no one came to our workshops. There was a lot of disappointment when we had to cancel the last few workshops. We also had to face the unknown – our exhibition. But we managed to work out a different plan with another project that’s running in One Housing.

JO: It was very difficult for me to find an efficient communication process. We had to keep in touch with the Volunteering Service, our partner organisation as well as our sister project Double Exposure when we tried to plan the timeline of the workshops and our final exhibition. The recruitment was quite late so it really didn’t leave us so much time to get to know everything and also to plan far ahead. But it was also communication that helped us overcome these difficulties. I’m so grateful to work with Caroline – she kept me accountable and motivated. The Volunteering services also helped us a lot. One Housing was extremely supportive and flexible. We’re still setting up our final exhibition online. So far it’s been going pretty well.

Tell us about something memorable that’s happened to you whilst volunteering 

CAROLINE: I can’t really think of something specific. I can remember vividly the sense of community and togetherness. The calmness we managed to create in the group is so strong that it stays with anyone who has experienced it.

JO: The very first workshop was very memorable for me. We had a big piece of banner to write our theme on and Caroline was decorating it when everyone walked it. By the end of the workshop, everyone was working on the same piece of work. We created different things that formed a city scene together (the theme of the week was ‘city’). I felt like part of a team.

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?

CAROLINE: For sure! It is a great way to meet people. It’s a very rewarding way to use your free time. As an international student, it definitely helped me to get to know the city more. Via volunteering, I became a part of London as a person, instead of simply a tourist, a passer-by.

JO: Yes, highly recommended. Volunteering and giving back itself is a great way to take care of our mental health. Meanwhile, like Caroline mentioned, it is a great way to combine your passion with a cause and spend your leisure time on it.

Volunteering with a student-led project is just one the few ways you can feel part of, and give back to a community. No matter where you are, if you have a great idea for a project that can currently be done remotely, fill out our webform here