Volunteers step forward

Volunteering is a popular activity for students at the University of Wolverhampton, with hundreds signing up to offer their time every year. To mark this dedication, Active Volunteers has launched a new Volunteer of the Year award to recognise the achievements of students.

It is the illusive thing that all job hunters seek – that special something to make your CV stand out amongst a sea of others, all striving for the same goal. It may sound obvious, but volunteering has become a valuable asset to students looking to boost their credentials and make the transition into the world of work. Not only that, it opens up new avenues of experience and allows students to network within the community in which they live.

There is a wealth of opportunities for willing volunteers at the University of Wolverhampton.

More than 120 voluntary and community organisations are registered with Active Volunteers, which co-ordinates activities and is the first port of call for students wishing to give their time. Students can volunteer helping young children in education, work with people with disabilities and even help out in a museum or art gallery. They can turn their hands to environmental projects and delve into film archives. Whatever their interest, it is likely that Active Volunteers can help.

Pat Green is the Active Volunteers Co-ordinator, and is enthusiastic about the benefits to students and the  community.

“Getting active in the community has enormous benefits in itself as the students are able to engage in activities while at University that they would otherwise be unable to get involved with. They can network with community or voluntary organisations they would perhaps not know about, which can be an eye opener. It gives students valuable skills and experience that are going to be extremely welcome for employers.”

This year, the University has launched a new Volunteer of the Year Award to recognise the outstanding commitment of students. The winner of the inaugural award is Jodie McCaughan, a full-time combined degree in Social Care and Criminal Justice student who volunteers with Sandwell Advocacy.

Jodie began as a Citizen Advocacy Case Worker in 2007, and works with designated ‘partners’ who are some of the most vulnerable and at risk members of the community. She is also involved in fundraising, training and committee representation, and even launched a new Citizen Advocacy Interpreting Project, which uses the skills of volunteers who speak a wide range of languages. Her help was clearly appreciated by Sandwell Advocacy, who described her as “compassionate, aware and highly motivated”.

Pat is full of praise for all the students who give up their time to volunteer, and was inspired by their dedication to introduce the award.

“We are very keen to celebrate the achievements of all of our hundreds of volunteers who are engaged in such a variety of activities across the region. Volunteering is a popular activity for students at the University of Wolverhampton, with hundreds signing up to offer their time every year. To mark this dedication, Active Volunteers has launched a new Volunteer of the Year award to recognise the achievements of students. We want to recognise the very valuable contribution they make to the community,” she says.

Active Volunteers has been running for seven years, but the University has supported student volunteering for the last 20 years. It began as ‘Student Link’ which enabled students to engage in a research project in the community, and for the community. Wolverhampton was one of the pioneering institutions to work with students on community-based learning programmes, where their volunteering is recognised within the curriculum. This means participating students are able to gain credits towards their degree for the learning they can evidence in a portfolio.

But who volunteers? There is no one type of person, according to Pat, but there are sometimes misconceptions about volunteering.

“The range is diverse, from people who come from school to University and have never had the opportunity to volunteer, through to mature students who are already committed to volunteering and are delighted to find we value it here.

“Students will sometimes say they used to think volunteering was for fuddy duddies, but now they know better! But it is not an easy ride – some volunteers work with some of the toughest kids in the area or those that have been excluded, or are at risk of becoming involved in criminal activity. It is not an easy option but it is the kind of experience you can put on a CV.”

Volunteering has an added benefit of changing perceptions – and the positive change can work both ways.

Pat adds: “It is a way of bringing “town and gown” together. “Students here have their stereotypes and assumptions about people, and these are often exploded and confounded. It is also useful for young children and the elderly to meet students and see what they are really like.”

It almost goes without saying that the organisations benefit from receiving the help of an enthusiastic volunteer, who has chosen to give up their time for free.

Pat estimates that the activities carried out by the 354 students who registered for the Volunteering Certificate this year equates to £153,853. It is the win-win scenario for all involved that makes volunteering such an appealing choice, and one that students will continue to turn towards.

Find out more about volunteering.

Volunteering Factbox

  • 354 University of Wolverhampton students registered for the volunteering certificate in 2008-09. This includes volunteering completed within the community or via the Students’ Union.
  • 123 Voluntary/Community organisations are registered with Active Volunteers
  • There are over 470 volunteering opportunities available. Some opportunities have multiple vacancies
  • 12,048 total volunteering hours completed to date, in 2008-09
  • Value of volunteering = £153,853  (source Volunteering England - annual survey of hours and earnings - £12.77)

Quotes from students about volunteering

"I think it’s really great - it helped me out of the student bubble"

"I think that these skills are good in general really."

"It was  something I’d never done before and I thought I may just like to try something a bit different."

"Volunteering has given me the opportunity to further my basic skills of planning, organising, motivating others, teamwork and communication."