Volunteering whilst at university

I’ve been involved in some kind of volunteering for most of my life. Due to living in a seaside town, my family was involved in the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) charity for my childhood and teen years. By the time I came to university, I was no stranger to volunteering, both for charities and other organisations.

In my second year at UEA, I joined the committee of the Raising and Giving society, who fundraise for a variety of charities over the academic year and help to facilitate and support fundraising projects for individual students. I led a group of over 20 students in a large fundraising project, which was a big commitment, and I decided to take a step back from the committee going into my final year. More recently, I’ve been volunteering at local venue, Norwich Arts Centre. I’ve been volunteering here for almost a year now, and made the move to switch my volunteering to something more arts based after I decided that I wanted to pursue a creative career rather than one in the charity sector, which is an idea I toyed with for a little while in my second year. 

I feel I’m pretty well positioned to share advice on volunteering, so hopefully my experiences will demonstrate the benefits volunteering can bring! The first thing to do is find a volunteering placement which is right for you. I know this isn’t the situation for everyone, but I am lucky enough that my student loan covers my rent and necessities, and although I have a part-time job, I can pick up hours more flexibly during the semester, and I’m not dependent upon it. University is the time in your life where you’ll probably have the largest amount of free time that you have complete control over, so make the most of it. I decided to pursue a volunteering placement which was linked to something I’m interested in doing after finishing my degree. This gives you a great opportunity to try out something you’re interested in without the pressure of being paid and forced into a regular, certain-hours-per-week commitment. 

To find these opportunities, I would recommend following the social media of local organisations that you are interested in, or bodies that have an awareness of, and promote, local opportunities, such as UEA CareerCentral. The National Centre for Writing social media is also great for arts students, as they constantly advertise different opportunities in Norwich. Volunteering is relatively easy to get into, as places are usually looking for somebody who is friendly, enthusiastic, and willing to help out, but don’t necessarily need prior experience.

I think the only downside to volunteering is that you don’t get paid for your time. It can seem pointless to pursue unpaid experience whilst at university, but I believe volunteering provides many benefits. Firstly, there is the knowledge that you are aiding in an organisations ability to achieve their goals. For example, the RNLI branch in my hometown couldn’t exist without people giving up their time. The greatest advantage of volunteering is the skills you can learn. During my time at RAG, I learnt to manage large groups of people, deal with risk assessments, and event planning. My role meant that I had to improve my time management, and also my confidence with working with new people on a regular basis. The only other way the range of things I was able to be involved in would only be available to me, is if I were to undertake a full-time job somewhere. Additionally, with the arts centre, I’ve begun to learn things about marketing, event management, and collaborating with artists.

These skills will be incredibly useful once I graduate, and undertaking some volunteering looks fantastic on your CV. It displays a willingness to go above and beyond what is asked of you, and a desire to learn new things. I really believe everyone can benefit from volunteering placements whilst at university, time permitted, and that you just have to find the right fit for you. 

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Ellie Robson

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October 2021
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