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Students: the unsung volunteer heroes of Hampshire?
They take all the seats on the buses, make loads of noise and leave heaps of litter.
Oh, and they just happen to work tirelessly behind the scenes as some of the region’s unsung volunteer heroes.
And while most of the stereotype negative images of students are exaggerated, the role of many young people working unpaid to help keep our communities alive goes mostly unrecognised.
This week is National Student Volunteering Week, and so it’s appropriate they finally step out into the limelight.
From dressing up and collecting money for charity as part of Rag Week activities, to regular work in the community, students volunteer in a wide range of ways. In fact, a recent study by the National Union of Students showed that 63 per cent take part in formal volunteering during their time at university.
And a further study, conducted by Student Volunteering England, found that students gave three million hours volunteering per year, delivered by 42,000 student volunteers who contributed £42m to the UK economy annually.
National Student Volunteering Week was founded as a nationwide celebration of student volunteering, with the 12th such annual week coming to an end today.
To mark National Student Volunteering Week, the University of Winchester is holding an exhibition at the Link Gallery of photos which show students taking part in a wide range of voluntary roles, from helping at charity shops, to working with community groups, and making films.
The photos were taken by local photographer Adrian Brophy of xtrashot photographic, who has spent two years working on the project, Winchester Loves Volunteering, to capture the city’s volunteers. The exhibition includes portraits of 18 students.
Charlie Mackay, Volunteering Placement Co-ordinator, at the University of Winchester, says that as well as doing something good for the local community, students benefit in terms of their CVs and employability, confidence, personal development and considering the charitable sector as a career option.
“We have examples of students being able to source graduate positions following the volunteering module,”
She adds that volunteering also helps the wider community to have a more positive impression of students.
“We’ve had feedback from elderly people saying that they didn’t think students would be interested in helping and that their idea of them was them running amok on the streets, but now their perspective has really been changed by the students who volunteered to help them.”
Around 130 students are taking part in the volunteering module this year at the University of Winchester, but many more are volunteering through other routes, such as the student’s union.
The National Student Volunteering Week itself is coordinated by the National Union of Students.
Over the week approximately 5,000 students have been involved in more than 300 volunteering events nationwide.
One student who has volunteered regularly through his time at university is Kyle McKeller, who is in his second year of a computing degree at Southampton Solent University.
He is one of around 300 volunteers at the university.
He started by volunteering as a Union Angel, to help new students settle in and has also taken part in environmental awareness weeks.
“It’s taught me a huge amount of skill that I haven’t learnt on my course,” says the 26-year-old.
“I’ve learnt to be versatile and you learn how to talk to people professionally and things like how to run a project.”
Ross Carter, who is a second year English student at the University of Winchester, started volunteering around a year ago.
Every Thursday he and another volunteer help to run the 8th Winchester Scout Group.
“I want to go into teaching so I needed to get some experience working with children,” he says.
“We make sure the Scouts are happy and safe. It’s good because it’s building my skills and also networking but at the same time, if we didn’t help out the group couldn’t run, so it’s nice to be able to put something back.
“I’d recommend other students to volunteer. It’s very rewarding and it’s great on your CV.”
Lydia Dunford, a third year law student, at the University of Winchester, also volunteers at the Scout group. She works particularly with a boy with autism.
“I really enjoy volunteering,” says the 20-year-old.
“My brother has autism so I know that it can be isolating. I want to make sure the Scouts are enjoyable for him.”
She added: “My confidence has grown through volunteering.
“There’s also a lovely sense of helping others. You do have to put effort in but it’s completely worth it when you see the results. It’s just so rewarding. I’d recommend volunteering to anyone.”
For more details about volunteering, get in touch with: givemore.org.uk, Southamptonvs.org.uk (023 8022 8291), Hampshirevolunteers.org.uk (0844 499 4088) and Volunteercentrewinchester.org.uk (01962 871713).