The joys (and unexpected excitements) of being a volunteer…

Don’t look down I told myself, bracing my feet on the shaking wooden platform. But looking up wasn’t such a great option either –in front of me a series of suspended wooden planks stretched across a void at least two storeys up in the air. There was no handrail. The only way was to run for it. Taking a deep breath, I launched myself forward and flew, leaping from plank to plank until I reached the other side in a surge of exhilaration. A wave of relief and delight crashed over me as I realised I had had the courage to do it.

Amazing, what you can get up to in the name of ‘volunteering’ with the University of Sheffield!

I was at YHA Edale, a Youth Hostel and activity centre in the Peak District, as part of a group on a “Give it a Go” volunteering event. We had spent the morning hacking away at invasive bracken on the hillsides, before dismantling a broken-down drystone wall. After all our exertions, the staff felt that we deserved a special treat – which turned out to be a free go on the high ropes course!

It’s very easy to get sucked into the “academic” culture at University and to buy into the idea that the more hours you put in to slaving over essays and books then the better degree you will have. But this would be to forget that many life skills – such as teamwork and leadership – simply aren’t learnt in a lecture theatre. Volunteering is a brilliant way to develop these attributes (which are gold dust for your CV!) and a means by which you can give something back to the community that is supporting you during your studies. More to the point, it can also be great fun, particularly thanks to the Volunteering Office constantly coming up with new projects to suit all interests. Whether you’re an environmental activist at heart, love to work with children, have a creative streak or feel compassion for refugees – there is a cause that would welcome your involvement. And for those who aren’t sure, the “Give it a Go” volunteering events are good ways to try projects out without feeling obliged to make a regular commitment. However, probably the best way to get a taste of the sheer range of available opportunities is to go to the Volunteering fairs during Freshers and Refreshers Week, where you can pick up stacks of information and talk to project leaders in person.

When I came to Sheffield, I particularly wanted to work with the homeless and to learn more about the circumstances which trap people in poverty. The cheerful staff in the Volunteering Office quickly helped me to find a project that matched my interests and work schedule. More than two years later, I am still helping at The Sunday Centre, a refuge for homeless and vulnerable adults that provides a safe place to have a hot drink and a warm meal. It doesn’t feel like work to me as I have gained so much – I have made so many friends, learnt so many skills and can now make at least a passable cup of coffee! I am also part of the Youth Hostel Association’s Young Champions Network which has involved volunteering at the national YHA AGM and helping to raise money for their Breaks for Kids Appeal, that allows disadvantaged children go on activity camps.

These days, I have to discipline myself when the latest volunteer newsletter comes out with yet more tantalising new projects as I remember the commitments that I have already taken on. But some of my best experiences at University have come about through volunteering, including seeing two lambs being born while helping out at an open day at Whirlow Hall Farm, meeting documentary makers whilst volunteering for the DocFest and helping to serve a full Christmas Dinner to eighty homeless people. Time at University goes so quickly – you will be graduating before you know it – so make the time count!

To learn more about the Sunday Centre visit https://sites.google.com/site/thesundaycentre/

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