Warwick Volunteers is one of the largest student volunteering bodies in the UK, and this year it celebrates its sixth anniversary.
Since its inception, Warwick Volunteers has helped charities and organisations throughout Coventry and Warwickshire, and to date, over 3,500 students and staff alike have given more than £1.25 million worth of volunteering activity to the local community.
Sarah Newell, Project Co-ordinator for Warwick Volunteers’ schools-based projects, says: “The organisation is all about the volunteers; it’s great to provide so many opportunities for them and they often put in a lot more work than what’s expected.”
Warwick Volunteers started life as a student body called ‘Community Action’, which had been supplying volunteers to the local community for over 25 years. However, in 2002, armed with more funding to increase volunteering opportunities and develop new projects, the society re-launched as Warwick Volunteers, providing more professional support for students to run and participate in volunteering projects, as well as opening up opportunities for University staff.
“When Community Action was re-launched as Warwick Volunteers, we didn’t want to lose the student society element,” explains Peggy Vazoura, Project Co-ordinator for community projects, “So it’s effectively treated as a Society, except it is very big and the volunteers now include Warwick staff!”
In fact, the past year has seen record levels of staff participation. “We’ve had more staff enquiries than ever,” says Newell, “We’ve had more staff volunteers, and more team projects, which are a really good way for staff in departments to develop as teams.”
Warwick Volunteers reaches into the community through a wide range of charities and organisations; from educational projects with school children and holding sporting events - such as the recent Big Sports Challenge that involved 14 local primary schools competing on Warwick University campus - to providing free legal advice for people who live in disadvantaged areas.
One of Warwick Volunteer’s most successful services is the Language Register, which provides language and cultural support in local schools to help children who have recently come to the UK, and takes advantage of Warwick’s multi-national student community.
As Newell explains: “Many children are going to school with English as their second language, so we can arrange for student volunteers who speak the same language to help them settle in. It’s about proper integration at all levels, and we start by breaking the language barrier.”
All these activities are doubtlessly invaluable to the local community. At the same time, the volunteers act as ambassadors for the University. As Vazoura explains: “The students represent Warwick University in the local community, so in addition to providing valuable services, there’s also a big responsibility in that respect.”
“But because of the great work the volunteers do, over the years we’ve established great relationships with the organisations we work with. They know us and they really appreciate the contribution our volunteers are able to make.”
Ask any of the groups who work with Warwick Volunteers and the feedback is glowing.
Paul Hardisty, Head of Charter Primary School in Coventry says: “We are very, very proud and pleased to have the association with Warwick Volunteers. The volunteers have worked tirelessly with the children. They’re full of energy and full of enthusiasm.”
Gwen Peat from Kenilworth PhAB, which brings disabled and able-bodied people together on equal terms to mix socially, adds that: “We’ve had some wonderful people come from Warwick to be our friends.”
The volunteers also gain enormously from the experience, taking on new challenges and developing skills.
Varsha Reshamwala, President of Warwick Volunteers’ student committee for 2007-08, claims that: “It’s not just about giving, it’s also about receiving. In fact, the remarkable thing about volunteering is that you get back much, much more than what you give.”Warwick Volunteers work closely with organisations throughout Coventry and Warwickshire. For more information about their activities and events, visit the Warwick Volunteers website.