Universities have long been hotbeds for social action, challenging injustices, and inspiring community action, and this definitely rings true for The University of Sheffield. With almost 28,000 students at the University, there’s huge potential for inspiring and actioning big changes in the city and further afield.
The Students’ Union’s Volunteering team have the two themes of ‘Inspire and be inspired’ and ‘take part in our city’ running through their work and aim to involve 2000 students in volunteering projects in the local area each year.
SheffGives met with Stella McHugh (Head of External Engagement) and Emily Clark (Projects Administrator) to find out more about their work of inspiring students to give back to and make a positive impact upon the city of Sheffield.
Tell us a little about Sheffield Volunteering and the work that you do
We look to work with as many students as possible each year and get them involved in a wide variety of projects, partnering with around 180 organisations in the city and surrounding areas.
We want to make volunteering as accessible as possible to our students and engage as many of them as we can in what’s happening in Sheffield. We aim to source opportunities from a wide range of causes, to really broaden our appeal, and make sure that there are a variety of roles available, from a weekly shift, to an occasional session, and even one off ‘give it a go’ options.
We’ve built strong links with many organisations in the city, whilst keeping the interests and passions of our students in mind; some opportunities are linked to their course, but also there’s plenty of scope to pursue something far removed from their studies. We’re all about promoting local causes and concerns, so students can choose how and why they make a difference as a volunteer.
We tend to have around 200 roles available on our website for students to apply for – there’s lots to do! And there’s so much good work going on in the city, be that around mental health, food poverty, asylum seekers or homelessness, that there really is something for everyone to get stuck into. And there are so many inspiring people and organisations out there to work with in Sheffield.
Students can also set up their own initiatives, with advice, guidance and mentoring support by members of the team here, which is perfect if they’ve got a real passion for something that they want to develop to benefit the community. One example of a successful student led initiatives is the Save our Sandwiches project, which goes by the tagline, ‘feed stomachs, not bins’, and involves distributing food from the Students’ Union’s and University’s catering outlets at the end of the day to local people in need. An amazing project that makes such a massive impact on the people it supports.
Another example of a brilliant student led project is the Global Community Basketball project, which uses sport to create a fun and welcoming space for some of the most disadvantaged members of our community. You can read a case study about this project here.
One of the amazing anecdotal successes of our work, is that we hear of students having been introduced to an organisation during their time with us, then moving home or to another city when they graduate and starting a similar project in their new home town. That shows the huge impact that volunteering can have on a person’s life, and how that experience can spread ripples out into society.
If an organisation was keen to recruit your student volunteers, how would they get started?
It’s really simple – just visit our website here to tell us about your opportunities and we’ll be in touch. We also hold Volunteer Fairs twice a year where organisations can come in to meet our students, and hopefully find the perfect volunteers to match their needs.
Your 4 weeks of action campaign really caught our eye – can you tell us a little more about that please?
The national Student Volunteering week runs from February 19th to 25th (half term week in Sheffield), and we thought instead of just doing a week where we focus on promoting volunteering and the benefits to the students and the wider community, why not extend that to 4 weeks of action – hence our campaign was born!
We wanted to be able to completely focus in on the 4 main themes which are real issues and concerns in the city and do them justice by engaging with as many groups and charities as possible in that area – devoting a week to each cause felt about right and should give us plenty of scope to inspire students by raising their awareness of these issues, involving as many of them as possible, and forging stronger relationships with the charities and groups who offer volunteering roles to our students. Our 4 themes are mental health, food poverty and sustainability, refugees and asylum seekers and homelessness, so quite wide ranging, with hopefully something for everyone to get involved in.
This week, for example, is week 2, so our focus is around food poverty and sustainability. Events we have arranged include visiting a pay as you feel shop, run by Real Junk Food Project, a talk from a food sustainability group, a communal dinner, preparing a community meal, and involvement with the student led initiative, Save our Sandwiches. We’ll also be using social media to suggest lots of tips and quick and easy wins for how and where students can get involved in each week’s theme.
Next week, our students will have the opportunity to help sort donations for Refugees & Asylum Seekers, help develop a charity’s website, support a Family fun day for refugee children and attend a myth-busting session which is being jointly delivered by the Refugee Council and STAR student group (Student Action on Refugees).
We hope that the 4 Weeks of Action really inspire people – it would be amazing to encourage a movement in the city where we all unite behind a common cause to make Sheffield an even better place to live.
Absolutely! That’s exactly what SheffGives is all about. Hope the 4 weeks of action go well, and you inspire a new generation of volunteers to make huge changes in their communities.
We’ll check back in with you soon to find out how it went…