Volunteer Experiences

To help you find out more about volunteering we asked some of our lovely students about their experiences, how it helped them, how they were supported by UCSU and if they would recommend volunteering to other students.

Rachel Owen 

Wildlife Media Student

Surveyed the campus for mammals in partnership with @universitymammalchallenge

How did you find out about the UCSU volunteering service?

Through one of our lecturers.

What were the highlights of volunteering?

It was the variety of opportunities with Tullie House, heritage work in their archives, working with children, identification in the field with kids. It’s also been a great chance to make a partnership with local organisations. I was also able to do photography in every volunteering opportunity with Tullie House along with an opportunity to practice identification skills, all brilliant experience for a Wildlife media student. This was all in addition to communicating with a variety of people and developing leadership skills as ended up leading the group.

What were some of the challenges you faced?

Dealing with members of the public, having the confidence to talk to people and social anxiety but lots of people go into photography and it’s very important to have extra skills to run events, exhibitions, shows.

What would you say to other students considering volunteering?

Absolutely go for it, you’ll really enjoy it, great opportunity to develop skills in an area you’re interested in.


Lili Vachon 

3rd-year Primary Education, Lancaster

Volunteers with young children 

Can you tell us about your volunteering?

I have been volunteering at a local primary school (St Bernadette's Catholic Primary) throughout my second year. In the first year I played netball, but this year I used my Wednesday afternoons off as an opportunity to gain valuable experience within a classroom setting in between placement blocks. I got involved here after a friend who had a placement there put me in touch with a Year 1 class teacher. This has been a brilliant opportunity as the class teacher is always grateful for any help. Some of the things I might help with include listening to children read, supporting children during lesson time and general odd jobs around the classroom such as organising work or putting up displays. Whenever I had any free time to spare, I would email and see if I could volunteer in addition to every Wednesday - this was always welcomed! I have loved doing this over the past year and have made many great connections, met some fantastic teachers, and wonderful children so I hope to go back next year and continue to volunteer with them. 

This summer, as part of my course, we are required to source our own placements for 2 weeks. This can be just about anything so long as it involves working with children. I have friends and family in the USA so began researching options early on in the first term of my second year. and I arranged to volunteer at an elementary school in Vienna, Virginia where I would be able to work alongside a second-grade class and with a lady who works predominantly with high functioning autistic children. So far this has been a real eye-opening experience.

           However, some of the main challenges I have faced have been, although the US and the UK are English speaking countries, there is a lot of real cultural differences. For example, aside from Literacy and Maths that is somewhat universal, subjects such as History and Geography here in the UK, are combined into Social Sciences in the US. Not only that, but the actual content of what they are learning can be so drastically different; whilst we learn about Victorians, Kings and Queens, and British geography, they learn about the American Revolution, famous Americans that contributed to their culture and the vast geography of their continent. However, I have taken so many ideas for lessons, classroom and behaviour management and teaching approaches from what I have observed and hope to use and implement this in my own teaching when I return.

Throughout this academic year I have also volunteered as a University Life Mentor, where at the start of the year I was given some new, incoming students to email and support should they need any help or guidance settling in. This was a great opportunity for me as I am local to Lancaster so feel I would be a good person to help anyone settle in and find their way around. This wasn't a huge commitment as it is all through email unless someone asks to meet. I found that after the first couple of weeks, people would need less and less support so I would just receive the odd email.

What would your advice be to anyone considering volunteering?

I really believe everyone should consider volunteering. There are so many benefits that can be taken away from any opportunity. Personally, I have gained valuable, hands-on experience in my area of study/career which has not only added something interesting to my CV but has helped me to grow as a teacher. I have made contacts within the places I have volunteered who have been so helpful with ideas and advice, as well as offering to be a reference should I ever need one. I have been able to support my local community - Lancaster and the university. I also feel like having a regular volunteering opportunity has added a lot of structure and regularity to my schedule when seminars can be all over the place, or assignment loads get heavy. I would say to start thinking about it early on in your time at university too... I can't speak for all courses, but I do feel like so many young people are coming away from higher education with good grades... volunteering is a way of improving yourself whilst also making you stand out from the crowd.


Devon Howes

English and Creative Writing (Y3)

Giving Back to Lancaster


Volunteering offers the opportunity to work outside of your comfort zone, experience something new while giving back to your community. Here in Lancaster, there are a variety of ways you can give back, from participating in University events, helping local organisations and charities, or taking part in seasonal festivals. There are plenty of ways to dedicate your time. So, here is a list of how you can give back to Lancaster; and if you have any more ideas, please get in touch! 

At UoC, you can find out all about our university organised and partnership volunteering opportunities on the UCSU Volunteering page. Here, you’ll find current opportunities with local organisations across Cumbria and Lancashire. From campaigning with Teen Cancer Trust, to aiding conservation efforts in Hardknott Forest, there are always opportunities for everyone to get stuck in.

Our volunteering page also features experiences from past students, home and abroad. Lili, a third year Primary Ed student in Lancaster, volunteers her spare time to working with young children. Of being proactive about her experience, Lili said “Whenever I had any free time to spare, I would email and see if I could volunteer in addition to every Wednesday - this was always welcomed! I have loved doing this over the past year and have made many great connections, met some fantastic teachers, and wonderful children”. Finding volunteering opportunities through the Students’ Union is easy, and they will work in tandem with your course and offer practical experience that enhances your studies.

However, if you’re hoping to help out at our local charity shops, Oxfam and the British Heart Foundation, are always looking for volunteers who can pop in during their spare time. Typically, you fill in a form and agree to volunteer your time on a scheduled basis, e.g.once a week. The stores are flexible and after a chat with the manager, you’ll work out what is best for you.

Mike, a third year English student said of his experience volunteering at Oxfam’s book store, “[I] very much recommend it to anyone looking for a calm and easy atmosphere in which to gain a variety of work experience, from customer service to arranging collections, till work and even management.”

Secondly, throughout the year, the city and surrounding towns play host to cultural festivals and celebrations that are always advertising for helping hands. Whether that’s needing a body to man a stall at Light Up Lancaster (a Bonfire night event) or taking tickets at Lancaster Literature Festival, there’s always something to do.

Charlotte, another third year English and Creative Writing student has volunteered at Lit Fest for two years running. “There’s such a wide range of events at Lit Fest from poetry to prose, not to mention talks like the independent publishing day and a talk on the art of translating foreign language literature…” Charlotte went onto say, “I was free to choose the talks I wanted to volunteer at...talks I would have otherwise paid to go and see for free and made friends in the process.”

No matter how you volunteer, we recommend logging your hours and sending them over to kati.brown@cumbria.ac.uk , who will keep your hours officially on record so that you may be accurately accredited for your hard work. For more on logging your hours and the rewards of doing so, check out the UCSU volunteering pages!


If any of the accounts above have inspired you to get involved in volunteering yourself then check out our latest opportunities here.