How volunteering at Bristol Drug Project helped me choose a new career path

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Lainie-Jayne Smith, Criminology BA (Hons)

My reasons for volunteering

After finishing my second year, I became aware of how valuable my time is and started to realise how much I needed to take advantage of summer break. I also wanted to get an in-depth, hands-on understanding of roles that were available in my area. 

How I got involved

Once I started looking, there were roles everywhere. Social media was one of the biggest platforms for volunteering advertisements. I searched keywords such as “young people”, “volunteering”, “vulnerable people” and I was presented with a variety of roles. Each application process was similar, I had to fill out some information about me, hobbies, experiences, etc. Once I heard back, I would go to an interview and started my role at soon after! 

My role at Bristol Drug Project

At Bristol Drug Project, I worked with children that came from families whose parents had addiction problems and required interventions within their homes. Once a week, I would collect the children on a bus from all around Bristol, and then we would play games, have open conversations, eat together and overall make sure they were happy and content. We offer a safe space for children to express themselves when things are a struggle at home, this also gave the parents some personal time too. The aim is to create a happier environment within the home, so all parties can be happy and content.  

What I have learnt

It helped me realise, after speaking with experienced people that work with vulnerable young people, that there are so many routes to take and so many different careers to explore. I found that maybe the industry isn’t how I thought it was, I found that in certain positions the amount of help you can give is limited. This was a struggle for me but also led me to understand that supporting individuals at any stage of their life is important and essential. So, this has led to my new career choice of hopefully getting into probation work which is something I hadn’t thought about before. 

It has dramatically aided my confidence, interview skills and has given me a lot of experience that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t spend my summer with this organisation!

Just offering my help one day a week, I feel like I have made such a difference for the children I worked with. I also got to understand and appreciate the young people. Listening to them and applying this to my module helped me to develop a deeper understanding of what exactly youth face in this day and age. It really got me thinking about what could be done to ensure stability in their lives. 

My top tips

My advice to a volunteer would be don’t be too specific, and don’t limit yourself to one role. There are so many roles out there, with organisations willing and waiting – you can set your availability, find groups and organisations that are flexible, and this way you can delve into a variety of roles.  

In terms of your application write everything down on a document and refer back to this when filling them out. This way you don’t waste time repeating yourself. Also, I found that some organisations want to get to know you! It doesn’t need to be overly formal, express yourselves in your applications… you never know where you could end up! 

Most importantly, remind yourself you are there by choice, even if it’s 1 hour out of your day, you are making a difference no matter what role you are in – and that in itself is priceless. 

Volunteering at Mud Pie Explorers was key to my professional development… and lots of fun!

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by Natalia Jarvis, BSc (Hons) Psychology

I spent ten months volunteering for Mud Pie Explorers, a Bristol-based Community Interest Company, that runs Forest School sessions for children in local green spaces. Forest Schools are child-led and offer a holistic way for children to develop skills and improve their confidence in a woodland setting.

My journey to becoming a Forest School Support Volunteer

Whilst looking for a psychology-related volunteering opportunity to enhance my CV, I came across an advert on UWE InfoHub for a Forest School Support volunteer. I would definitely recommend InfoHub as a platform for finding volunteering, work experience or paid jobs, as there are lots of great roles are posted on there – including ones that you can’t find on a generic online search. It is also really easy to use the filters to find what you are looking for.

I had never worked with children before but I love the outdoors and had become really interested in developmental and child psychology, so I thought that this role would be really enjoyable and beneficial to my career pathway too. After successfully applying, I met with Nickie, a Level 3 Forest School Leader and the manager of Mud Pies, who matched me up with two weekly sessions. One for home-educated children with a range of additional needs, and one for girls with autism.

We spotted lots of wildlife at Forest School (I never got a photo of the deer!)

My experience of volunteering with Mud Pies

My role as a volunteer was to work with Nickie to facilitate child-led play. This meant giving the children freedom to explore and let their natural curiosity flourish, rather than deciding what they do or organising structured activities. A typical session for me might involve encouraging a child to climb higher in the tree, supervising them while they practice with a flint and steel, or joining in with their “velociraptor mum” game! It was really rewarding developing relationships with the children and seeing them grow in confidence and ability. I had so much fun at Forest School and it was always something to look forward to in my week.

I loved embracing the outdoors and sharing this with the children; the smiles on their faces when they realised how muddy they had become after “mudsliding” in the rain were just priceless.

What did I gain from my experience?

Becoming a Forest School support volunteer was something completely new to me and a chance to leave my comfort zone, which in itself really built my confidence and self-belief. Volunteering was also a way for me to bring my university studies to life and apply what I had learned. I actually wrote an essay for my Psychology course on the benefits of Forest School for child development.

Volunteering with Mud Pies undoubtedly played a massive part in my success in gaining my sandwich placement, an exciting role working within the clinical therapy team at Cotswold Chine School, which I am hoping will in turn maximise my employment prospects when I graduate. I really believe that being a Forest School volunteer has had a massive positive impact on my professional development, and I loved every minute of it.

Some of the nature art that I attempted at Mud Pies!

Empowering change for women’s equality.

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by Bassmala Elbushary, BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science

There are numerous reasons why I wanted to volunteer. Firstly, I wanted to use my passion (helping others) to make a positive impact and explore where my passion can be useful. That’s why when I found out about the volunteering opportunity at FORWARD, I did not hesitate to get involved. FORWARD strives for African women’s rights and I was so keen to amplify the voices and challenges African women encounter. Furthermore, I wanted to get involved in change-making and have a positive influence on people’s lives. This could be from raising awareness to writing letters to MPs. Lastly, I wanted to meet people who have similar mindset and want to make a difference in this world.

How I got involved in volunteering

It was 2019 when I found out about FOWARD. My mother has a friend who knew the manager of the organisation and the organisation was promoting their volunteering opportunity. I was so keen to apply.

I got involved by completing an application form. It was open to all African women living in England and Wales. Then, I completed a three-days training in Cardiff. After completing the training, I became a youth fellow in the organisation.

My Project

During my training programme, I was asked to work as a group to find solutions to some of the issues African women face. At the end of the training, I was asked to create a social project.

For my social project, I decided to make a Facebook Live exploring the issues Sudanese women face and discussing solutions with them as a group. In the Facebook Live, I got my mother and my little sister to discuss their opinions regarding women’s rights. The Facebook Live was very successful as I had over 5000 views.

The second part of my social project was to hold a discussion group with the Sudanese women and men. I booked a venue, and I invited all the Sudanese women in my local area to discuss the issues Sudanese women face and I asked them to work in groups to come up with solutions. Then, I went to London and conducted a discussion group with the Sudanese men and how men can support the women and influence policy makers in Sudan.

I highly recommend volunteering to everyone because you gain plenty of experience and skills.

Community Impact

Primarily, my volunteering has helped the audiences that I gave my talk to about Sudanese women’s right and most of them agreed with the points I spoke about. The feedback from the discussion group were all positive. Some stated they ‘can make a difference’ in their lives. Others said they felt ‘empowered’. Secondly, some of the audience from the focus group asked me to conduct another focus group because they enjoyed it and found it very beneficial.

How volunteering has helped with my career goals

During my training, I developed my confidence to engage with wider audience and the support that I received from the organisers made me believe in myself. In my chosen career as an Biomedical Science Lecturer, I will need the confidence to perform presentations and focus groups.

I also learned teamwork and communication skills through the group work and the discussions I did. This links strongly with my chosen career because I will have to work in a team to conduct experiments/produce a research paper.

Most importantly, I learnt time management skills because I had a deadline to complete the social project by. Time management skills is highly favourable in my chosen career as all the work has a specific deadline.

Finally, I built a strong network which is very essential if I want to progress further. Having a strong network is vital for references and to gain advice from experts. As I became a youth member at the organisation, I am in the process of launching my own international project in Sudan developing the rural area. The organisation’s manager is supporting me to finalise my proposal for funding.

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