My NHS volunteer role helped me achieve my ultimate dream -qualifying as a Solicitor

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James Hathaway, Advanced Legal Practice student, talks about his furlough experience

During 2020 I was furloughed for a number of months, I was undertaking my masters in law alongside my employment following my LPC course.

All of my academic studies and work experience relate to law. I have always been interested in psychology, studying this at A level, but had no real experience. My cousin was working at a crisis centre and hearing of this work re-sparked this interest, leading me to apply for a volunteering role for Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership.

After an initial interview they offered me a volunteer role as Assistant Ward Psychologist on the Silver Birch Ward. This was an acute adult inpatient ward for individuals who were incapable of supporting themselves outside of hospital due to complex mental health care needs.

I assisted the Ward Psychologist to implement and trial a new bibliotherapy session for the patients. This involved designing a programme that would focus on a specific theme each session and finding texts that were appropriate for this. The focus of this particular programme was poetry as it was proven to be effective in getting patients to talk about powerful emotions without it being too direct.

Part of this work involved reading research papers on this topic. The Ward Phycologist had been wanting to trial this for some time but did not have the staffing available. Through the hours I offered as a volunteer this allowed implementation of this session as well as the admin support needed for searching for materials and record keeping of the sessions.

The sessions proved extremely popular with service users who gave positive feedback, with some requesting certain texts and literature to be incorporated. This also provided useful insight for the psychologist. I would take notes on individuals reactions to the texts and their interactions with the group. We would later discuss these and assess the responses.

I also helped create a guide by writing collections all of the texts used, the themes and overviews of the responses received for other NHS services to implement their own bibliotherapy sessions.

I knew this experience would help develop my interpersonal and communication skills, both of these are key elements to my legal work. This work took place in a challenging environment where noticing and reacting to individuals social ques were key. This helped me learn a lot about body language and its role in communication.

I learned so much during this role, the Ward Phycologist I assisted noted my keen interest and offered me to read their research papers on the subject. This gave me a detailed insight to a profession where I had previously had none. Reading these papers also gave me a chance to practice my academic skills in analysis and research.

I also developed effective note taking skills whilst still remaining engaged and present. This has proven to be a valuable transferrable skill for my work I had not initially considered.

The feedback to our bibliotherapy session was so positive service users successfully requested it be permanently implemented. This whole experience has helped me to maintain my confidence in my abilities during an uncertain period in my working life. Being furloughed impacted my confidence and started to impact my mental wellbeing, volunteering helped me to continue to feel valued and maintain confidence in my skills.

This volunteer role has assisted me in achieving my Trainee Contract and my ultimate dream as qualifying as a Solicitor. This has given me a powerful insight into the impact volunteering can have. I would definitely consider volunteering again in any area as even a small commitment can have a large impact on others wellbeing.

United Nation Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 11. Goal 3 is good health and wellbeing. Goal 11 is sustainable cities and communities

How my experience with pro bono work has impacted my career journey

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Kashif Imambaccass, UWE Law Student, shares his experience of pro bono work at UWE

My interest in pro bono was initially piqued in my first year and I ended up joining in my second year, after using Blackboard to compare different pro bono opportunities and attending the Pro Bono talk. It was there I heard about African Prisons Project Pro bono group. I was immediately impressed by the work that they do and the impact that they have on the justice system in Africa. They teach inmates in African prisons how to access justice by assisting them in undertaking Law degrees remotely. I approached Kelly Eastham and Nakita Hedges, who were involved in the leadership of the group at the time, and asked if I could take a leadership role as I had had prior involvement in social activism in Mauritius. They agreed and at the start of 2019, I began having meetings with them on strategy and formed the three subgroups – fundraising, media and blogs and teaching. We also nominated leaders for each individual group and I was nominated to lead the teaching group.

Working with the group was amazing – our faculty contact Kathy Brown was the backbone of the organization and has motivated us to develop the organization further after handing over the group to us. We invited new members across the university to get involved and organized both a bake sale and a book collection for our students in Kenya.

In January of 2020, our group had grown significantly, with 70 new members. We had also started developing podcasts to support the learning of the inmates. We were also beginning to plan for the visit of Morris, one of APP’s graduates who had been wrongfully sentenced to life for aggravated armed robbery. We set up a visit at UWE on the 10th of February for him to give a talk, which ended up being so successful that we ran out of space in the lecture hall. Morris spoke about his fight for freedom and how he has freed over 300 inmates since.

His talk sparked a lot of interest and APP was invited to a dinner at Lincoln’s Inn in London, along with Morris. I was able to network with judges, barristers and solicitors who were intrigued by APP’s work. We also set up a fundraising event at a local pub a few weeks after, raising over £300.

And then Covid-19 hit. I had to leave the UK on the 16th of March. The borders were closing and the airports were insanely busy. Luckily, we were able to continue our work with APP and adapted our work to provide remote learning over Zoom. All of our current tutees passed with flying colours. With our fundraising money from March, we were able to make bail for four female minor offenders. We also received some sponsorship from the law firm, RPC, at this time.

Despite the barriers posed by working in different time zones and trying to navigate social activism in a new world, APP continued to thrive. In fact, we began to rebrand APP as EFJ – Educating for Justice, a completely independent non-profit. We broadened our offer as a group and began to work with inmates in more communities. We have been working with Justice Defenders and have established a subgroup at Oxford University. As chairperson of EFJ, I have been responsible for liaising with all of our affiliates, as well as assisting with launching our new initiatives, in particular our programme based in Mauritius working with juvenile offenders.

Overall, pro bono has opened so many doors for me. Through my work with EFJ, I have been able to secure a mini-pupillage with the Directors of Public Prosecutions Office under Mr Santokee. Through this role, I have been involved in research work, bundling and court prep and juggling EFJ, a pupillage and university feels like great preparation for a career as a barrister. I could not recommend pro bono work enough to any Law student looking to develop skills for a career in the legal industry.

For more about EFJ, go to https://educatingforjustice.org.uk/.

How my placement at UWE has been a transformational year

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Jennifer Yau, Law with Criminology Student shares her experience of undertaking a placement year within the UWE Careers and Enterprise Department

Whilst looking to undertake a placement year, I never thought to look at internal roles within the university. I was surprised to find that the Careers and Enterprise Department had recently started recruiting placement students. But it turns out, this is the position that you should really want – to acquire all the skills you learn, the flexibility to embark on your own projects and genuinely transform yourself into a confident individual. 

I loved my placement year- everything was well balanced whilst I was working simultaneously on two teams – Study Abroad and Placement Management. The teams were very supportive and were accommodating, giving me the freedom to carry out my own projects and collaborate with others- such as promotional and marketing ideas. I was able to develop my employability skills; for instance, enterprise and digital competency whilst creating Sway workbooks, website updates and blogs. It was great to work on a team which was friendly and very inclusive- even though we were temporary staff, I had set daily goals; for example, carrying out reporting and sending data to the marketing team on Thursday. 

Through my own initiative, I got involved with the “Mentorship” and “Reading Buddies” programmes run by UWE’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity team for the charity Ablaze. The mentorship program included developing workshops and learning materials to support students from 12-15 years old in local schools, helping them to understand their options and keep engaged with school and allowed me to work collaboratively with colleagues from other departments at UWE. I mentored for the first time ever – this was an incredible experience in helping young adults open their eyes to a wide range of careers and skills available. One highlight was running the “minute meditation” and the silent wave in the room as the students genuinely concentrated. The other program focussed on one-to-one reading support to primary school children, helping to achieve Bristol’s ambition of ensuring that all children can read fluently by age 11. This was also a first for me, it felt great to support pupils and help them improve their confidence and ability to converse with someone out of their normal social circle. Their experience deeply resonated with me as I come from a Chinese household where English was rarely spoken and it felt great to give back by helping a child to develop their reading and speaking skills. 

I have really improved my transferrable skills and I am really ecstatic to have improved my communication skills especially proactively speaking in public whilst running the stand at “Meet the employers fair” and “Placement Week”. I had the freedom to attend the wide range of learning and development courses where I also made further connections with wider UWE staff network- this has been amazing! The team were very trusting, especially Frances and Rachel where I was the lead point for the marketing of Placements’ Week, the “Covid-19” student comms also the Study Abroad resources project- these projects all helped me diversify and improve my skills- from tech to communication. 

This placement year has helped me transform into a more confident and enterprising individual, mostly I enjoyed helping my peers embarking on their own careers in search for placements through coordinating weekly drop-ins and answering questions consistently for hours at the “Meet the Employers Fair”. 

Many students have embarked on a placement year within UWE in a range of departments and now the Library, Careers and Inclusivity service. I felt honoured to be one of the first placement students within the Careers and Enterprise department and special thanks to my team for always being wonderfully helpful and flexible.  

For anyone looking for a placement opportunity, these are extraordinary transition points in your life – you transform into a more productive and resilient individual. This is a year to not only gain professional experience but also an opportunity to network and to get involved. Remember to take the initiative and get the most from your placement year! 

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