Thousands of UWE Bristol students make a difference – Student Volunteering Week 2017

Issue date: 20 February 2017

Student volunteers

Thousands of students at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are making a difference in their local communities through volunteering.

Student Volunteering Week, 20-26 February 2017, is a chance to celebrate their contribution and encourage others to join in UWE Bristol activities such as Reading Buddies, Number Partners and Silver Surfers. Thousands of students volunteer each year at UWE Bristol.

Silver Surfers is celebrating its 10th year and over the years has involved nearly 400 students helping around 200 people. The project is an opportunity for older members of the community to get one-to-one IT expertise and help from students on Frenchay Campus over a number of weekly sessions.

Student volunteers are paired with a Silver Surfer to help them learn skills such as using email or Skype, how to do internet shopping or edit photos.

The Silver Surfers project was started by UWE Bristol in 2007 with Upper Horfield Community Trust and now runs in partnership with the charity LinkAge.

Ricky Bush, Senior Community Development Worker (Intergenerational) of LinkAge, says, “Silver Surfers has proven extremely popular since LinkAge became involved in 2016, being able to offer a six week course on top of the one off sessions we currently offer. The feedback from older people has been positive with some even being able to contact family through Skype after attending these sessions. The great thing about these sessions is being able to see young people not only sharing their skills and knowledge with older people but the conversations that take place between the generations.”

At 94, John Pearce says he is not too old to learn new tricks. Silver Surfers enabled him to get the help he needed to start using his iPad to take photos. John says, “This scheme is great because you get the one-to-one instruction that is better than any classroom. You can ask any questions you want and get the advice you need on using the technology. The students are really enthusiastic and helpful and we became good friends. After the sessions, I was able to use my iPad to take photos and share them with my grandchildren and great grandchildren. I think this is also good experience for the students - as a former employer and MD of a wholesale distribution business, I think this shows initiative and would be valued by potential employers.”

Luke Simpkin, a fourth year UWE Bristol student aiming for a career as an environmental consultant in waste management or renewable energy, says taking part in the scheme helped him with interview skills and gaining a job placement. He says, “I have volunteered both as a tutor and a project leader and gained organisational leadership skills which are valued by employers but volunteering was also a great experience in other ways. I met some inspiring older members of the community and made some great new friends with common interests. I enjoyed offering my skills to older people so they didn't miss out on the benefits from changing technology. It was a great experience to help an older person set up Skype so she could video call her grandchildren who were living abroad. It was the first time she had been able to chat with and see them at the same time since moving away. It brought her great delight and she said she'd be making regular calls to her family from that point forward. Being able to make a genuine positive change for someone else provides a rewarding feeling.”

Helen Stevens, Volunteering Team Leader at the University, says, “UWE Bristol student volunteers make a real difference in communities across the city supporting people from the young to the old. Volunteering is a fantastic activity for students to get involved in whilst they're at university to develop their skills and experience in real life situations, as well as being fun and rewarding. Student Volunteering Week is a great opportunity for us to celebrate the contributions of UWE Bristol Volunteers and say a big thank you to them all for their hard work, enthusiasm and commitment.”

Volunteering helps students to improve their confidence and develop skills, such as leadership and communication, which are valuable for their professional and personal growth, developing graduates who are ready and able to work and are valued by employers when they leave University. A survey conducted by TimeBank and of 700 of the UK's leading businesses showed that 73% of employers would employ a candidate with volunteer experience over one without.

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