Welcome to UCSU Volunteering’s blog

This is the official University of Cumbria Students Union – UCSU -Volunteering blog where you’ll find regular reports, photos and maybe even video (eventually!) from all the projects you’re involved in.

If you want to know more about how to give some of your valuable time to a range of great projects join the UCSU volunteering facebook group for regular mailings and updates on what we’re doing, where and when we’re doing it and who we’re doing it with.


or email Kati Brown at kati.brown@cumbria.ac.uk or Emma Egglestone at emma.egglestone@cumbria.ac.uk

Your community needs you!


Volunteering at an orphanage in Kenya :: Joe Taylor ::

For my experiential placement, I chose to contact Rianna’s Fund; a charity very close to me who have set up orphanages and schools across Kenya, Uganda and India. The charity was set up in memory of a girl being hit by a falling tree in my school when I was younger. I got the chance to visit Kenya and stayed in the remote village of Yala where the charity has an orphanage. This was the first orphanage set up by them and has expanded to accommodating up to 42 children at a time. It also has an on-site primary school which allows the children of the orphanage and the local area to get a good education which is so key to securing a good future. During my time there I got the chance to spend a lot of time in the on-site school in which I both saw and participated in the teaching that went on. The school had the bare essentials to work with, however what they had they used effectively. I also spent time out of school with the children of the orphanage visiting waterfalls, going to the local markets, playing basketball and talking a lot about football. I was able to get some funding for my trip from the Eleanor Peel Fund, without which it would have been much harder to organise

How I feel I benefitted from my experience:

Going to Kenya marked the first time I had ever ventured into Africa or the Southern Hemisphere. This has allowed me to return with a much richer experience of how others across the world live and the cultural differences we have. I have greatly benefitted from my time in Kenya through learning to appreciate what I have. The few belongings everyone had there were basic but enough to keep them entertained and they took so much joy and pride in what they had. Despite being the only white person I saw for three weeks, every single person I met greeted me with a warm smile and offered a handshake. They had an interest in who I was and always chatted to me for a while. Their attitude towards family and friendship was something I’ve never seen before. They always looked out for each other and I loved spending time with everyone that I met.

How they benefitted:

Whilst spending time in the school I was able to give different approaches to teaching that I had picked up from previous placements and time in school. I was also able to independently take on some classes to free up the teachers to complete other work that they needed to do. Outside of school time there were many opportunities to help around the site and I took with me some games, paper, pens and other things for the children to do. If the children were bored they would often come to my room and play games, draw or just come and chat about life in another country. Taking out my phone with its camera was also great, they loved taking photos and videos of each other and showing them to everyone they came across. Whilst I was out there, they also got a chance to do things that they don’t usually do. My hosts particularly were incredibly generous to me whilst I was out there and it was obvious that this was their attitude to everyone. Running an orphanage is not easy but they were always so calm and so on top of everything so simply taking them out for dinner gave them a break from the norm and a bit of a treat. The older children also took me to many different places and took me out more when they would usually have stayed in the grounds of the orphanage.

Differences I saw (culture and adaptations):

One of the differences I saw whilst living in Kenya was the food. I tried a lot of new things and ate a lot of rice and ugali (bready food made with maize flour) but I particularly loved the actual eating experiences. Despite having very little, the family always provided a lot of food for each meal so that if anyone dropped by they could provide them with a meal as well. They also always enjoyed food together, having long discussions together about the day, the children or whatever was happening in the news. Another, less positive, difference was the acceptance of corruption in society. From the top people in government to the policemen linings the streets, corruption and bribery was everywhere. Finally, the difference in time keeping and relaxation was prevalent. They had a very laid back attitude at all times and school lessons would often start later and go on for a bit longer afterwards. This was great to have such a relaxed atmosphere, both in school and out of school, but meant that planning and organising other activities was slightly trickier!

What I learnt:

I learnt many things whilst in Kenya. One of the biggest things was to appreciate what I have. Whatever they had out there, they were so proud of and they took so much care over. Everyone had to collaborate to clean, tidy and make everything look good and when it did they were so proud. I also learnt that, even now, there are still so many areas of the world that don’t have running water, electricity or easy access to medication. It didn’t really hit me until I was out there and, though this village had all of these, the water and electricity would often cut off, sometimes for days at a time. This was a lucky area because the news showed that there are still areas across Kenya which don’t have any of these at all.

What I enjoyed/challenges:

One of the best things about being there was the constant friendship and positivity that everybody greeted each other with. Whenever they greeted, it was with a warm smile, a handshake and usually an encouraging word or story about their day. It was brilliant! They were always willing to share whatever they had and they were so proud of everything they had, keeping everything clean and making sure everything was in working order. There were, however, many challenges as well. The language barrier was often tough and when I was out with people I would often have people come to me asking for money. Because of this it was hard to go out on my own, meaning I had to rely on others around me a lot and had very little independence. Whilst this was often tough, whoever I was with was always very helpful and I would learn so much from them.


Eco Warriors Schools Project:

I am a third year Primary Education student at the Lancaster campus. I joined the Eco Warriors Schools Project whilst I was in my second year. I was interested in the project due to the opportunity of gaining further experiences working with children and the hands-on aspect of doing creative and active eco-based activities. The project primarily works with Bowerham Primary School which makes it easily accessible for student volunteers to help out. This year, I and three other volunteers had the opportunity to take over as Project Leaders. This meant that we were more involved in the running of the project. For example, we had our own stall at Fresher’s Fair and recruited our own volunteers. We also met up with teachers at the school, ran the initial sessions with volunteers and followed up with meetings to plan the activities. We were also part of doing the boring stuff, such as risk assessments and gathering DBS checks. Working with the project has been an all-round great experience in which there are definitely a range of skills that I can bring forward to future job applications.

Eco Christmas Picture (2)

To give an idea of some of the things we do, examples of our activities in schools include:

Sewing a blanket using old t-shirts

Making eco-friendly Christmas crafts  – painting acorn-baubles and making Christmas bookmarks using paper made out of elephant poo!

Making our own snake draught excluders

Making elephants using milk bottles

Outdoor treasure hunt and treasure trail

Making bug houses

We have also created our own Facebook page, which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/EcoWarriorUCSU and email account (ecowarriorleaders@gmail.com) for students to contact. Further information about the project can also be found on our online platform that we have set up. The link for this is http://www.ucsu.me/volunteering-opportunities/eco-warrior-schools-project.

The project is a fantastic opportunity for any students looking to find experiences with children or supporting sustainability – you never know, you might also get to be a Project Leader! I wish the project all the best in the future and hope future volunteers will have as much fun as I have.

Ann x

Being a Welcome Helper – Jazmin Hackett

I volunteered to be a welcome helper during the Fresher’s week of my second year and it was an amazing experience.


I first met my team at the training event at university before the first event and we got to know each other through playing games and doing ice breakers. We stayed together as a team throughout the week, became really good friends, and have stayed in contact ever since.

I think the opportunity to be a welcome helper is one that should not be passed up. I feel that it has allowed me to improve important skills such as working in a team and leadership skills. My confidence has grown enormously and I’m now much more comfortable in social situations. Being a welcome helper is a very social experience and I have made so many new friends and have built relationships with people I wouldn’t have met or wouldn’t have spoken to before.

One of the challenges I experienced as a welcome helper is that as a student nurse, I was on placement during fresher’s week and therefore couldn’t stay out with my group and on some days I was only able to attend for a couple of hours. However, both my team and the Students Union were really supportive and enabled me to join in as much as I possibly could.

In my opinion, being a welcome helper was an invaluable experience and I am defiantly going to apply to become a Team Leader this September.

Eleanor Peel Funding

The Student’s Union at the university offer lots of different volunteering opportunities to help students gain and develop skills that are beneficial to them. The Eleanor peel funding offered by the university allows students to volunteer overseas to gain new experiences. We have been very lucky to receive some of this funding to help us towards our trip that will be happening this summer.


The organisation we are volunteering with is Plan my Gap Year’s childcare project in Bali. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a different culture, develop skills and gain new experiences. This is going to be very helpful towards our future career primary teaching giving us a perspective on how children are taught outside of the United Kingdom. Whilst volunteering we have the chance to making learning a fun and enjoyable experience for the Balinese children. This is a hugely rewarding and enjoyable experience that we cannot wait to do. Some of the skills we are hoping to gain and develop are: leadership, creativity, confidence and planning and organising.

As well as the Eleanor Peel funding we are hoping to raise money for the trip through other fundraisers such as: cake sales, car wash, car boot sale and a pub quiz night.

Megan, Beth, Amy and Olivia

Fundraising for Tanzania Nursing Trip – By Lauren Bruntnell

We are three students from the university of Cumbria. We are studying Adult nursing and have nearly finished our second year of nursing. All nursing students are given the chance to experience something different to the placements we are given at university in a two week period called the enrichment period. This can include placements in different trusts and in different specialities. For our enrichment we decided to go to a hospital in the Tanzanian town of Arusha where we would be supporting the staff care for patients there in the emergency and gynaecology departments. We also understood that Tanzania is home to a number of orphanages which is why we made it part of our trip to visit one. We decided to do what we could to also help the hospital and the orphanage by collecting some basic supplies we could take for them.

For this voluntary trip we started fundraising. Fundraising while being a student nurse isn’t easy. We almost always had at least one assignment due and/ or full time placement hours but here is what we achieved in between.

the-village-shop-prize  rarity-hair-and-beauty-vouchers
Our first fundraising idea was to have a raffle. We started to contact local businesses in and around Cumbria to see if they would be willing to donate a prize towards our raffle. From this we received vouchers from Rarity Hair and Beauty, a Cath Kidson tea set from Ashbridge and Brown, a hamper from The Village Shop, a selection of goodies from ye olde chocolate shop in Keswick and also a range of gifts donated by individuals themselves! We used social media to advertise our raffle and thank all that supported us. The raffle was drawn at Christmas and we hope everyone enjoyed their prizes.

Our second fundraising effort took place in the Calva bar at the university of Cumbria who generously offered to let us have the venue for a night free of charge to host a quiz night followed by karaoke! The event was a success and great fun for everyone involved. Prizes were awarded to the winning quiz team and the team we believed to have the best team name. The following Karaoke lasted until the closing of the Calva bar. To raise funds from this event we introduced a small fee for entry. A name the bear competition also took place and plenty of cakes were sold to help towards our cause.

During our fundraising we also thought of how we could help the local community even with a voluntary work placement 7000 miles away. I contacted my old primary school to see if they would like to get involved. They were more than happy to help us out and let us talk to the children of the school council to see if they liked the idea. On meeting the children in the school council we talked to them about Tanzania and what it is like to live there. They were full of curiosity for the different country and did not hesitate at all to offer us help when we explained why we wanted to go over to the country to help the people over there. They took it upon themselves to raise us some money at a Valentines Day disco. We have promised the children that we will keep them updated throughout the trip, sending them pictures of there mascot for the trip, Paddington Bear (Who they all helped name), on the adventure. The school are offering us a little school uniform for Paddington to wear and he will be given to the Orphanage in Tanzania from the generous children at Brook Street.

We are hoping and visit them on our return to tell them all about how their fundraising helped those in Tanzania and share all of the experiences we will have had. We are hoping they have been able to learn from our trip and now have more of an understanding of Tanzanian culture and life and a sense of pride for helping us.

Lastly we decided to stay on the theme of trying to help the local community with our foreign project. We contacted the head of fundraising at the Eden Valley Hospice in Carlisle.  We had an idea to organise a fancy dress fun run that would raise money for the Hospice as well as our volunteering in a 50-50 split. The hospice where very supportive of this idea and did their best to help us make this idea a reality. Helping us with risk assessments, volunteers and the ins and outs of organising this kind of event. The race was organised and ready to go ahead but unfortunately this event had to be cancelled because of the lack of participants. Although this fundraiser did not take place  I have added it here because with a bit more forward planning and a little more time to promote the run I believe it would have been a success. We would still like to help fundraise with The Eden Valley Hospice in the future as they do amazing work and offered us so much help throughout the organising of the event.

On top of these Fundraisers we were also very generously awarded funds from the Eleanor Peel fund for which we are very grateful. They help many people raise the funds to do amazing voluntary work and we would like to thank them.

We start our Journey to Tanzania on Saturday the 25th of February. We thank everyone who supported us and helped us make this a reality and look forward to sharing our experiences upon our arrival home.


Planting Trees in the community … By Ruth Thomas

As University Students we can often be seen as the enemy in local communities; taking up much needed housing, partying late into the night, causing noise and disruption everywhere we go, and so it goes on and on …

It feels good therefore, to be able to give something back to the areas that we spend three or four years of our lives living in; areas that may not be close to our ‘real’ houses but nonetheless somewhere that we call home.


For a group of seven Cumbria Uni students including myself, today was exactly that; a chance to do something positive, to give a little back to the County of Cumbria which had welcomed us with open arms.


We all met up in Portinscale, a quaint village just outside the north Lake District tourist hotspot of Keswick, to link in with staff from the Environment Agency, a group of youngsters completing their John Moore Environment award and a Border Collie puppy called Badger, to help in the battle against natural erosion of a nearby riverbank along the River Derwent.


The Derwent, feeds from Bassenthwaite Lake into Derwentwater at the edge of Keswick town centre, having been joined by the River Greta just prior to the lake head; the two rivers having on more than one occasion wreaked their own havoc on the local area, most notably recently during the Storm Desmond floods of 2015.


The plan was simple; to plant dozens and dozens of tree saplings on the inner bend of a meander in the river to compliment the already established trees on the outer side of the bend.

As well as, in a few years time, providing an attractive backdrop for residents and visitors to the area alike, once the root system has established itself, it will provide extra strength and support for the soil structure and provide a natural barrier to prevent further local erosion.


Of course, Mother Nature wasn’t going to let us off lightly, and chose today of all days to remind us she is in overall charge by sending Storm Doris to visit. Luckily this corner of England’s green and pleasant lands got off lightly compared to other parts of the country.


As a zoology student I am happy to help conserve the environment and that’s why I volunteered today. It began with wrapping up warm as Storm Doris was due to arrive. Yes it was cold. Very cold. And yes it was wet, raining and windy, very windy. But none of that was going to stop our intrepid team from achieving our goal; not only planting every tree that the Environment Agency team brought with them, but by finishing ahead of our planned time.


The day was brightened no end by the presence of Badger, the 5 month old sheepdog puppy who kindly helped with the digging and rubbish collecting. Everyone kept their spirits up, a great time and at the end of the day, even the clouds lifted to give us a beautiful view of the snow capped mountains around us.

I asked several of the other Cumbria Uni students who came along to give their thoughts on the day.


Sophie Babbs said “I had an amazing day volunteering to plant the trees today, even though it was raining most of the day. It’s a fantastic feeling you get at the end of the day, when you have completed the task at hand, knowing you have manage to help the environment out in multiple ways. I would recommend this experience to everyone to try. It’s well worth it.”


Jemima Rae said “Thank you! I think it was a really good experience to make friends and help the environment! It was really good fun despite the rain and wind, would definitely do it again!!”


Hannah Dover added “I really loved tree planting, it was good fun and, although it was rainy and windy, we got to spend all day outside with friends, doing something that will benefit the wildlife for years to come”


And Kahina Beggache commented “For me this was something completely new and I enjoyed every moment of it. It was very hands on and once you get into it, was pretty straightforward. Helping the children to plant the trees was also very rewarding.”

Volunteering with Sense:Rebekah Russell

I wanted to do something different with my summer. Something positive that would further myself and my career prospects. When I found out about Sense holidays and short breaks I applied straight away; what could be more rewarding than giving a child with complex needs an exciting holiday?


Volunteering with deafblind children would be new to me. I thought it could be a perfect opportunity for me to gain new skills and experiences to benefit my future career as I work towards becoming a paediatric Occupational Therapist, demonstrating how even outside of my course I am striving to develop myself as a healthcare professional – perfect for my Continuing Professional Development portfolio!

As a group of 4 children, 5 volunteers and 1 experienced holiday leader we spent a week exploring the local attractions of Wiltshire, from Legoland to strawberry picking, and enjoying swimming in the pool at our cottage. During the holiday, I developed my Makaton and communication skills, became confident in supporting each child as an individual, learning how to manage their environment to keep them happy, and how to calm them when they felt overwhelmed. Most importantly I encouraged the holidaymaker I was paired with over the week to engage in the world around her and watch her joy as she did.


I couldn’t have hoped to work with a more amazing bunch of volunteers; we were such a strong and positive team from the moment we arrived. Cheesy as it sounds, it was like a family. I have so many fond memories of my Sense holiday; as you’d expect, it had its challenges at times, but they were certainly outweighed by the smiles and laughs. Will I be back next year? 100% yes.


Rebekah Russell, Student Occupational Therapist and Sense Volunteer


Sense organise holidays and short breaks throughout the year and all around the UK for people of all ages with multi-sensory impairments and complex needs. You can find out more information about the work we do and how you can get involved by visiting


Sense Holidays on the UCSU Volunteering Platform