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!

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


Volunteering with Girl Guiding UK by Elizabeth Nutbrown

I have been part of Girl Guiding since the age of 7 (a Brownie). When I was 18 I completed my Adult Leadership qualification which allowed me to run my own Rainbow (5-7), Brownie (7-10) or Guide (10-14) groups. Currently, I run a Rainbow group in Lancaster alongside some other students!

Each week is different, from craft activities to abseiling to camps! I love volunteering with Girl Guiding because you can see how much the girls are gaining out of the activities that you have organised and are partaking in with them. It allows for life long skills to be gained in a safe, girl only environment. I also feel that I have gained a lot out of volunteering. I have made many friends, gained leadership skills, first aid qualifications etc.

Recently, I have been accepted to go to Switzerland for summer 2017 volunteering at ‘Our Chalet’ with Girl Guiding in the heart of the Swiss Alps. The chalet is one of four Girl Guiding’s World Centres, the others are in Mexico, India and London. They were set up to allow guides to meet other guides from all around the world. All Guides and Brownies can visit the centres to complete a range of activities (hiking, town trips, canoeing etc) alongside different groups from different countries. My position will allow me to lead groups of up to 50 children on these activities and to ensure their stay is fantastic!

However, I was concerned as to how I would fund this experience. Although my board is provided by Girl Guiding I still have to fund extra activities and travel. I applied through the SU for support from the Eleanor Peel Trust (https://www.ucsu.me/volunteerfunding). I was lucky enough to receive £300 towards my trip which will be really helpful! If you are thinking of volunteering abroad, I would really recommend looking into this.

Also, if you are interested in volunteering with Girl Guiding yourself in any area then their website has a lot of information and details of who to contact- https://www.girlguiding.org.uk/get-involved/.

VESA (volunteer eco students abroad) South East Asia – Kristen Pearson

During the Summer 2016 I was lucky enough to travel to Laos for two weeks with VESA (volunteer eco students abroad). This particular project was based around a remote elephant sanctuary and the surrounding community. It meant that I was able to spend time getting to know the people who live there and spend time working alongside and looking after their gentle giants!

Once I had booked my place, I had a lot of preparation ahead of me. I researched where I was going and made a list of essentials e.g. vaccinations, equipment, flights and appropriate clothing. It felt like a big hurdle going to the airport alone as I did not know anybody else on the trip and my first step that day was to find others on my trip and introduce myself.

After what felt like days of travelling we arrived in Vientiane and it was so hot I felt like I couldn’t breathe. We were met by the VESA staff members here and taken to a nearby hostel where we would spend our first night. The next day we travelled by mini bus for 8 hours to the middle of the jungle with our final destination being Sayaboury Elephant Conservation Centre. During our week here we had four main activities.

  1. Conservation of the local school. There were a number of different projects here and those that I was involved in was ensuring the ground was ready for cementing in the new classrooms built by previous volunteers and knocking down ceilings ready for the renovation of old classrooms, along with bits of painting, inside and out.




  1. One of the VESA group leaders was a qualified teacher back home in Canada and therefore took on the role of teacher at a local school during their summer time. She was assisted by a native speaking teacher whom translated when needed. Our roles took that of a teaching assistant by which we sat with the children and helped them with their work, gave explanations and became members of their teams in class games.


  1. Meeting elephants. We were introduced to all of the elephants and their Mahouts on the conservation. We watched the elephants in their natural environments from afar, observed their bath time, hand fed them, watched how those who work there look after their health with regular checks at the elephant hospital and even go to hug them.
  1. Conservation of camp. Each group completed different stages of construction, our group were involved with the last steps in preparing the ground work for a water tank. This included transporting bricks from the road to the construction area, sawing wood panels, laying bricks and cementing.


During the second week, we travelled to Luang Prabang where we visited temples, traditional rice plantations, exotic waterfalls and local markets. We took a scenic bike ride through the countryside and Kayaked down the Mekong river. We then travelled to Vang Vieng, our final destination. Whilst here we climbed to Pou Kham Cave where we went zip lining amongst the trees and went swimming in the blue lagoon. We also visited two of the caves, however due to the weather we did not stay long or compete the tubing.

How you feel you benefited from your experience

As I began this journey without knowing anyone, I was extremely nervous introducing myself and meeting so many new people. However, as I was not the only one travelling either alone or in a couple, everyone was extremely friendly and we had organised to meet up at the airport before our initial flight through our Facebook group. This experience has helped me with my confidence tremendously as well as helping me gain friends for life.

How the people you worked with benefited

During our time on the elephant conservation camp we worked closely with the locals and those who work on the camp. Our presence their helps keep the elephant sanctuary going by providing safer working environments and continuous renovations. Not only are we helping with the re-building of the camp and local school, we learnt a great deal about the struggles and discrimination Asian elephants face. We all left Laos knowing how important it is to educate others about all of the harmful things elephants are exposed to e.g. being used as modes of transport, logging activities, or a tourism attraction (elephant rides, zoos circuses). The Elephant Conservation Centre currently have saved and prevented this happening to many elephants however they currently have two elephants in danger of being bought and taken back into a life time of suffering as their mahouts, after 30 years of caring for the mother and child, can do so no longer and in order to keep the elephants the centre must raise $60,000. Our time here spent with the mahouts and carers for the animals in this centre means that we now have the opportunity to help spread the word, educate others and share their plea for help. I have included a link below for more information.


The difference in cultures and how you adapted to your new environment

The major difference in cultures is that Laos predominant religion is Buddhism. This did not affect us to a great deal apart from how we dressed. When visiting temples, we were asked to cover our shoulders and knees as a sign of respect as well as when working with the mahouts and during teaching times.

What you enjoyed and any challenges you faced

I thoroughly enjoyed all of time spent in Laos. I enjoyed making friends, meeting the locals, spending time with elephants, assisting with teaching, visiting local temples, going to the night markets, relaxing at pool parties and even the longs journeys spent with new friends singing along to George Ezra!!
The main challenge I faced was adapting to a different way of life in the jungle. It was extremely hot with tropical storms hindering our work some days. Our work days started with breakfast at 7am, returning to camp between 4 and 5. The work we were undertaking was extremely physically and sometimes emotionally demanding.

I would like to take this time to thank the Eleanor Peel Funding for contributing a great deal towards this life enhancing experience. By this time next year I will hopefully be in my first job as a Primary Teacher and I have now been fortunate enough to work alongside children in three continents – Africa, (World Challenge Trip), Europe and Asia and these experiences have boosted my confidence to engage children in a wide variety of learning opportunities, wherever I meet them.

Kristen Pearson.