The University of Cumbria Students’ Union (UCSU) was granted £1000 by the NUS Be a Champion Project to run student led community art sessions in Carlisle for 2 hours a week during February and March 2012. Robbie George, a 3rd year sports student and Elected Student Officer based at the Lancaster campus made the bid and was awarded the funding saying “Its amazing that the potential of this project has been recognised enough for the NUS Be a Champion campaign to grant us this huge sum”.
The aim of the project was to provide an opportunity for local residents and students to come together through a shared interest in the arts. The project was based on the Olympic Values of Friendship, Respect and Excellence and supported the development of community relationships, with students sharing their passion and talents with the local people of Cumbria.
Through volunteer road shows and recruitment drives at the various campus’s the Students’ Union engaged students who were inspired by the Olympic Values and felt they could make a difference to others through volunteering.
The group of 14 volunteers who took part were from a diverse range of communities and backgrounds and had different ideas and thoughts to share on how the project could work. The group were encouraged to take ownership of the project from the start, making decisions on how the sessions should run, including equipment and resources needed and exploring how they could showcase the Olympic values in the activities they delivered.
Once a team of volunteers was established the Students’ Union promoted the free, Olympic themed arts sessions to the local community through Community partnership meetings, through getting out and talking to residents in the local area and contacting local charities and third sector organisations. The project attracted a diverse range of participants of different ages and abilities and included a group of adults with learning difficulties from Heathlands, GlenmoreTrust who used the art sessions as part of their OCN qualification in Art.
The project was broken down into 4 main areas of Drawing, Painting, Arts and Craft and Photography and whilst volunteers and participants weren’t expected to attend every session most of those involved enjoyed the project so much after the first few sessions they wanted to attend all the others.
The Union and the volunteers made the most of the University art facilities and equipment and gave local residents a unique opportunity to try new things in an inspiring environment, learning from and enjoying the company of such enthusiastic student volunteers. For most students this was their first time volunteering and the students, although nervous initially, throughout the project began to develop confidence and build their communication skills with individuals putting themselves forward to run a number of activities which made up the 2 hour sessions.
The sessions started with volunteers meeting and greeting the participants and making them feel welcome and comfortable before they engaged in the activities. For the Drawing and painting sessions everyone was asked to bring in an item that to them represented friendship, excellence or respect which promoted conversations, with people sharing their stories with one another and finding common interests. The volunteers then led fun activities to help the participants improve their drawing and gave them encouragement to help them feel confident and have the courage to give things a go.
Having such a wide mix of student talent meant that each session was different to the last. The photography sessions had a presentation on the history of photography and the opportunity to learn how to use SLR cameras and take pictures around campus. The presentations were led by students on a photography course, giving them an opportunity to put their presentation skills learnt on their course into practice. Other volunteers were also able to help by offering positive encouragement to participants, and offering support where needed.
Friendships developed between groups of people who, without taking part in the project may have never had the opportunity to meet and most volunteers and participants would stay after the sessions to join each other and the SU team in the canteen to reflect on their experiences.
The students who have taken part in this project, whilst having a rewarding experience, have also developed employability and transferable skills, such as team work, communication, time management and leadership, all of which will help them in the future. The Students’ Union has supported the volunteers throughout the project, through meeting regularly and frequent communication and we will continue to support the volunteers, by running an employability workshop and keeping them informed of other volunteering and training opportunities.
100% of the participants who filled out evaluation forms on the project said that the things they gained from attending the sessions were having fun, trying something different and positive interaction with the student community. 90% said they learnt new skills and made new friends, with 60% saying that the sessions sparked an interest in other areas, with some participants now volunteering themselves after being inspired by the students.
On 20th June the Olympic Torch will be passing through Carlisle and the volunteers and participants will come together to display their Olympic themed art exhibition in the Carlisle City Council Civic Centre from 15th – 22nd June. They will showcase all the work from the art sessions, including photos, paintings, drawing and cards made in Arts and Crafts sessions.
The Students’ union are very grateful to the NUS Be a Champion project for the grant given to support the Community Art Sessions and following the success of the project we are already getting a number of inquiries to see if a similar project will be running in the future.