With a lack of volunteers, student-led projects at the University of Manchester helping adults with learning disabilities have an uncertain future. Kizzy Bray talks to three volunteers about what potential volunteers need to know and how to get involved
Something rewarding and worthwhile to get involved in whilst at university is charity work. Lots of people do it, it looks good on your CV, and you could really be making a difference by simply giving up a bit of free time a week to helping others.
You could work at a soup kitchen, with refugees on their CV writing skills, or spend some nights with the Greater Manchester Nightline taking the calls of people in need. Whatever you decide to dedicate yourself to will not go unnoticed and unappreciated by those you are helping.
Student Action are the volunteering society at the University of Manchester. All their projects are student-led and run weekly, covering a wide variety of events that support people in the local community.
Molly, Serena and Phil are three of these wonderful students who take the time out of their day to organise, run and volunteer projects of which they are mostly keeping alive due to unfortunate understaffing from a lack of volunteers.
Molly is The Ladybarn Project’s team leader, Serena was the team leader last year and this year is one of very few volunteers who help out on a Tuesday of every week for The Ladybarn Project. The Ladybarn Project provides a fun and social place for adults with learning disabilities to take part in scheduled activities, as well as being provided with transport from their homes to the SU (where the project takes place) and back again.
There are lots of fun things to get involved with when it comes to the Ladybarn Project such as meals out, crazy golf and bowling as well as the end of year trip to the zoo, which is where Molly started her Ladybarn Project career.
Molly explained, “I first got involved when I volunteered with the Ladybarn Project at their end of year trip to the zoo. I’d previously worked at a two-week residency at a school for children with learning disabilities and knew I really wanted to get involved when I got to university.
“It’s hard to find out about volunteering things at the university, but once I found The Ladybarn Project online I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” Molly applied for the role of team leader and was successful in her application for this academic year, just as you could be if you were interested in the role.
“I had worked in a home for people with learning disabilities before”, Serena adds. “I ended up volunteering in my first year and then being a team leader in my second.”
You don’t need to have experience prior to applying, either. “All new volunteers get training and taught in matters of safeguarding” Serena assures me. “Before you come to the club you will be given a small profile of all the members so that you know what to do and what not to do with that particular person.
“It even has conversation starter ideas about their likes and dislikes in case you don’t know what to talk to the members of the club about! What I think people need to remember is that people with learning disabilities are still people. You shouldn’t feel afraid or cautious to get involved. It’s really not something to overthink.”
Unfortunately, The Ladybarn Project, which has been running for seven years, has an uncertain future. Due to a lack of interest from students in volunteering, there are vacancies for team leaders in the week that haven’t been filled which means certain days may not be able to go ahead as usual, which could be potentially devastating for club members.
“It’s their event of the week” Phil, who runs the ‘People With People’ Monday project, explains. “They really look forward to it and many of them have been apart of it for years and years.”
“Us three will all be leaving the university and Manchester soon,” Serena tells me, “we need more people to take part otherwise the projects will suffer and so will the people” Molly adds. “It’s very, very important to them. It’s such a big part of their lives.”
When it comes to applying to be a volunteer, it’s very easy. “You just have to fill out a DBS check form that you can collect at the student activities in the SU. It’s really quick and easy to fill out, then it just gets sent off which may take a few weeks to process. After it comes back fine you’ll be ready to volunteer with us!” said Serena.
“You’ll never be alone” Phil assures. “We are always there for volunteers and you’ll get to know people straight away and understand the process easily. There’s no wrong thing really. It’s all common sense and part of the experience is learning the little things in what to do.”
Both The Ladybarn Project and People With People are a vital few hours to the adults who attend the clubs. Two hours a week spent volunteering on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday seems minuscule for a cause that really enriches the lives of those who need it the most.
Being a project leader means that you will have to give a bit more time to the project as organisation, as well as funding management, comes into play, but Molly assures me this is only an extra 3-4 hours on top of the actual club, plus you can go straight into being a team leader without experience.
The People With People project are still looking for a team leader on a Wednesday evening as well as like the other days being in desperate need of volunteers. “We’re looking for people who really want to commit to each week,” says Serena, “the members get used to a familiar face and it does affect them if someone only comes for a few weeks or is irregular. We need someone who is reliable and friendly.”
If you can’t make the weekly commitment needed, you could still contact the project volunteers to volunteer for their day outings as these events typically need more volunteers than usual.
If this sounds like you, or you would like to get involved in either The Ladybarn Project or People With People, which I would encourage anyone to do so to keep this wonderful piece of goodness going at the university, you can contact the team through their email: firstname.lastname@example.org, find the projects online at www.find-volunteering.manchester.ac.uk or simply enquire at Student Activities on the first floor of the SU.
Without you, the members of the projects may face uncertainty in whether or not their favourite weekly events will continue.