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Durham University

University and City: Growing together

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Our volunteers, making a difference where you live

(25 June 2020)

Our Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge explores the positive impact of staff and student volunteering for local communities and charities.

Amathul spends much of her spare time helping young offenders: mentoring them and giving them a positive role model. She’s also a volunteer adviser with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, helping tenants get fair treatment from their landlords.

Jennifer seemingly never stops raising money for good causes. If she’s not packing hampers for families, she’s wearing pyjamas to work – shaking a charity bucket as she goes.

Alex helps sixth form students with their Maths. El supports children from refugee families. Colin marshalled a team that produced over 1,000 face masks for NHS workers. Mahek runs an NGO which has helped nearly 80,000 Indian children gain computer skills.

What do all these inspiring people have in common?

Volunteers to make us all proud

They are all members of Durham University, either staff or students, and they were all winners at the Durham University Volunteering Awards 2020.

This year’s ceremony had to be held via Zoom due to Covid-19, but this challenge only served to emphasise the inspiring nature of what has been achieved.

At Durham University we pride ourselves on the positive contribution we make to local communities: economically, culturally, through our world-changing research and, in the case of volunteering: directly to our society. We undertake just about the most volunteering per head (staff or student) of any university in the country. And, as we grow the University, we have a goal to increase our staff and student volunteering to 100,000 hours per year by 2027.

Over 2,000 of our students are active volunteers and together they give over 40,000 hours of their time to good causes. We support over 80 projects here in the North East, covering social inclusion and complex needs, education, the environment and sport and physical activity. 

Last year over 2,500 people benefitted directly from these outreach programmes, including people who are young, elderly, homeless or have learning or physical disabilities. And last month we were extremely proud to receive The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest award given for community volunteering in the UK.

On the staff side of the University, we support colleagues to volunteer for up to five days per year during work-time, with full pay. This can be with one of our many community partners or with a cause close to their own heart and can be done individually or as a group. I have heard of many teams that have grown closer by spending a day cleaning up a public space together, sorting donations to a foodbank or setting up a children’s Christmas party.

Volunteering through Covid-19

Of course, Covid-19 has affected volunteering greatly, as with so many other areas of everyday life. But I am very proud of how our staff and students have responded to the crisis in support of others.

University staff and students helped to found the Durham City Mutual Aid Facebook group that has been a help to so many; many of our students are tutoring young people online while their school is closed; and our sports clubs have raised large sums for NHS charities by various feats of socially distanced athleticism.

Meanwhile, our bioscientists are helping with Covid-19 testing; our business experts are advising local firms as they navigate their way through the current challenges; and through the Scientist Next Door project our scientists are doing video calls with young people, nurturing their interest in STEM subjects.

Very little of this could happen, of course, without our fantastic community partners who host our volunteers. Maybe you are involved with a charity that is not yet partnering with us. We would love to hear from you. Perhaps next year, when hopefully we will all be back together again, it could be your volunteers picking up an award.

Stay safe and stay in touch.

First published in the Durham Advertiser