Thursday, 19 July 2012

Volunteering with Sharks!

Blog by Kingston University student Chris Elliott.  
“So try to keep away from the sharks...” 
Well duh.
“...because if you corner them they might knock themselves out on the tank while running away.”
Er, what?
“But they aren’t that dangerous. The Southern Rays do have quite a dangerous Neurotoxin though...”
“Mind you they’re pretty relaxed around people. Simon trod on one accidently last week and it didn’t sting him”.
“We’ve got twenty-six Lionfish in the tank too and they’re poisonous, but they just think you’re in there to feed them, so shoo them away with your brush if they get annoying.”
“Watch out for the Puffer Fish too. He’s not aggressive but he does have a strong beak if you get too close. We think he ate the Moray Eels.”
“Any questions?”
So here we are, it’s a Tuesday night at Chessington World of Adventures and students from Kingston University Sub Aqua Sports Club (KUSAC) are ready to help clean the Shark Tank.
Now when people find out that we do this they often ask two very sensible questions;
“They take the sharks out first right?
And when we answer no, it is usually followed by;
“Are you mad?”
Well... probably! I’m a SCUBA diver and a SCUBA instructor and us divers – well we love sharks.

Annual deaths by shark attack: 5-15
Annual deaths by cow attacks: 100+
No Daisy, stop, no no no aaaaagh!!
But that’s the thing isn’t it. When was the last time you saw a show called “When Cows Attack”. Personally, I blame Spielberg.

So here we are looking forward to an hour or so of scrubbing rocks and washing the algae from the inside of the viewing windows. Partly so that we can be privileged enough to get close to these creatures, an experience uncommon for SCUBA divers in these overfished days and partly so we can help ensure that others can as well.

We change into our diving gear at the side of the tank – you must be completely covered for these sessions in case you brush up against a lionfish. On the side, we have first aid and emergency oxygen trained staff in case of problems. Inside the tank we’ll have each other to rely on and a brush to shoo stuff away with. It’s easy to be nervous. I’m pretty sure the US Army shark repellent isn’t a budget toilet brush from Wilkinson.
Cleaning the shark tank at Chessington World of Adventures
Once we’re in, we’ll be walking around the tank, as the tank isn’t very big and the finning makes the sharks nervy. It’s diving the way granddad used to do it. We get a few minutes to take underwater pictures and then it’s time to scrub, siphon and shine. It turns out that it’s pretty much the same as cleaning the fish tank at home - only bigger.

In the meantime we get to watch tropical fish shoal around us, watch Rays glide overhead and shoo away pesky Lionfish. The Horned Shark skulks around trying to get in the way and a Striped Moray Eel pokes its head out of a hole, alive for now and presumably scared that I might be a greedy Pufferfish.

It’s hard work, but someone’s got to be lucky enough to do it.
Kingston University student Matt in the shark tank at Chessington World of Adventures
Shark tank cleaning is open to members of KUSAC who are Sports Diver qualified (or equivalent) and higher.
Since the writing of this article, I can confirm that the Moray Eels are now all gone. May they rest in Pufferfish.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Jam, Jam Jam! Who'd have thought you could volunteer with jam?!

Neelam Shah
Hi everyone, my name’s Neelam and I’m in my second year of a BSc in International Relations with Media and Cultural Studies at Kingston University.

I recently volunteered at the ‘Jam Inn’ event which took place on Saturday 7th July 2012 in Twickenham. It was a community engagement event for the Heritage community project ‘Jam Yesterday Jam Tomorrow’, which is being run by the Environment Trust for Richmond Upon Thames.

The ‘Jam Inn’ event turned the cafĂ© at Heatham House into a vintage tea room which displayed research about market gardening in the local area. During the day I helped to serve tea and coffee, but my favourite part of volunteering was interacting with the public and talking to them about the heritage lottery funded project which explores the importance of Hampton market garden industry and the forgotten heritage of Twickenham. The purpose of the project is for the general public to learn about how to preserve and restore the lost plant heritage to sites throughout the area through archive research, oral histories and hands on activities. I really enjoyed volunteering because I felt like I contributed to the aim of the project.  

The day itself was fairly busy - I started off by handing out fliers to people passing by and encouraging them to go in and have tea, coffee and cake. Not many people came in at first because the weather was so lovely outside, but later on it got much busier and people starting sharing their market gardening stories. The children at the event loved it when they were taught how to make their own jam! The day was really fun and I look forward to volunteering again soon!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Collage Art Workshop with Kingston Young Carers – A Student-Led Volunteering Project

I’m Leo and I’m a final year Kingston University student. As a student of art and music, I wanted to apply my passion for the arts to volunteering. Over the past two years, I’ve volunteered my time and skills and organised several workshops for the Kingston Young Carers in Songwriting, Street Art, Drawing Cartoons, and most recently, Collage Art.
Leo and Kingston Young Carers showing off their collage art!
At the beginning of a workshop, I usually like to prepare a short introduction, which presents the children with examples, as well as select good music to play in the background (in this case Beach Boys, Pete Rugolo and a Honky Tonk Piano compilation). This gets their creative juices flowing and gets them more excited about wanting to make art. Throughout the workshop I ask each of them what they are creating and why, which helps them to engage more with their imagination and creativity.

For the collage art workshop, I had to buy art materials for the kids to use. KUSU Volunteering gave me a budget to buy these supplies with, which included books, scissors, glue and paper. Oxfam Bookshops in Surbiton and Kingston generously donated some of their books to the session. I made sure that I set up the room and supplies ahead of time so that it was all prepared when everyone arrived.

If you don’t find listed volunteering projects that are of interest to you, the kind staff at KUSU Volunteering (Volunteer Co-ordinators Jemma Houghton and Alex Britton) can provide everything you need to realise your own student-led volunteering project with full support! This way, like me, you can adjust volunteering to your skills and interests to effectively give back to the community. 

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