Friday, 20 December 2013

Saying yes is the beginning

Hello guys!

My name is Pramila Limbu and I am currently studying International business.  As part of my student-led project I coordinated the Garden makeover for Age Concern on 4th of November 2013.

Why I said yes?

I always had a passion of helping others and improving the community. Even though my degree is international business which is not directly related to what this project is about. Volunteering has always been a hobby of mine since I was in school. In school there were various fund raisers I was involved in. I remember particularly when I was in the choir. We raised money for St. Helena hospice by doing a mini concert for the local community. I also volunteered for sense charity shop on Saturdays for 4 years. When I was in college I volunteered for conservation for areas like Abberton reserve, Fringringhoe and Bradwell on sea.
There was also another reason that I had never led a project so, this was an opportunity for me to experience the excitement and hard work that goes into leading a volunteering project.

Project day!

On the day I was nervous but I didn't have to be as Sarah (volunteering coordinator) was also with me which was good.  I was most afraid about the turnout of people but I had more than enough people to volunteer for the project. So, I was very happy. The weather was great and sunny which was a plus. After that we got on with it and finished the job. Below are pictures of the event as pictures speak a thousand words!

Volunteers on the day: Adeeba, Ayan, Fadame, Nazya, Sarah (KUSU Projects Volunteer Coordinator), Selvia, and Sofie.


This experience made me very proud of myself as I know that I made a change in the age concern garden. I am now inspired to start a project myself if I want to and not just volunteer when there is a project. If you have an idea make it happen and don't wait for others to come up with the Idea and regret it later. So, this experience was very eye opening for me. There were lots of documents to fill in, various meetings to discuss at and visiting the site several times. But, it was all worth it at the end. The feels you get is amazing and gives you a different kind of buzz. Lastly this would have been possible without the lovely volunteers. Thank you very much once again!

If you are interested in setting up and running your own volunteering project, then contact KUSU Volunteering at

Volunteering at Kingston Hospital

Hi my name is Karis and I am graduating in Biomedical Science. 

As I am hoping to study medicine the following year I thought it would be a good idea to experience the real life environment of a hospital and have the chance to help people at the same time. This was when I found the opportunity to volunteer in  A&E  and the wards in Kingston Hospital via the Kingston University Student Union volunteering website. 

I attend the hospital once a month at the moment and help out on an afternoon with tea making, offering food and generally being someone there for the patients to talk to. If the ward is quiet then from time to time I also help patients fill out a patient response form so they can give their opinion on the service they have received, which is vital for making improvements. 

Whilst helping out I have also had the chance to talk to many consultants, nurses and junior doctors who have shared their experiences with me and gave me advice for the future. This is a useful volunteering opportunity for someone who wants to have a career in the medical profession and as you can chose when and how often to attend the hospital you can work it around your needs. The hospital can provide you with a parking permit or pay for your travel expenses from the train. 

If you have a few spare hours or an afternoon I would definitely give it a go! 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Movember half way point

It has been an awkward couple of weeks since my clean cut introduction to Movember. At this moment in time I am sporting a fairly ridiculous mustache that has drawn it's fair share of ridicule from friends and family. It's still all for a good cause though which has certainly helped me to push on despite being out and about meeting lots of different members of organisations that we are trying to find great volunteering opportunities with.

For a while I was sporting a fairly classic handlebar 'Mo' but in the interest of variety I decided to lose the handlebars this past weekend. There are plenty of other people walking around proudly displaying their facial hair and I have to say it does feel good to be a part of something with so many others. My 'Mo bros' and I are hopefully putting men's health into focus throughout November and it does give you a warm feeling to be doing something good while having a laugh doing it.

With the days in November rapidly disappearing I have to admit I am looking forward to going back to my usual look. It's a very strange feeling to have a warm lip while the rest of you face feels the full force of the November wind.

Remember, if you would like to help out then check out my webpage or come and drop some loose change into my Movember money box in the volunteering office.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Steve's Movember Journey

Movember has become an annual tradition for many. This however, is my first year taking part in the annual craze that raises awareness for Men’s health through the medium of facial hair. As such I thought I would give you the opportunity to go through the journey with me by putting some updates on to the blog along with a few photos.

Last night (Oct 31st) I clean shaved for the first time in years and closed my eyes and hoped I wouldn't wake up looking like I was 14 again. Alas it didn't work and I’m left lamenting my stubbly look.

It is all for a good cause though!! I've teamed up with my friend Chris to support the Royal Marsden, fighting cancer and changing the lives of so many people, including Chris’ father in-law Tony. I will be sure to update you on the progress of my ‘mo’. In the meantime you can find a little more info in the link below. If you want to help me support The Royal Marsden you can also donate through the page or come and see me and the 'mo' in person at the volunteering office in the Town House on Penrhyn road.

If anyone else out there is taking on Movember I’d love to hear about it.   

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Hello from Steve!

Hi, my name is Steve and I'm very excited to be your new Community Placements Volunteer Co-ordinator. I will be taking over from Abbie and working alongside Sarah Dutton who is the Student and Staff-led Projects Volunteer Co-ordinator. I’m just getting settled in to my new role at the moment but can’t wait to start helping you to volunteer on some exciting and worthwhile projects out in the community.

I love volunteering and come from a background of recruiting and co-ordinating volunteers having most recently co-ordinated volunteer mentors at National Citizenship Service provider, The Challenge Network. Volunteering has been a huge part of my life and has opened so many doors for me, including an international placement and the chance to discuss volunteering with government officials and CEOs. I am really excited to be at Kingston University Students Union (KUSU) to help you open the same doors and so many more.

Volunteering benefits so many people and my aim going forward is to show that it is also FUN! Often we can forget that what we are doing is making a difference because it is so enjoyable. If we can’t find you something that you think is your idea of fun, why not get in touch with Sarah ( and plan your own project. Whichever route you wish to follow we will be here to make your volunteering ambitions possible.  Now is a great chance to test out volunteering if you haven’t before as London Student Volunteering Fortnight runs from the 28th October- 8th November and offers the chance to get involved and see what it’s all about.

I can’t wait to start meeting you all and talking to you about exciting opportunities. If you have any questions about community volunteering then please get in touch with me ( I would also love to hear from those of you already volunteering about what you are up to at the moment. 

Whatever it is about volunteering that peaks your interest, get in touch to see how you can get involved!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Arrivederci SU Volunteers! It's been fun!

I’m really sad to announce that I am leaving KUSU Volunteering on the 11 October to begin a new job with Queen Mary University.

I have absolutely loved working here over the past 7 months, and it has been a real pleasure to help so many of you volunteer on community placements.  I am especially sad to be leaving as I have met so many fabulous students since terms started who I know will make brilliant volunteers.

If you have applied to volunteer on an event or regular placement then please be aware that there may be a delay in your application being processed.   KUSU Volunteering will announce as soon as they have hired someone to replace me – so make sure you book an appointment to see them once they are settled in.
For all of you who begin volunteer make sure that you are recording your volunteering hours on your online profiles!

Sarah will be around if you have any questions, but please remember that she also has to manage projects, so it might rather busy over the next few months.

Good luck to all of you,  and I hope you all manage to enjoy your volunteering journeys!!

Abbie xx

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Abbie 'Knits for Peace'

Hi!  My name is Abbie and I am one of the KUSU Volunteer Coordinators.  I like to get involved in a lot of charities and I currently volunteer with Cats Protection, St John Ambulance, and the Crisis Response Team on a regular basis.  However, like so many of our KUSU volunteers I am always looking for ways to learn new skills and give something back to the community.

When Sarah (our other KUSU Volunteer Coordinator) mentioned the idea of beginning a Knit for Peace Project, we wanted to make sure that it was something that all our fabulous KUSU volunteers could get involved in - regardless of their previous knitting experience.  As someone who has NEVER knitted before I offered to be her first student – if I could learn ANYONE could!!

On Monday I had my first lesson.  During our lunch break we went for a coffee and Sarah took me though the very basics of knitting.  After an initial half hour of confusion, frustration and wool-tangles I was starting to get the hang of it!

By Wednesday, after a little practicing, I was on my way to making my first hat!  Knitting isn’t necessarily something I would have considered before, but it’s great to do on the train, in front of the TV and it turns otherwise wasted time into something really productive.  It’s a little tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it you’ll find its really easy and surprisingly rewarding!

All the knitting we are doing is donated to Knit for Peace.  Knit for Peace then send our creations to people in countries and areas of need. For example sending hats, scarves, socks and blankets.

So starting on the 16th October 2013, and every Wednesday afternoon following, between 1-3pm Sarah will be running a knitting club, and KUSU would love you to join us.  KUSU will provide wool, needles and also training so don’t worry if you can’t already knit.  You can come for a much time as you wish, and it’s a great way to donate a couple of hours of your time to help others less fortunate.

Not only can you ‘Knit for Peace’, you can also then use your new skills to knit fabulous presents for your friends and family!!

The Knit for Peace Project begins on Wednesday the 16th October 1pm-3pm – sign up at

I hope to see you there

Friday, 27 September 2013

Jewellery Making at Shooting Stars CHASE

Hi there, I’m Sam Neale, a third year Psychology BSc student at Kingston University, and I recently ran a jewellery workshop at Shooting Stars CHASE Children’s Hospice, with children aged 4 -12.

I am so glad I got to run the project and to have had a positive impact at the hospice. I hoped they would have fun making things and to give them a sense of satisfaction upon making something creative which they can always keep. The children certainly seemed to enjoy it! You can see all their beautiful jewellery in the photos on this blog, and more on the KUSU Volunteering Facebook page.

Aside from making a positive impact at Shooting Star CHASE, I also wanted to build my own confidence in leading and supervising a project with young children, as I had previously only volunteered and worked in assistant roles or taught small groups as directed by a class teacher. I definitely achieved this goal, and feel far more confident to go on and teach/work with children.
As hoped, the project was a success and the children said they really enjoyed making the jewellery. One girl enjoyed it so much she made about 7 bracelets! Throughout the afternoon the children were able to relax and chat among themselves, with KUSU and myself, as well as the staff on hand to support children with more severe physical impairments, all whilst they worked on designing and making their jewellery. Seeing them have so much fun helped my confidence in knowing I am able to organise, lead and supervise a project.
The staff and children seemed delighted with the session and I think this project would work well on another occasion or in a similar organisation, with similar aged children. 

As this was a student-led project, this experience has taught me how to plan, organise and manage a project. I now really appreciate all the fine details that go into planning volunteering work, particularly with children, especially risk assessment planning! I was also able to practice and develop my skills in liaising with people from different organisations and budget planning as well as time management. 

I think my favorite part though, was watching the children enjoy a project I had planned, it made it that bit more rewarding. This experience has been wonderful, and not only will it look great on my CV but is something I will cherish forever. Throughout the project I was supported by KUSU Volunteer Coordinators Jemma and Sarah, who helped train me in filling out a risk assessment, and coach me through project planning. It was really great having them there as a support mechanism, and they were more than happy to help with anything during my project.

Having long enjoyed volunteering, I believe it is a great way to make a positive impact on people whilst get something back yourself in the process, whether that be simply enjoying seeing others benefit from your efforts or gaining valuable experience, or both! The more proactive you are and the more you give, the more you get back. I will definitely continue volunteering when I can.

If you want to run your own volunteering project like me, then visit the KUSU Volunteering website to find out more.

                                                                            Sam xx



Friday, 23 August 2013

Introducing KUSU Volunteer Co-ordinator Sarah Dutton

Sarah Dutton - KUSU Volunteer Co-ordinator (Projects)
Hello, my name is Sarah Dutton, and I will be the new student and staff-led projects Volunteer Co-ordinator, replacing Jemma Houghton who is off exploring new pastures in Canada. Alongside me, I will be working with Abbie Hurrell, who co-ordinates all of the one-off volunteering and regular volunteering across Kingston Upon Thames, the surrounding boroughs and central London.

Before coming to Kingston University Students’ Union (KUSU), my background was co-ordinating volunteering projects within the Career Development Service and Student Recruitment at the University of Leicester. I’ve also volunteered at various charities over the last decade. I think volunteering is a fantastic way of facilitating positive change within your local area, as well as gaining confidence, acquiring employability skills and making new friends. It is something I sort out as a student, and I hope you do too.

As I’ve only been here a couple of weeks so far, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting many KU students, but am looking forward to when you start pouring into the union offices with your fantastic volunteering project ideas! Having heard all about the exciting projects that ran last year, like the River Clean, Knit for Peace and sports fun sessions such as teaching cheerleading to Kingston Young Carers, I know that as KU students you are both creative and committed, which is fantastic.

There are a number of ways that you can get involved with KUSU Volunteering, either by getting in contact with Abbie or myself. I will be the point of contact for any of you who are interested in setting up your own student-led volunteering project or taking part in any staff-led projects that I create. If you’re interested in volunteering with a particular charity or community organisation you can email Abbie on,

For those of you who are feeling creative and want to set up your own volunteering project (it can be a one off or more regular opportunity) then please get in touch with your ideas. You can do this on your own, with a couple of friends, or with your society or sports team. Designing and leading your own project is a fantastic way of building up your skills set e.g. communication and organisational skills, as well as getting out into the community and making a real difference. However, don’t panic you won’t be alone when co-ordinating your project. I will support you along the way by offering tips and guidance on running a volunteering project, and offering up to £250 in funding for the opportunity.

As well as supporting students to run volunteering projects, I will also be setting up and co-ordinating my own projects for students to volunteer on. These will include projects such as the Christmas present donation scheme, as well as many more. All of these new (staff-led) projects will be advertised on the new KUSU volunteering database. Sadly this database isn’t live yet, but it will be up and running for the beginning of Fresher’s week. So make sure you don’t miss out on our upcoming blog for more information on this.

If you are interested in running your own volunteering project, please email me at, with a completed project proposal available on the Student-Led Volunteering Project Toolkit webpage. Equally if you are interested in volunteering in general, email, or drop into our office on Penrhyn Road campus between 10am - 4pm.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Volunteer Gems!

The children from Kingston Welcare showing off their jewellery!

Hello there,

I am Funmi Kehinde, a Masters student in IT with Strategic Innovation and Management Studies at Kingston University, London.

 In April 2013, I volunteered at Kingston Welcare Charity and ran a jewellery workshop in which I taught ten children between the ages of 4-6 years how to design necklaces, bracelets and also key-rings.

It was a fun and fulfilling moment for me, because it allowed me to pass on my jewellery-making knowledge to young children. The experience also made me understand children better and helped me learn how to communicate at their level.  My project was a student-led volunteering project which meant I had to organise the project and ensure it was successful. I got very valuable help from Jemma Houghton, one of the KUSU Volunteering Co-ordinators who constantly motivated and supported me throughout the planning process and running the workshop.

Akinda proudly wearing the necklace she made. 
Running this project was not only fun and fulfilling but also helped me develop new skill sets including time management, research, team work, budget planning, project management and communication skills, all of which are valuable in making one more employable. The best part of running the workshop was seeing the smiles on the faces of the children when they successfully designed their bracelets and I also got a bracelet designed for me by one of the children called Holly J

Volunteering is a great experience and I would encourage others to find some time along their university work to do some volunteering. I love to volunteer and help others out in any little way I can because I strongly believe in making a positive impact to my community, generation and world. In future I hope to try out other ranges of volunteering such as mentoring young children, youths in schools and the community and hopefully set up a mentoring organisation which is dedicated towards mentoring and empowering children and youths towards greatness in life.
You can be whatever you want to be, if you only try...and if you fail keep trying to you succeed!

Thank you KUSU Volunteering for this life-time experience!

Funmi Kehinde.
MSc. IT with Innovation and Management Studies
Kingston University, London.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Volunteer Cheer!

Group photo - KUSU Volunteers and Kingston Young Carers!
Hi I’m Danielle and I have just completed my 3rd year at Kingston University where I studied BA (Hons) Drama. On the 29th May I volunteered my time and experience in leading a two hour Cheerleading fun session for 16 children from Kingston Young Carers. The fun session was an introduction to cheerleading. With the help of four other student volunteers from the KUSU Cheerleading Club, we taught the children various skills of cheerleading, including stunts, motions, jumps and dance. It took place at the dance studio in the gym at Penrhyn Road campus. The venue was brilliant because it was perfect in size and had appropriate facilities such as mirrors and mats that we needed to run the session.

For the project I led and co-ordinated the fun session with help and support from Jemma Houghton the Volunteer Co-ordinator at KUSU. Tasks I undertook included devising the session plan, completing a risk assessment, buying refreshments, sourcing ‘winner’ medals to give out to the children, creating certificates and recruiting volunteers to help me run the session.

As I am a qualified cheerleading coach I already have a passion for teaching cheerleading to children; it’s often something new they haven’t come across before and which they get particularly excited about - especially when pom poms are involved!

Why did I run this volunteering project? Well last year another member of the KUSU Cheerleading Club (who has since graduated) ran a Cheerleading fun session for Kingston Young Carers, which I helped out with and enjoyed immensely; the young carers all finished the session with huge smiles and said how much fun they had. This inspired me to get involved and lead a similar project this year.

Kingston Young Carers show off their new stunt skills!
The best part of the project for me was seeing how quickly the children picked up the cheerleading skills. We were able to teach higher skills than planed and they were all really proud of achieving something they didn’t think they could do.

I would recommend a volunteer project like this to anyone! It’s incredibly rewarding, the children are so grateful for the session and leave with a massive smile on their face. It’s a project that has aided my coaching work as it has increased my experience of working with a different group of children and is something I can put on my CV.

I wish I’d done more with KUSU Volunteering - the staff are very helpful and will support you with whatever volunteering you want to do. From Student-Led Volunteering like I did or other opportunities, there’s lots you can get involved with to make a difference and add something different to your CV to make you stand out to employers. Get involved - you won’t regret it. 

Check out more of the cheerleading photos!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Moulding Future Talent!

Lex helping a student
Hey! I’m Lex Rogy and currently a 2nd year student at Kingston University studying International Business.  I have just completed a 5 week student-led volunteering project running an afterschool clay workshop for children ages 11-12, which I organised myself, with the support of Jemma Houghton, one of the Volunteer Coordinators at KUSU Volunteering.

My project was to teach pupils how to make clay models of their own faces, as well as encouraging them to use different textures, such as beads and feathers, as decoration.

My project took place at The Hollyfield School in Kingston, which was helpfully within walking distance from my flat (although KUSU reimburse any volunteer travel expenses incurred)! I volunteered an hour a week and loved seeing how involved the pupils were with the project as often wanted to stay longer after the session. The pupils worked really hard and their finished models looked great.

Why did I do the project? Well I had a lot of free time this year at university and thought, “why not get involved in volunteering” as something extra to do with my time. Doing a business degree doesn’t allow me a lot of time to be creative, but art has always been something I have been passionate about. Volunteering and leading on this project therefore let me explore this interest, as well as inspiring the kids to be creative too! I really enjoyed the responsibility of teaching and getting involved in arts and crafts again, but also seeing how much the pupils enjoyed this project was also very fulfilling.

Students from The Hollyfield School
Volunteering is so rewarding, not only for your own benefit, but for others too. I have been involved in quite a lot of volunteering and it’s great to see how my input, small or large has impacted individuals. I have found it is also a great way to develop a large variety of your skills and expand your interests.

Certainly after I have finished my placement year I plan to get involved in student-led volunteering projects again; I enjoyed the responsibility of independently running classes, but in the future I hope to do so on a larger scale!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Kingston University Students Donate Items to Kingston Foodbank!

Hi, I’m Hannah I’ve just finished my first year at Kingston University studying Illustration and Animation, and this past month I have been organising a food drop at three of the University halls; Clayhill, Seething Wells and Kingston Bridge House. After seeing so many people move out and just throwing away food I thought something should be done and contacted all of the food bank charities in the area to see if they would be interested in my idea. Kingston Foodbank took me up on my offer and Jemma Houghton, the Volunteer Co-ordinator at KUSU Volunteering supported me to run the project.

In terms of planning for the project I dropped off heavy duty bags at the hall receptions and put up posters I had designed promoting the project. Students were then able to drop off any of their unused imperishable food into these bags in the halls receptions, before they moved out at the end of the halls contract.

In the end a grand total of 122 tins, 23 jars, 12 bottles of herbs, 32 packets of pasta, rice and noodles, 6 cereal boxes, 9 biscuit/chocolate packets, 5 cartons of juice, 4 packets of tea and 4 rolls of clingfilm were donated by students. It was really wonderful knowing that people were willing to support my idea and donate items!

I would really like to continue this every year and think with more time and planning, (as it was a bit of a last minute idea) more could be achieved! It’d be great if it could spread to other universities across London too.

From this experience I would really like to continue volunteering. I am in the process of getting my DBS check so I can volunteer on a regular basis with people with disabilities. I’m also interested in volunteering at the Alzheimer's Society and walking the dogs at the Wimbledon Greyhound Centre. I’d definitely recommend volunteering to other students - it makes you feel like you’re helping even in just a little way!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Behind the Scenes of Volunteers' Week 2013

I remember the day that Jemma Houghton and I (KUSU’s Volunteer Co-ordinators) sent out the publicity for the Volunteers’ Week 2013 – I hadn’t been that nervous for a very long time!

Volunteers’ Week is a national week lead by the NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations).  This year Volunteers’ Week 2013 focused on saying ‘Thank You’ to the millions of volunteers who regularly contribute to society, and recognise the way that organisations celebrate the work of volunteers across the UK.

VW 2013 dog-walking
In previous years KUSU Volunteering had avoided planning any big events for Volunteers’ Week as June seemed to be such a busy time for KU students with exams, deadlines and packing up for the summer all having to take priority.

So our decision to try and run 5 days of taster sessions seemed like a rather brave and ambitious one! 

The two weeks leading up to 1st June certainly had both us KUSU Volunteer Co-ordinators on edge – would any students or staff have enough free time to help our chosen charities and community organisations?

As it turns out we had no reason to worry at all, an amazing 36 Kingston University staff and students took part in a range of activities!

VW 2013 jewellery-making
110 bracelets were made for poorly children at Kingston Hospital.

36 greyhounds at Wimbledon Greyhound Welfare were taken for a lovely walk in the sunshine – and had lots of cuddles!

The stock at Cancer Research’s shop got sorted and volunteers had fun dressing and accessorising manikins to display the latest fashion trends!

Bags and bags of Himalayan Balsam were pulled out - a vigorous invader of the Hogsmill riverbank with KUBAG!

And loads of you turned up to our workshop ‘Linking Volunteering to your Career’ to learn about how these and other volunteering activities give you skills that can help make you more employable.

VW 2013 Balsam Bash
We had an amazing time volunteering alongside all the students and KU staff – many of whom were in the middle of deadlines or running to and from their lunch breaks to help out!

KUSU Societies Coordinator Charlie Shaw and Retail and Venue Manager Lucy Marsh said  “Greyhound walking in Volunteers’ Week was a really worthy cause. It was loads of fun and the weather was great! We’d definitely do it again and would recommend it to everyone.”

Even more encouragingly all our surveyed participants later agreed that the taster sessions had inspired them to do more volunteering in the future.

So if you missed out on VW 2013 then don’t worry. We’ve got London Student Volunteering Fortnight coming up between 26th October and 8th November 2013 and we’re definitely going to be putting on a huge fortnight of taster sessions to keep you busy!  

Abbie Hurrell and Jemma Houghton
KUSU Volunteer Co-ordinators

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Helping Scope Renovate their Garden

Az and I (Kingston University students and KUSU Volunteers) began the year with one thought in our heads, ‘This is our last year, we want to do to something that we’ve never done at uni before, but what?’

We’d seen and heard of lots of other KUSU Sports clubs and teams, from Cheerleading to American Football, taking part in KUSU Volunteering, so we took it to our team, Ladies Basketball, and said, ‘Hey guys, fancy a spot of volunteering?’ We got a unanimous positive response! 

In the first few months I helped Az from the sidelines. I had never volunteered with KUSU before, however I had taken part in other volunteering ventures outside of KUSU from coaching at a local football club, bag packing in Asda for charity, to being a Games Maker at last years London 2012 Games.

Our journey began with Az our captain deciding to take the lead and contacting Jemma Houghton, the lovely KUSU Volunteer Coordinator, who supported us throughout the project. There are dozens of volunteering opportunities which KUSU Volunteering promotes on a weekly/fortnightly basis and as a team we wanted the chance to take part in one of these exciting projects and help out our local community in anyway possible.

KUSU Volunteering came back to us with a project that would prove to be both challenging and involve a fair amount of planning, but which most importantly would be fun and allow us to help out in the community. Lingfield Avenue a local residential home run by Scope for 14 people with cerebral palsy and learning difficulties, were in need of some volunteers to renovate their garden. Scope is a national charity that has one clear vision, ‘A world where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else.’ Az contacted the team and everyone decided it sounded like the sort of volunteering project we wanted to get involved with. As the garden needed a lot of TLC KUSU Volunteering recommended we have two co-leaders on the project, which is when I started and began helping Az.

KUSU Volunteering supported us by making the initial contact with the excellent and hardworking staff at Scope and helped us to set up a meeting with one of their supervisors. We went round to the residential for a scoping visit, to assess the garden and find out exactly what Scope wanted help with. This is where we realised there was more to do than just planting a couple of bulbs! The garden had over grown plants, pesky moss on the decking and concrete, weeds that knew no bounds, a real lack of colour and was a haven for dead plants with the deepest roots known to human-kind! So the Ghostbusters were sent in, oops, I mean the totally cool and green fingered Weedbusters to create designs and plan out a new garden.

Luckily enough Az is an Architecture student so she drew up the plans and we used these to show Scope what we intended on doing for the gardening makeover project. KUSU Volunteering very kindly put us in touch with the amazing Rachel Burgess, the Biodiversity and Landscape Administrator at Kingston University who gave us some expert advice. She was extremely helpful in giving us tips on how to design a garden for people with disabilities, focusing on how to make it more sensory and thus more enjoyable to use – ie bright colours, wind chimes etc to engage people’s visual and auditory senses.

Upon working out what types of plants we needed and what tools, Az and I went on a shopping spree! We were lucky as Scope and the university let us borrow some of their tools, which meant we could use most of the budget KUSU Volunteering allocated us with, to go on lovely flowers for the garden, which we were all very excited about! We purchased potted plants, plenty of flowers, a bird feeder, wind chime, trowels and other gardening necessities. After completing a risk assessment which KUSU Volunteering helped us with, we were able to begin. We had to pick a date quite late in the second semester as the frosty weather kept getting in the way. This meant we weren’t able to recruit all the girls from the team as we’d hoped, so we opened the project up to all university students. On the day we had KUSU Volunteers, KUSU staff and KUBAG volunteers helping out!

So the Weedbusters united, fought the dirt and the usual bit of expected British drizzle, to prevail and create a beautiful garden that we hope the residents of the home will now be able to use in the coming Summer.

To someone considering leading a project or volunteering I’d tell them that it’s one of the greatest opportunities they will have at university. Many people on a day-to-day basis do not have the time or the contacts to get involved with volunteering but KUSU gives students that opportunity. Grasp the opportunity while you can. It’s not always easy, especially leading on a project, but at the end of the day if a project finishes a success then that’s what really matters.

There is still more work to be done so we hope KUSU and Scope can continue to work together. It was an exciting, fun and really rewarding project for all those involved and I encourage everyone out there reading this to try your hand at volunteering because you never know, you might find out your hands are far greener than you ever thought!

Have a look at the rest of the photos on the KUSU Volunteering Facebook Page!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

From a Ripple to a Wave – The Second Thames River Clean

Last year a good friend of mine Chris Elliott asked me to volunteer as a diver on a river clean he was organising. On Sunday 17th September 2012 I found myself taking part in this great initiative created by Chris to help clean some of the debris that damages and ruins the aesthetics of our riverine environment. It raised a great amount of public awareness and in a team of 26 student kayakers, divers and shore volunteers, as well as 11 members of the community and staff, we managed to remove two skips full of rubbish including 22 shopping trolleys, 304 glass bottles, 3 bicycles, 1 gnome, 1 bird bath and more!  

This was just the tip of the iceberg as that day we did a 100 metre scope and realised there were hundreds more trolleys and countless other items on the river bed. That day we decided we could do more, a lot lot more…

Skip forward to 2013 and Chris is encouraging me to lead on the second river clean project. Hesitant at first of committing to something so big in my final year at university and knowing how much work organising the student-led river clean volunteering project can be, I finally said yes; it would be a great chance to show employers my project management skills, represent my degree course in environmental science, give something back to the river that guided me home in those months as a fresher and make it safer for river users.  

And so with Chris Elliott, KUSU Volunteer Coordinator Jemma Houghton and Thames 21 supporting me, as well as equipment donated by local dive shop Aquanaut, we took up the challenge once again. We set out to not just repeat our previous success but to build on it, extensively refine our methods, make it easier to repeat and try and make a bigger impact.
We originally wanted to continue clearing the stretch of river we had previously worked on, but due to some last minute building works nearby we decided to focus on the relatively unknown area just North of the bridge known as Horsefair Quay. The second change was to expand our capacity for collecting large scrap items such as bulky shopping trolleys. The Environment Agency let us borrow a barge which they conveniently moored right next to where we were diving. Thirdly we wanted to change how the volunteers worked together as a team to make it more streamlined. This was achieved by the appointment of strong reliable leaders - Jemma for the shore party, Simon Garrad (an experienced sport diver) for the dive management and myself as Dive Lead. Lastly the divers changed the method by which we raised our debris; although the original lift-bag method worked, it took time and we hadn’t expected so many large items. So in response we agreed that our divers would instead attach grapnels or ropes and then use a lot of muscle (gratefully provided by Kingston University Students’ Union’s Mountaineering Club). This method though limited to the near shore side was dramatically faster and thus more efficient.

On the day we’re as ready as we can possibly be, but still not prepared for the vast amount of trolleys we found, decade’s worth it would seem… It turns out the area just North of Kingston Bridge was loaded with trolleys; every descent was met with metal bars in the limited visibility. We soon realised that what we were clearing was not a passive nuisance, but a potentially fatal hazard because should any person accidently fall from the river edge they would immediately be met with rusted, broken and sheered metal less than a metre from the surface.

Diving in that kind of environment is a testing experience - the only reliable sense is touch as sight is all but lost once you shift that first hunk of metal, because the sediment effectively makes you blind. Though it’s barely 3-5m deep it takes a lot not to panic and to stay focused on the task in hand, whilst the tangled mess of metal around you presents tangle and snag hazards.

After a long day and a generous lunch provided by KUSU we managed to completely clear a 30 metre area back to as near a natural state as was practical, with the remaining 20 metres cleared of the largest debris. The most notable being a Korean helmet, ship battery, 17.5 skateboards and 82 trolleys - a fourfold improvement on last year’s efforts.

Perhaps the most astounding thing the divers alone experienced was what it’s actually like down there as beneath a forest of horrifically mangled metal and leached chemicals, life is striving to survive. It’s not what you would call an attractive habitat, but for those of us that can appreciate it, it’s nothing more than fascinating. There’s a kind of solid coral like growth that builds on trolley metal, as well as crabs, eels, tiny fish, snails and different species of shellfish all along the river. Many people believe the Thames River to be dead and toxic, however our river clean is testament to how wrong that assumption is.

On all fronts the second river clean can be considered a resounding unequalled success, not just for the amount removed, but for the ripple we turned into a wave surging through the Kingston community, helping people realise that our river is a living, breathing aquatic environment and that it needs our care today, tomorrow and in the future.   

Check out the video of the second Thames River Clean.

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