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.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Knit For Peace!

Student Leaders Frances, Teri and Debbi
Hi!  We are Teri Truong a 2nd year law student, Debbi Clarke a 1st year music student and Frances Stebbing a 1st year business student. We were the leaders for the Knit for Peace project which allowed students to knit items, such as hats, for the Knit for Peace charity. All items were made with the aim of donating them to Knit for Peace who would in turn distribute the goods to various hospitals and even different countries, such as Serra Leone, for those in need. After contacting Knit for Peace who gave us a list of items they needed, we chose to focus on knitting baby hats and the occasional baby scarf and blanket. It provided the opportunity for beginners to learn how to knit, or for experienced knitters to simply enjoy their knitting while sitting together and sharing their stories.
Since the sessions were held late in the academic year, we chose to provide three one hour sessions in April at the Kingston University Students’ Union office, as this area was well known and convenient for the majority of the student body.
As project leaders we spent a great amount of time teaching new knitters how to cast on/off and knit! Additionally, we provided leaflets with instructions for volunteers to take home for future references. Teaching the skill of knitting was something we truly enjoyed as knitting is a lifelong skill that can be used in any stage of life and can also be passed on to the next generation with great ease.

It can be said that the best moment was seeing the finishing products come together and the joy it brought to our volunteers, who were so impressed with their own skills and ability to create a knitted product. The delighted expressions on their face showed us that they were enjoying the sessions just as much as we were, and has encouraged us to continue this student-led volunteering project next academic year.
We volunteered to run the project because not only does it look great on our CV but knitting is one of our passions, and nothing would be more fulfilling than passing on this great skill to others. Also, knitting for those in need felt like a great opportunity to put our hobby into good use!
We want to encourage others to volunteer as it is rewarding and the smallest contribution can make the biggest difference. We were fully supported by Volunteer Co-ordinator Jemma Houghton and would highly recommend trying every and any kind of volunteering at least once before your time at Kingston comes to an end.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about our experience and please feel free to come along next year, as we will continue to host knitting sessions. If you have never knitted before and want to try, just come along to any of the one hour sessions.  If you are an experience knitter, then you can use your skills for a good cause, and even learn how to knit new and different items with unique patterns!

Have a good summer.

Teri, Debbi and Frances

Monday, 3 June 2013

Conservation Volunteering

Tameka receiving her KUSU Volunteering certificate of achievement
Hi, my name is Tameka Harry and I’m currently studying BA (Hons) in Media, Cultural Studies with Television and New Broadcasting Media at Kingston University, London.

In my home county of Trinidad and Tobago I used to volunteer with Rotary International, whose motto is “Service Above Self”. It taught me the value of giving my skills and time for the benefit of the community and environment.

Since coming to the UK, I have become a KUSU Volunteer and given my time to several one-off volunteering  projects, such as the Green Impact Auditing in April 2013. For this we received training on how to conduct a Green Impact audit and then had the opportunity to go into the offices at River House, conduct an audit and interact with the teams about what they had implemented and achieved. This ‘hands-on’ experience was wonderful and was one of the best parts of the day for me.

I’ve also volunteered on the second Thames River Clean, KUBAG’s Hogsmill litter pick and KUBAG’s Balsam bash!

I love volunteering. Yes you can add the experiences to your CV which is great, but what I love most about it is, is giving up my time and skills to benefit others in need. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...