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Discovery Swansea

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Who: Discovery Student Volunteering Swansea is a registered charity and an independent voluntary organisation that currently operates a wide variety of local community projects

What: Diverse student-led volunteering activities which range from working with isolated, vulnerable young people, children and families, older people, disabled adults and children, and people with learning difficulties

Why: To provide educational opportunities, and to facilitate charitable activities in the area; in particular to enrich the lives of disadvantaged people, to challenge discrimination, and to support disabled people

Where: Swansea

When: Established in 1966 

Project description

Discovery is a student-led registered charity with an office base at Swansea University. It links student volunteers with a comprehensive range of community activities. 

Discovery is unusual in that it is a charity outside of both the University and Students Union. It was set up more than 40 years ago, and has remained student-led to this day.  It evolved from a Volunteer Service into a Student Community Action group in the late 60’s. It restructured in 2003 to its current charitable form: Discovery – Student Volunteering Swansea. This was partly in response to the 'Widening Participation' agenda. Students coming from a more diverse range of backgrounds had not always had the opportunities of the traditional 'privileged' student model. This meant that Discovery had to put in a stronger support system and train students to a level where they could confidently and effectively manage their own projects. Restructuring assisted this process.

The organisation has a Board of Trustees of 10 student trustee members, University staff, and 5 local community representatives. Staff are employed to co-ordinate, support and develop the student activities.  It is a highly flexible structure, given the change each academic year of student trustee members and project coordinators.

Each year about 300 students volunteer with Discovery, and more than 800 people directly benefit from its services. The organisation estimates that its volunteers annually deliver the equivalent of over £125,000 worth of services.

The range of volunteering opportunities for students is vast and includes:

  • People orientated activities: Activities and outings for children and young people with autism, integrated circus group, improving numeracy skills in schools, day trips for adults with learning disabilities, breakfast club for the homeless, visiting the elderly and working with mental health patients
  • Environment orientated activities: running a food co-op gardening and decorating services, helping on the Community Farm awareness raising on global and environmental issues
  • Discovery support activities: running the Brynmill charity shop, fund raising, promotion, trusteeship, building links with international projects

It also runs the local Millennium Volunteers scheme, that certificates volunteering of 100 or 200 hours by young people. It has just introduced its own scheme of 50 hour certification, signed by the Vice Chancellor. The volunteering hours recorded provide evidence when fund raising.

Student volunteers can also develop their own projects following a six-step Project Management plan. Student project coordinators develop a project idea using a project planning form, and apply for the funds necessary to realise it. Evaluation and risk assessment forms are also completed. Project plans are signed off weekly by staff. 

1973 childrens day trip

The first projects involved taking children on days out – photo taken 1973

Discovery has a comprehensive, compulsory training programme, to provide the best possible service to the people it works with, and to build the skills and confidence of volunteers.

Training involves:

  1. Attending a one hour Start Here Training session – for more information on what Discovery does and what volunteering involves
  2. Registration as a volunteer, CRB check, references taken, and selecting a project to work on
  3. Introduction to the project
  4. Additional training relevant to the project, plus basic child and vulnerable adult protection (for example ADHD and Autism awareness; Working with Refugees and Asylum Seekers; Youth work skills);
  5. Collection of ID card with a cleared CRB and references. The ID card is worn whenever volunteering

Examples of volunteering activities

Inside Out is a project aimed at helping autistic children by providing opportunities for active play. Discovery Swansea runs fortnightly trips to a diverse range of locations with the aim of getting the children and young adults in its care to interact with each other, and with the student volunteers.

"It is my belief that all of our service users have benefited from their time with us – their enthusiasm for our trips is a testament to the enjoyment they get out of it" John Jessup, volunteer project coordinator

Inside Out provides a valuable service to the parents and children alike, and is a highly valued service.

Rascals (Refugee and Asylum Seeker Children 'Avin' it Large in Swansea) is a monthly project. Staff and volunteers take children from Refugee and Asylum-Seeking backgrounds in Swansea out for the morning on trips or fun indoor activity sessions, whilst their mothers attend a support group meeting. The project offers the children the chance to enjoy new activities and gives their mothers the opportunity to discuss problems or just have some time to themselves.

"Rascals means so much to me as a volunteer and it's a privilege to work with the children. I often feel that the sense of fun they give me far outweighs anything I could give them, but that's what the project's about – creating a space where the children can be themselves and have fun, and I'm happy to organise that for them!" Kirsty Rowles, Volunteer Project Coordinator

Brynmill Charity shop is a new project in its first year. The project primarily aims to involve the local community - financial gain is seen as secondary. The shop is managed by staff on work placements and is supported by volunteers. It has given Discovery a higher profile in the community, and has received positive feedback from volunteers.

There are also long standing projects such as the decorating project, which has been running since 1966. 

See Discovery's leaflet for more information.


Discovery's charitable aims are to alleviate poverty and social isolation, and to promote voluntary activities in the local area. It aims to:

  • Initiate and develop positive links between student volunteers and the community
  • Support students to be aware of their personal development, and their impact on themselves and the lives of others through community based activities
  • Establish relationships with people who face discrimination and disadvantage in Swansea
  • Encourage people to fulfill their potential as empowered individuals and as members of groups and communities

Through a range of student-run projects local people can enjoy new experiences and opportunities which frequently lead to increased mutual understanding and equality.

Results and outcomes

What works well


Being seen as not a purely student organisation helps Discover with their profile. The feedback they get indicates that they have a better standing in the community as a registered charity than as a student society. Being an independent charity gives the organization autonomy in decision making, and the ability to apply for funding.

Creating and maintaining the diversity of volunteering opportunities

Year on year volunteers develop and mould their projects that follow their interests and meet the needs of the client group. Peer group support enables the continuity of the project, handing on from one student to another. New projects are always being shaped up from the numerous requests Discovery receives from other organisations to provide volunteers. As it is not a bureau, Discovery works with other organisations to develop a meaningful project that still gives volunteers a sense of autonomy. This requires a certain amount of negotiation and flexibility on both parts and ideally forms part of the other organisation's "wish list" rather than their core work.

Fruitful partnerships

An effective partnership requires flexibility and understanding on both sides. One of Discovery's most effective partnerships is with the Mental Health Well Being Volunteering project. The students run a drop in café at the hospital. This requires commitment and reliability from the students. Regular support is offered from the coordinator at the hospital as well as the Discovery team.


Each year over 50 students achieve the 100 hour certificate and around 35 achieve the 200 hour award. This is not necessarily indicative of the amount of volunteering carried out. Many more hours of volunteering are actually carried out but not put forward for the awards.

What hasn't worked well?


Securing core funding is always the biggest challenge. The University has been a great help, in recent years including Discovery in its five year plan. Previously there had been difficulties accessing services for staff, such as ID cards, staff emails and computer log ins. This has been addressed through support from Student Services and the University's Administrative Secretary, who is Discovery's Chair.

Continuity in board members and staff

It is a challenge each year to bring new student trustees up to speed as quickly as possible. It is also the key strength and ethos of the organisation to be flexible to the development of young people. Their new ideas and enthusiasm is what makes the organisation so special. Discovery has a mixed board of students and non students to give continuity. It also has continuity in staff – the Manager has been in post for 18 years. Sometimes students become staff members. There is always a high interest from students if there is a vacancy – most of them deem working in Discovery to be their ideal job!  

Resources required

Discovery currently employs three members of staff. The University provides some core funding on an annual grant basis. It also receives funding from a variety of other sources including Children in Need, Wales Council for Voluntary Action and the Lottery.

Key expenditure includes:

Insurance: £1500 per annum to cover students for their projects. This includes public liability insurance.

Training: Some training is delivered in house; other specialist training such as working with autism is delivered by partner projects for a nominal charge or free. Funding permitting, Discovery's most effective training is the Big Weekend event, where the organisation takes a group of student away for a weekend. The synergy of this training far outweighs the costs and time requirements. These weekends tend to costs around £1000.

Travel costs: Project travel costs are usually met by funders. It is more of a challenge to find funding for Discovery's people carrier, which can be driven on an ordinary driving licence. (This is more cost effective than having a minibus). Costs for running and maintaining this vehicle have to come from Discovery's own funds.  

Top tips

  1. Have a clear framework of policies and procedures to create a safe space in which students and the community can interact, innovate and develop their own projects to meet local needs
  2. Provide a comprehensive training programme
  3. Effective partnership working
  4. Enthusiastic students that encourage other students to take part
  5. Committed & enthusiastic staff and volunteers
  6. Keep communication channels open between the volunteers and the organisation, making sure that all parties are involved in the monitoring and evaluation of projects


Name: Ali Morrison, Development Worker

Name of organisation: Discovery, Fulton House, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2 8PP

Tel: 01792 295743