Who: Student volunteers at the University of Warwick and a range of community organisations.
What: Working with community organisations and with sports clubs and societies of Warwick Students' Union to develop community volunteering projects based around their activities.
Why: To promote a change in the approach to volunteering within Warwick Volunteers.
Where: University of Warwick.
When: Ongoing throughout the academic year, since 2009.
Double You was an exploration of new ways for student volunteers to work with community groups. At the heart of the programme was recognition of a need to think more creatively about how student volunteering is delivered, ensuring that collaborative partnerships were fostered and that programmes were therefore designed with communities as partners, rather than as 'beneficiaries'.
The project expanded on previous successes achieved by working with sports clubs and societies of Warwick Students' Union to develop community volunteering projects based around their activities and interests, to work with a broader range of community organisations.
By focusing on the relationship with the community organisations rather than the specific activities, Double You in its pilot year formed a creative space which enabled the delivery of sixteen different projects, from American Football coaching at a youth club, to a debating group at an older person's residential home. Our partners found this to be an effective way of working that added value to their organisations, and all four are keen to continue our relationship in the future.
- To develop a collaborative and innovative approach to student volunteering centred around the co-development of projects between students and communities, which 'added value' to the work of the community groups
- To establish a community volunteering element as the norm for Warwick student societies and sports clubs
- To develop a structure of volunteering that extracts maximum benefits from the skills, interests and talents of student volunteers and provides enriching, creative and challenging opportunities for volunteers that prove attractive to more than the 'usual suspects'
Results and outcomes
What worked well
Working with the communities
An increased emphasis was placed on relationship building with community organisations, identifying and negotiating community need and student interests into projects that enrich the lives of both the community and volunteers. Prior to Double You, discussions would only start once a possible activity had been identified, either by the community organisation or a volunteer and it was rare for the two groups to come together and develop project ideas in partnership from the beginning. This new model provided a number of key benefits:
- Enabled us to be more proactive in our approach to partnership working, identifying shared objectives and desirable outcomes from the outset, and fostering a partnership approach
- Provided increasingly challenging opportunities for our student volunteers who were actively involved in negotiating and designing activities in partnership with the community organisations
- The delivery of a range of impressive projects that are beginning to take the first steps in mitigating some of the tensions between the wishes of the community and those of the students
Drama Group at Canley UFE
A key success of Double You was to recognise the added value students could bring to the centre. Among these opportunities were workshops led by a drama group at Canley UFE. This is a youth club based at the Xcel Centre, just a few minutes' walk from campus. The club provides opportunities for local young people aged 12-17 to experience new activities.
Alongside a broader range of activities the centre could offer through this partnership, it also added value to the experience for the staff at the centre, as they were not restricted by having to manage and design the activities. They, too, were able to participate in the activities run by the Drama group, allowing a better relationship with the members of Canley UFE to develop by building a greater level of rapport and trust through shared activities.
"The students brought enthusiasm and a range of skills, experiences and contacts that add immeasurably to the range of opportunities on offer to the local community." Volunteer Coordinator
Establishing a community volunteering 'norm' within Sports Clubs and Societies
The project grew upon the success of Share your passion, a volunteering initiative led by Warwick volunteers to develop volunteering as part of the activities of student clubs and societies. Linking in with the interests and passions of students who were engaged with Sports Clubs and Societies brought with it a number of benefits:
- It uncovered a variety of new skills which students can offer to the community groups
- It reached out to students who had not previously done any community volunteering through the Students' Union - 80% of the student volunteers who took part in the project had not previously volunteered and many of these were second or third years
- It reduced the risks inherent in some student-led projects as there was a pool of student volunteers who have the skills required for activities
- Provided student volunteers with a greater level of peer support and confidence as the team structure is already in place within sports clubs and societies.
American Football Team at Sydni
This change in approach to our work led to students being able to offer activities to the community partners, which were previously not even considered. This was true for our partner, Sydenham Neighbourhood Initiatives (SYDNI), a community based initiative, set up to address the issues particular to Sydenham, an estate with a population of approximately 5,000 residents. The SYDNI Centre provides facilities for information, recreation, sport, education and leisure.
Through using society connections, interest in running coaching sessions in American football emerged. This enables Warwick volunteers to offer a broader range of opportunities, beyond the specific demands of the centre, but which still added a tangible benefit to their work.
Challenges and limitations
Shifting the focus of the relationship from activity delivery to building partnerships and trust, the outcomes become more powerful. However the nature of work shifts, as does the way in which you spend your time. Establishing this method of working requires an investment of time and negotiation, so both communities and students benefit from the activities. As a student volunteer manager, based in a university, you cannot escape from the fact that what community organisations want and what student volunteers want are not always compatible. For example, a community group may have a greater need for student volunteers during the summer months, which cannot be met by the students. Although our project helped to mitigate many of the issues that can arise from this tension, it is only beginning to resolve them.
The organisers offer the following tips for anyone contemplating putting on, or becoming involved with, a similar activity:
1. Invest time in building up trust and rapport with partners
2. Treating specific activities as the outcome of healthy partnerships, rather than the main focus of energy, can lead to more sustainable partnerships
3. Be flexible and responsive to ideas; let activities develop from the original idea
4. Work collaboratively to ensure activities are able to add value to both organisations and the student experience
5. Remember each partnership is different; people will want to work in a variety of ways
Name: Peter Rose
Name of organisation: University of Warwick