Hello everyone! My name is Brian and I’m an undergraduate in the Department of Political Economy; since the summer of 2019 I have also had the immense privilege of being a volunteer with IntoUniversity. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the charity and its work, IntoUniversity is an organisation focused on widening participation in university education for students from less-advantaged backgrounds, which provides local learning centres where young people are inspired to achieve. It’s great that each month the voluntary work King’s students are doing in the spirit of the College’s commitment to working ‘in the service of society’ is recognised, and I’m proud to be able to share a little bit about what I have been up to at IntoUniversity.
What does a typical day volunteering entail?
Each week I spend a few hours at IntoUniversity’s local learning centre in Haringey North, where I support programme delivery and participate in the University Student Mentoring scheme. On a typical day I can find myself helping to teach pupils in our Academic Support sessions (a free after-school programme of support to raise educational attainment), putting up a new wall display to brighten up the centre, or just helping out with everyday tasks with a cup of tea! I also meet with my mentee, who is a current Year 10 pupil about to take his GCSEs, for an hour each week, during which time we focus on academic work, social skills development, or thinking about his future plans. There is no exact instruction manual to mentoring, which means I have autonomy to devise session plans and prepare resources, giving me a sense of genuine responsibility.
Beyond my time at IntoUniversity Haringey North, working with two fellow King’s students through the King’s Civic Leadership Academy (the College’s new flagship leadership development programme with a socially-impactful twist, which I have been blessed to be part of as one of the inaugural Scholars), I am researching the challenges IntoUniversity faces recruiting and retaining mentors, particularly male mentors, for its learning centres in London.
What has been your favourite memory of volunteering?
There have been so many standout moments during my time with IntoUniversity, but my foremost highlight so far has to be the trip to King’s which I facilitated for my mentee. We kicked things off with a tour of the Strand Campus, taking in the old and new, from the College Chapel to the Old Entrance Hall where Sappho and Sophocles keep watch, down to the Strand Quad with its hidden laboratories beneath our feet, and over to the Meadow in Bush House with its deckchairs and relaxed vibe. Throughout the tour I explained the College’s history, from its Anglican foundation back in 1829 (and of course the infamous duel in Battersea Park!), through to King’s today. We met teaching and support staff from different departments, visited the Widening Participation Department’s Learning Centre, practised navigating the Maughan Library (a challenge even for us Strandies with years of experience!), and had themed Q&As on everything from student finance to halls of residence. I also got to (undoubtedly mis-)pronounce our College motto, Sancte et Sapienter (With Holiness and Wisdom).
A close runner-up has to be a Primary FOCUS week (a week-long programme where a group of Year 6 pupils from a primary school visit their local IntoUniversity centre for themed activities and extra-curricular trips) which I supported, because the pupils were from one of my own former primary schools! Not only that, but it transpired that I knew their class teacher because she had directed the school choir when I was a member some fourteen years ago.
Whilst these are my personal highlights, I suspect my mentee would have a tough time picking between our trip to King’s and our pizza-making session!
What are your main motivations to volunteer?
In the UK we face huge educational inequalities – according to the Social Mobility Commission, gaps between advantaged and less-advantaged children open up before birth and persist throughout life. In 2018, 43% of children entitled to free school meals did not reach a good level of development at age five, compared to 26% of their more-advantaged peers. By age eleven, there is a 14% gap in educational attainment, rising to a 22.5% gap at age nineteen. Young people from a range of backgrounds remain stubbornly absent from our university population; White British working-class boys continue to be the most under-represented group in Higher Education, and members of groups such as care leavers, estranged students, young carers, disabled students and forced migrants face considerable hurdles in accessing university. Facts and figures like these show why the efforts of organisations like IntoUniversity, and the many fantastic volunteers who help to keep the show on the road, to widen participation are so important.
On a lighter note, every time I am at IntoUniversity Haringey North I know that my presence is having a real impact on the inspirational young people we work with, and I really can’t think of anything else that could act as such a catalyst for me to head in week after week. The pupils always show gratitude for the support they receive and always come in ready to share how the help of all the staff and volunteers at the centre has made a difference at school and in their wider lives. It’s such a rewarding experience!
What have you learnt from your time volunteering?
Volunteering has been such a fulfilling experience and one which has contributed to my personal and professional development. There are many skills and attributes which have been enhanced through my voluntary work, particularly my resilience, empathy and ability to communicate with people representing a range of interests.
What would you say to anyone thinking about volunteering?
Without a doubt, if you find a volunteering opportunity which appeals to you, go for it! Volunteering can be such a rewarding experience, and as well as contributing to the work of a good cause and giving something back to the community, you’ll find that there are all sorts of benefits you can reap. You’ll never know until you take the leap, so why not muck in?
Things to check out
If you think you could make a difference to a young person’s life by giving up just an hour a fortnight, check out IntoUniversity’s wonderful University Student Mentoring scheme and sign up here.
You can find out more about the Civic Leadership Academy on the King’s Intranet here. Applications for next year’s cohort close just before the Easter holiday, on 23rd March 2020.