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Florence Steer: What volunteering means to me

Posted on 26 Feb 2014

It all started in those first few weeks of starting university…

I was looking at volunteering opportunities in the Students’ Union, and saw that something called RAG (Raise and Give) Week was coming up. I signed up to be a Team Member right away, but dallied over applying to be a Team Leader – was it too much responsibility and too much pressure too early? And yet, a few weeks later I received an email asking me to confirm an interview time! Whether it was a moment of late night Freshers Week madness, or proof of my stress-induced forgetfulness, it was without a doubt the best accidental decision I have ever made.

A week later I walked into an interview the least prepared I have ever been in my life! Somehow, the Union decided to give me a chance, and I was over the moon! Team Leader training rolled around, and within minutes I realised that I was surrounded by people who were older, more experienced, and seemed to have it all together, which was intimidating to say the least.

The next day we were introduced to our teams (22 people, eek!), and got to know each other by playing with spaghetti and marshmallows, along with other classic bonding activities.

What followed was the longest, most exhausting, but most incredible week of my life! While my friends and flatmates were watching American TV shows, eating junk food and living in their dingy rooms in halls, I was out of the flat for what seemed like days on end, to the point where my flatmates were surprised to see me! From early mornings collecting in the city centre to university lectures to afternoon collecting, to nightly events 9 days in a row, everyone was exhausted!

But all too soon the end of the week rolled around, and it was revealed that we had raised over £20,000! (helped by my fantastic and dedicated team who raised the most out of all the teams in RAG Week!)

I was also nominated for Best Newcomer, which was amazing, and a huge confidence boost.

In February of my first year I was interviewed to be a Team Leader for a Community Volunteering Week, and was selected – cue another crazy, exhausting week full of experiences and opportunities I would never have had the chance to do without the Northumbria Students’ Union. It was then that I realised my passion for community volunteering – the benefit to the community and the immediate positive responses provide immediate gratification for all the hard work that the volunteers put in. Since then I have joined the committee for ‘Volunteer Northumbria’, the programme leading community volunteering within the Students’ Union, and am really enjoying making a difference, both within the union, university and the wider community.

Due to my work as a volunteer during first year, I was nominated for ‘Volunteer of the Year’ in the university-wide annual awards ceremony, which remains, to this day, one of my proudest moments.

Volunteering has given me the best memories to take away from university, and pushed me further than I ever thought I could go – from abseiling down our six-storey library, to wearing the same dress for a month (I washed it, don’t worry!), to doing a conga in fancy dress around the city centre – and all in just a year!

So yes, volunteering means new experiences and opportunities, but to me it means more than that. Volunteering has given me confidence in myself and my own abilities and has taught me so much. Most of all though, volunteering has given me friends. Being on a small course, and feeling out of place as a Londoner in Newcastle, I was having trouble finding somewhere to fit in. But within the Union, I found a home away from home, filled with the best friends that I needed to make university absolutely unforgettable.

Florence Steer

Florence Steer is a student at Northumbria University

Categories: What volunteering means to me