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Matthew Proctor: What volunteering means to me

Posted on 9 Feb 2014

There are so many volunteering opportunities available to students at Imperial, which is one of the reasons I chose to apply here….

Last year, one particular project grabbed my interest – Imperial College Cooperative. A small group of students from Esoc (Environmental Society) set up the Cooperative in early 2013 as a way of giving students access to inexpensive and healthy Fairtrade and organic produce somewhere on the university campus.

In April 2013, the first stall was held and the Cooperative has been running weekly ever since. Every Thursday, a group of us run trolleys full of lovely groceries from the Union to Sherfield where we set up a temporary stall and sell to students, staff, anyone! Some recognise the Cooperative from the posters and flyers we hand out and others often come across us by accident but are always intrigued and interested in what we have to offer. The food we sell ranges from tinned soups, beautiful smelling coffee beans and teas, lots of different pastas and even snacks like flapjacks and chocolate bars. It’s all either Fairtrade or organic and it’s a lot cheaper than you would find in a supermarket since we sell at wholesale prices.

As part of initial efforts to build interest in the project, one of the original group members wrote an article for Felix and I emailed them expressing interest in getting involved. Initially, I was involved with just volunteering on the stall occasionally and helping with stock checking. As the Cooperative began to grow we realised we needed some ‘official’ roles to make sure everything was organised and running smoothly. We have someone to work on publicity, they design posters and flyers and generally get the word out about the our stall. We also have someone to develop our use of technology on the stall and they’re currently setting up a barcode system to make selling produce even easier. I offered to be the volunteers coordinator which basically involves organising the small group of volunteers by setting up a rota system where tasks are rotated around.

Since the Cooperative was just starting up, I wanted to join to work on helping to develop how it operated and working with other people on setting up a new project which will hopefully become a big part of student life at Imperial. Also, I wanted to give other students the opportunity to access healthy food when they would not usually have the chance, especially since so much “health food” is very expensive in London.

The Fairtrade and organic aspects of it appealed to me as well. I think it’s very important to not only recognise small farmers in developing countries as Fairtrade products do but also to be kind to the Earth by not using harmful substances when growing produce. A lot of the things we sell are also sourced locally which reduces CO2 emissions associated with transporting goods across the globe. Finally, volunteering offered the chance to meet a diverse range of people interested in lots of different things. Whilst working on the stall I’ve met students from 1st year undergraduates to final year PhD students working in departments ranging across the College. I’ve learnt an incredible amount about how our food is grown and how much it costs including how much actually goes back to the farmers who grow it.

I think student volunteering is an excellent opportunity to meet new friends and develop your skills.

It gives me the chance to work with a brilliant group of intelligent, interesting and funny students who are very passionate about their work. It’s also fun. With such a tough degree which sometimes gets overwhelming, working on the stall is something I look forward to every week and it’s just such an enriching experience which I’d highly recommend to anyone thinking about volunteering.

We’d love to get lots of new people volunteering during Student Volunteering Week. If you are interested in volunteering with us then email coop@ic.ac.uk. Or, if you just want to see what we’re all about then come down to a stall – we’re in the Sherfield Foyer every Thursday from 3pm until 6pm.

Matthew Proctor

Matthew is a 2nd year Physics student at Imperial College London

Categories: What volunteering means to me