Lizzie Stewart: What volunteering means to me
Posted on 26 Feb 2015
A key aim of Student Volunteering Week is celebrating the positive impact that student volunteers make across the UK. Today we're shining the spotlight on Lizzie, a volunteer with Nottingham STAR, who tells us what volunteering means to her…
I joined STAR at the beginning of my MA at the University Of Nottingham because I wanted to put my English-teaching background to good use. Once I started going, the Tuesday Night Project became so much more to me than just practicing teaching. I met some amazing people, both learners and volunteers alike, with whom I have built a lasting friendship throughout my two and a half years in Nottingham. Now in the second year of my PhD, I have become more involved in the project as the English Club Coordinator. I enjoy working with volunteers from the British Red Cross, our partner organisation, to make the classes run smoothly (more or less!).
The Tuesday Night Project runs during most of the year and is comprised of English classes led by STAR volunteers and general welcoming advice sessions, such as how to sign up for the GP or the gym, run by Red Cross volunteers. All refugees and asylum seekers in the Nottingham area are welcome to join! We have three different class levels: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced and generally have a broad topic which all levels discuss. In the end, our most important goal is to provide a welcoming environment and to get everyone talking! We have had an excellent turnout this year and get around 40 learners and 15 volunteers each week, with more joining all the time! The church hall we use is always quite full (and quite loud!), but there is a great energy in the room and everyone always has fun chatting and learning new things.
"Before, I had no real awareness about issues surrounding refugees and asylum seekers. Joining STAR and becoming more involved with the Tuesday Night Project changed all of that."
As well as covering helpful topics like vocabulary to use at the doctor’s or how to answer interview questions, we also take advantage of holidays and festivals to teach about UK culture and to allow learners to teach us about traditions from their own countries. For example, we talked about Pancake Day earlier in February. This presented an excellent opportunity to bring food into the mix, so we all ate delicious pancakes!
As I mentioned before, I started helping out with the classes because I wanted to continue teaching. I had no real awareness about issues surrounding refugees and asylum seekers. Joining STAR and becoming more involved with the Tuesday Night Project changed all of that. I have been able to learn about refugee and asylum seeker concerns first-hand from all the lovely people I meet every Tuesday. One of the issues they face is a feeling of isolation and boredom. I know that for many of our learners, the Tuesday Night Project is one of their only chances for socialising. I’m so happy that our classes provide them an opportunity to relax, meet new people who are interested in what they have to say, and to build up their confidence in speaking English because there is no judgment in our class environment.
I am so grateful for my experience volunteering with STAR because I have met so many wonderful people along the way. I have learned so much about different cultures and ways of life. I have really enjoyed watching the progress of the learners over the years I have been involved with the English classes. It is certainly a gratifying experience to teach someone something new, but I also love being able to learn about each student’s life, and to not only see their English progression but also see them settling into life in Nottingham. I’m honoured to have been a part of that.
Click here to read more stories in our What volunteering means to me series