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Award Finalist: Jo Devall

Posted on 18 Feb 2016

This week we are introducing you to the five students who have been shortlisted for the Student Volunteer of the Year Award. The winner will be announced at our Celebration Event on Monday 22 February.

Today, we meet Jo Devall, recent graduate from Plymouth University.


My desire to help others started from a young age. I can remember tugging on the sleeves of my parents every time we walked passed a homeless person on the street, urging them to give me some money so I could give it to them. I remember finding it particularly distressing and wishing I could do more.

Growing up in the Highlands of Scotland, I had a very sheltered up bringing far removed from the struggles that others faced. I was an unruly teenager, often in trouble with the police and unsure of where life was taking me. I had suffered from PTSD in my early teens and had received a lot of support from ‘young carers’ on the Isle of Skye. I was very lucky to come through my issues, where many others did not.

After a number of years of just ‘getting by’, I finally found myself settled in Plymouth. My head was clear, I had a secure job and life was treating me well. It was with this new found stability that I turned my thoughts to helping others. In 2010 I approached the Coxswain of Plymouth Lifeboat and, unbeknown to me, I had just started the most life changing and rewarding journey of my life.

Very quickly into my journey, I started noticing a difference in the way that I addressed problems. I had developed the ability to methodically tackle issues rather than just rushing in and making things worse. I was also a lot more tolerant of authority, something that had been a big issue throughout my school days. The ‘problems’ that life threw at me were now much less of a problem after the scenarios I had faced with my crew mates on board the lifeboats.

Me on the bow of the offshore lifeboat, dousing the flames of a boat that was having a bad day.

My volunteering role with the RNLI meant that I was faced with certain scenarios that most people will never have to endure but it was at those times that I witnessed the true face of humanity; A bunch of guys and girls doing everything they can in order to save the life of a person they have never met and for no personal gain. I don’t think I would have ever been able to witness and learn so much without volunteering.

The skills I had learned with the RNLI enabled me to transfer them to help under privileged children in the local area by teaching them sailing and power boating through a local sailing charity; something I continued with for around 3 years.

In 2011 I started a 4 year degree at Plymouth University. This is something that I never thought I would do. My 12 months as a volunteer with the RNLI had shown me that I had the commitment and diligence that was required to take on such a mammoth undertaking, and installed confidence in my ability. It was in my final year that I got the opportunity to introduce volunteering to other students. I was voted in as President of my Uni kickboxing club and I made it my mission to achieve as much as possible for our members and the local community. We held several different events throughout the year and generated much needed funds for local charities.

This was our ‘interclub’ event where we showcased our abilities against 3 visiting universities

We also ran classes that introduced school children to the extra-curricular activities that university has to offer.

One of our intro classes for high school kids

We held a hugely successful charity auction and the money we raised (over £1000) was donated to CHICKS for the purpose of giving children from difficult backgrounds a weeks holiday respite in Devon. Before we handed the money over I arranged for myself and a couple of my committee members to spend time at the CHICKs retreat to ensure the money went directly to the children’s welfare, with no administration fees. This was a very rewarding experience to be able to put back what others had given to me.

One of the biggest rewards of my time with the kickboxing club was watching my committee and members develop personally as they engaged in all the different activities. Some have gone on to carry out their own projects and I know that all the hard work that was carried out has left a lasting legacy.

The key aspect of volunteering is that you not only benefit those that you have set out to help but you also get to find out a lot about yourself. There is no negative outcome from volunteering and I can honestly say that I would not be sat here today, having achieved so much, had it not been for volunteering.

Jo Devall

Jo is a recent graduate from Plymouth University and one of the finalists for the Student Volunteer of the Year Award 2016.

Categories: Award, Universities, What volunteering means to me