“What does a typical working day look like in the charity sector?”
This was one of a number of questions posed by students to me as I took part in a Day in the Life panel as part of Student Volunteering Week 2020, alongside other representatives from the North East voluntary and community sector.
I was joined on campus at Newcastle University by Jennifer Laws from Asylum Matters, and Alison Flanagan Woods, Arts Development Officer at Newcastle City Council, to explore our collective experience working in the charity sector.
More than 25 students took part in the insightful discussion, arranged by the university’s Go Volunteer team, which covered themes including ‘how to get started in the sector’, ‘the value of qualifications in day to day work’ and ‘managing expectations and stress’.
Chance is a fine thing
I explained how I came across Kids Kabin by chance in 1998 after working in debt advice at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Cowgate, before becoming a geography teacher. But the classroom setting left me wanting, and I was lucky enough to meet someone that told me about a disused potters’ wheel at the charity’s base in Walker. I’d learnt pottery when I was younger, so began to help train other volunteers and facilitate woodworking workshops.
Straight away I realised I could develop relationships with people and teach things I loved at Kids Kabin. I’ve now worked at the charity for 22 years, encouraging children from disadvantaged backgrounds to engage in creative and practical activities, from cookery classes and arts and crafts, to pottery and bike maintenance workshops.
Alison Flanagan Woods also talked about the value of volunteering and gaining experience in the sector as a pathway to employment. She said: “Qualifications can get you through the door but in the interview situation it’s about you as a person and that wealth of experience and life skills you can talk about as well as qualifications.”
This prompted me to recall the experience of one student I worked with who said volunteering had helped him overcome feeling detached from the wider Newcastle community. Getting involved with Kids Kabin gave him a confidence and understanding of the city he’d never felt before. So as well as providing valuable experience to help gain employment, volunteering has added benefits for both personal development and community cohesion.
Great minds think alike
When asked about the best and worst aspects of our jobs, it was reassuring we all share a sense of independence and feel we’re able to make a positive difference, but we also agreed that funding can be precarious and the impact of policy changes unpredictable, so we must be creative with limited funds, and rely on the support of donors, incredible trustees and volunteers, to create meaningful and sustainable projects. I’m also keen to work collaboratively and supportively with others in the sector as there are so many inspiring causes and passionate people to help push each other forward.
To round up our chat, the audience quizzed us on coping with challenging social issues arising from working with disadvantaged and marginalised people, which led Jennifer to stress the importance of resilience and finding personal coping mechanisms that work for you as an individual. She said: “Things beyond your control can happen and make things feel impossible…taking time to pause, feel your emotions and then pick yourself back up is important as this is sometimes a difficult line of work.”
It was fantastic to be part of this panel, which highlighted how engaged our local students are and how keen they are to play an active role in the communities in which they live and study. It also reminded me how varied the charitable sector is and how many opportunities it offers right across the region.
Common interest, common good
Kids Kabin has worked closely with Newcastle University’s student volunteers for more than 25 years. The first Kids Kabin summer programme was run by a team of student volunteers and they’ve supported the charity ever since, enabling hundreds of disadvantaged children to enjoy camping trips in Northumberland through the Rupert’s Wood project. Kids Kabin has gained so much support, enthusiasm and energy from student volunteers and other links with the university, and it’s heartening to hear from students at events like this how they’ve benefited in return – learning much about themselves, as well as the communities and people of Newcastle.
By Will Benson, Kids Kabin Chief Executive
Many thanks to The Courier student newspaper for its feature by Charlotte Boulton, as shown in our cover image for this blog post. The full feature can be read at: thecourieronline.co.uk/student-volunteering-week-charity-sector-panel-offers-valuable-insights.