Last year, more than 570 Open University students volunteered through The Open University Students Association (OUSA). During Student Volunteering Week, we wanted to find out more about why people choose to volunteer, the roles that are open to OU students, and hear about some of their experiences.
Huge variety of volunteering opportunities
“We strive for a thriving and diverse volunteer community that is reflective of our student body. Whether you have several hours a week, or one day a year there is something for you. We offer roles which don’t require you to change out of your pyjamas, as well as roles which give you the chance to travel and meet other OU students face to face.”
“As well as being able to volunteer directly for OUSA, we often advertise opportunities within the OU, and sometimes partner up with fellow charities who support worthy causes in your local communities.
“You could sit on an OU committee to share the student voice, become a Peer Supporter offering a listening ear to fellow students, or support students in prison to complete their research for modules.
“At the moment, we’re piloting student-led projects, whereby any OU student can propose a project that will benefit their local community. There is also the possibility of a small grant to get your project idea up and running.”
Meet the volunteers
Fanni Zombor, Vice President of Media and Campaigns
Fanni Zombor moved to the UK from Hungary at the age of 15 and took up OU studies a few years later. She had been involved in student volunteer roles at school in Hungary, so was keen to become part of the OU community through volunteering.
She’s now Vice President of Media and Campaigns for the OU Students Association and says that volunteering helps her feel part of the OU’s international community. Fanni says, “Since starting my OU studies in October 2017 I have been a Central Committee Representative, a Senate Reference Group member, a member of the 2018 Conference Steering Committee and have started doing some work around the involvement of the younger generation of students.”
“Alongside my long- term roles I have been taken part in one-off opportunities like attending Senate and being part of consultation groups, focus groups and the Association’s Rules Revision weekend.”
Sarah Jones, Project leader- Donate and Donuts
OU student and project leader of the ‘Donate and Donuts’ initiative to help homeless people Sarah Jones said, “Milton Keynes has one of the highest rates of homelessness in young people outside of London. As I’d experienced this as a younger person it resonated with me.
“I met with other students and staff and we planned an event to raise awareness of the work that organisations within Milton Keynes are already doing to support homeless people. This way when people come in with their donations, they can find out from the charities exactly where their donation will go and how it will be used to make life better for homeless people.”
Over 100 people contributed to the event, with more than 2500 items donated to be shared among local charities supporting the cause.
Sarah (pictured above in white) says: “Now that we have done this event we are creating guidance on how to make such a project successful in other areas, as homelessness is a national issue.”
Sheila Cameron, Chair of Disabled Students’ Group
Sheila Cameron faced life in a wheelchair after an accident at work. She took up OU studies to do something positive and keep her brain active. Now she can’t imagine life without it. As elected Chair of The OU’s Disabled Students’ Group, she now helps others.
“Night-times can be very long, so we set up a Facebook group for registered disabled students with 24 hour, 7 day-a-week support. People know it’s a closed group so it’s confidential and they can open up. Some people find it easier to do this with other students than with their own families.”
Without The Open University’s open access policy, many of the group’s members would not feel able to complete a qualification. Around 20% of registered OU students have a disability, including mental ill health, and Sheila’s advice is to plan ahead before starting a degree to make sure you have support in place.
“I would recommend starting to plan before you even apply. Make contact with your mental health nurse or your consultant in April and tell them you are planning to study. They can help you put the support in place before you start. For example, I now have a non-medical helper to assist me with forms and paperwork.”
“When you are ill, you are labelled and told you can’t do things, but then you find the OU gives you a chance and they adapt things to suit you. You get a lot of support and they even help you to access benefits or funding for things you didn’t know you were eligible for.”
To find out more
Main image credit: Open University Students Association