What next for student volunteering?

There has been a long tradition of student volunteering. In the late 1800s the expansion in Higher Education saw many innovations in the way students could help out in the community. The inter-war period and the depression saw a new movement of organised economy and relief among the UK student population – one which is mirrored today in the form of subsidised books and travel – and the Rag movement grew in the 1920s and 1930s, cementing volunteering and giving firmly within university culture. The Home Front during WWII, the CND, Oxfam and the anti-apartheid movement in the 1960s, Student Community Action (SCA) groups in the 1970s and the formation of the Student Community Action Development Unit (SCADU) in 1981 show the changing landscape of student volunteering. 15,000 students were involved in SCA groups by the late-1980s. In the 1990s the aims of student volunteering shifted towards improving the universities’ relationships with the local community, the development of new skills and enhancement of employability. The work of SCADU to boost the profile of student volunteering saw the creation of the first Student Volunteering Week in 2001. The Labour government’s Higher Education Active Community Fund helped greatly to encourage student involvement in their local community, but the disappearance of this since 2010 presents challenges in how to maintain this culture.

Student protests like these were extremely popular in the 1960s

Student protests like these were extremely popular in the 1960s

The Jewish community, however, has responded to this in a more positive way and students are taking it upon themselves to give back and encourage volunteering. Perhaps the most successful example is a new JVN-supported project called Vscheme. This volunteering programme was developed by Ricky Kaplan who, in 2010 when it was created, was the Social Action Officer on the students’ Jewish Society (JSoc) Committee in Nottingham. The programme works by forming partnerships with local charities and special needs schools in the Nottingham community and working with them to developing specific volunteering opportunities suitable for Jewish students which are meaningful, flexible and enjoyable, pandering to their academic, religious and timetabling needs. Vscheme has been incredibly successful, involving more than 250 students over the last 3 academic years in regular and one-off volunteering opportunities.Vscheme Logo with slogan

After he graduated in 2012, Ricky came to the JVN with the aim of expanding the Vscheme model onto other campuses, leaving the on-campus management of Vscheme in the hands of two hand-picked Vscheme Reps who are both current students in Nottingham. “I wanted to ensure that Vscheme could survive on campus without me having to be there in person,” he says. “With me living in London, JVN was the organisation that I thought could really help me think about Vscheme’s future sustainability and develop it to take it to the next level.” With the help of the JVN team, Vscheme performed well in Nottingham last year. After talks with the JSoc at Birmingham we have also secured the opportunity for Vscheme’s expansion into the West Midlands from September this year. “It’s very satisfying,” says Ricky, “to see how far Vscheme has come in this short while. I’m very excited about the launch in Birmingham and it presents us with a real opportunity to build a great reputation for Vscheme among students and the wider community.”

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Vscheme offers volunteering opportunities that get students out and about…

It hasn’t been an easy journey, and Ricky is acting as Director of Vscheme whilst holding down a full-time job. But the support of JVN and new partners the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) has enabled Ricky to seek advice where it is most needed and to balance his workload more effectively, allowing JVN Youth Co-ordinator Mike to take up some of the administration work on Vscheme’s behalf. “Having JVN and UJS onside is really important,” he emphasises. “Not only are they a great help in taking some of the work off my hands, helping me raise funds for Vscheme and providing moral support, but I see them as the natural partners for Vscheme. They are experts in all matters to do with volunteering and dealing with Jewish students. The advice they have provided and continue to provide me with is invaluable, and I am confident now that Vscheme has a viable strategy for moving forward onto new territory in Birmingham while maintaining the current success in Nottingham.”

It isn’t all smooth sailing though. As for most charities and new community organisations, raising funds is probably the hardest challenge Vscheme faces at the moment. Mike is working hard to write grant applications and accumulate the resources Vscheme needs to run an effective campaign next academic year. “It’s not an easy task,” says Mike, “as funds are obviously restricted for all charities. But I think Vscheme has a great unique aspect in the way it forms the partnerships with charities and schools and develops volunteering opportunities which are tailor-made for Jewish students. It’s a great initiative, and the fact that it was created and is run by students adds extra appeal and makes it more attractive to trusts and foundations.”

Vscheme also has the advice of an Advisory Board at its disposal. With a JVN trustee, a member of the UJS staff team and experienced (and mainly young) professionals in the voluntary, Jewish communal and student-related sectors, Vscheme has a wealth of expertise it can turn to in order to determine which route is right for it to take.

... and an opportunity to meet new people

… and an opportunity to meet new people

It is a period of great transition for Vscheme, and we will have to wait and see until September whether the enthusiasm shown for it in Nottingham can cross the Midlands and permeate into the Jewish student population of Birmingham. I have written previously about the benefits volunteering can bring for students, so a customised volunteering opportunity to suit a Jewish student should in theory be snapped up. Only time will tell. But if nothing else, Vscheme is already a success story of how a Jewish student saw the potential for himself and like-minded individuals to make a difference in their community, and had the presence of mind to do something about it. And 250 others in Nottingham just needed a small nudge in the right direction in order to realise they could make a difference too, not only to other people’s lives but also their own.

The landscape of volunteering, and particularly student volunteering, is changing all the time. We don’t know yet how people will look back at the 2010s – whether it will be seen as a peak or a despondent time for students and their community giving. Vscheme is a tiny organisation, in the grand scheme of things, trying to make a big impression so they might hit that peak. The Jewish community has a great tradition of volunteering, and there are no reasons why students should not be a part of that in the future.  JVN is proud to be associated with Vscheme and with Jewish students and JSocs, and we’re hoping we can bring you good news from both Birmingham and Nottingham next year.

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Author:Mike

Hi, I'm Mike, JVN's Youth Co-ordinator and blogger. I'll be blogging about all sorts of issues affecting the volunteering community, with a particular focus on how recent developments might affect the UK Jewish community's volunteers. I'm always interested to read the comments you make. If you have something you want to see in the JVN blog, e-mail me at mike@jvn.org.uk and I'll be happy to talk. And if you're inspired by any of my blogs to volunteer, log on to www.jvn.org.uk and register to find your perfect volunteering opportunity.

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