By Cerian Jones
When I received the e-mail asking for volunteers during fresher’s week I was hesitant to apply, I’d be no good at helping new students heave half a tonne of boxes and suitcases up flights of stairs. The reason I eventually did apply was that I remembered my time as a fresher and how the volunteers that I talked to helped me out, and I realised it’s not about carrying luggage, it’s about being a friendly face in a time of need. And that I could do.
One application form, a phone call interview, and an e-mail later claiming that my application had impressed the Team CUSU staff enough to be appointed the role of a Deputy Team Leader. I humbly accepted the role, unsure of how much groundwork I’d actually get to do because that’s where I wanted to be; talking to students and making a difference.
The training day was upon us, deputy team leaders picking up their blue t-shirts and nametags, before taking a seat in the great hall anxious about the long day ahead of them. (I was particularly impressed and joyful to see each and every nametag had every team member’s preferred pronouns on them) Joshua Gibbs began the team leader training by congratulating us and thanking us all for being there, he then continued to talk about himself for an hour; I won’t go into details but it was highly entertaining. Gibbs is as inspiring as he is loud – which is definitely important in his role as head of student advice in the union. There were 502 team members in total, of which 64 were team leaders and 38 were deputy team leaders. Each completed 7 hours of leadership training with the skills development service.
Joining Team CUSU does not have to be a stand-alone commitment, volunteering opens so many doors to other amazing opportunities and experiences within the Student Union. Many of the VP’s and Sabbatical Officers were volunteers before they climbed up the ladder to a paid position of real power in the union. I and many other volunteers have since applied to be part of the executive committee which means we can lend our talents and beliefs in changing and improving the student experience.
The Team CUSU also offered all team members opportunities for training classes regarding incredibly important issues, on offer was a suicide prevention class which informed us on how one can help someone at risk by connecting them to the right people. I also took part in a self-defense class which was surprisingly fun. The first aid class was both educational and entertaining – also in my opinion – incredibly vital. The Bystander Intervention class was eye-opening and it was really fantastic to see a huge amount of people who care enough to attend in order to help prevent sexual assault on campus. There were also opportunities to join the Give It A Go team, the ‘Talk Team’ and the brand new ‘Buddy Scheme’.
The volunteering aspect itself was everything I’d expected it to be; standing outside my old halls of residence for 4 hours at a time in a tropical depression storm (although it didn’t feel tropical). I spent most of my time assuring new students that “No I promise the weather isn’t always this bad”. The team members and leaders were amazing; some ran around getting coffee to warm up cold hands and fuel sleepy early starts. Others teamed up to lift heavy suitcases or explaining how to connect to eduroam. 4,700 students moved into halls of residence and to date, volunteers knocked on 3,00 student’s rooms to talk with them and ask how they’re settling in. Meanwhile at the SU volunteers organised the collection of Student’s ID cards. Every student was greeted by a volunteer with a smile and the knowledge of exactly what it felt like to be in their shoes. 10,800 students collected their student card through the enrolment system. We estimate that team members spoke to over 95% of them in the new ‘Talk Team’ initiative. All of this was made possible during the 10 days of freshers week because of students volunteering their time. The passion and commitment I was surrounded by was incredible; from the team members to the SU staff.
The entire experience was summed up by an awards ball; a fantastic evening which honoured everyone who gave up their time, and many volunteers that really stood out received awards for their hard work. There were 221 peer nominations for awards, of which 108 team members were shortlisted and 14 winners selected. The awards were titled appropriately, for example, the Kylie Jenner award was won by the team member who submitted the best selfie. There were more serious awards for members who really made an effort and stood out from the others. After a wonderful ball, we ended the night in true student fashion and headed to YOLO.