Features

Supporting Others in the Pandemic: The Cardiff Students Volunteering Through COVID-19

By Eva Rodericks

In a time of extreme difficulty for many, whether that be financially, emotionally or physically, Cardiff students have been doing their bit to support the national effort and fight against the effects of the pandemic. 

Essential Goods Collection for The Trussell Trust

Following the tireless campaigning by Manchester United and England football star Marcus Rashford, the government has taken a U-turn on their original decision to not provide children in the UK with free school meals in the school holidays. Many children are now receiving food packages from the government, but Rashford says they are not up to standard. Recently, images of food parcels from the government have emerged on social media, many of which have been estimated to cost £20 less than the £30 value promised. 

This inspired Cardiff student, Kate Marks, to organise a collection of essential items for The Trussell Trust. The Trussell Trust works to end hunger in the UK and oversee hundreds of food banks. They estimate 4.5 million children in the UK live in poverty. 

Students in Cathays collecting goods in aid of The Trussell Trust. [Credit: Kate Marks, Collection Organiser]

In an interview with Kate, she highlighted that it is key workers who are fighting the pandemic every day that often cannot afford to, or don’t have the time to, feed their children. Kate has said “no person: man woman or child should ever go hungry. If the government won’t take responsibility for the rising rate of food poverty that they have perpetuated since 2010, who will?” 

The collection took place in the heart of the student community on Miskin Street, Cathays, where Kate estimates up to 120 boxes full of food, sanitary and cleaning products, plus £600 were donated. The organiser says they love the work they do and “it is so unbelievably heartwarming to see how many people really care”. 

A van-full of donations from Cathays students after the collection. [Credit: Kate Marks, Collection Organiser]

The team plans to hold collections every other month, working closely with The Trussell Trust and any other charity that is interested, to ensure a steady stream of supply to those in need. Kate and her team are working on a grab and go service where those in the local area will be able to access food when they need it. 

The local community can help by continuing to donate as much as possible, and consider volunteering for The Trussell Trust and other charities delivering aid to the most vulnerable at this time. 

Mind Your Head

Student Led Service

Cardiff student Darrian is a part of the student-led mental health service, Mind Your Head, and has told us what they have been up to during the pandemic. 

Darrian says one of the main issues the service is dealing with is students being shut in their rooms all day, on their laptops, which first year students are particularly suffering from. Another big issue is students at home struggling to concentrate with the distraction of other family members, as well as financial concern they’re paying for accommodation they cannot use. The social emphasis of University has been more than difficult to achieve this year. Isolation and loneliness are common issues. 

Mind Your Head on Instagram [Credit: Mind Your Head Committee]

Darrian says that the Student Led Service, Mind Your Head, “aims to promote wellbeing and mental health among students”. To do this, the service has created content on Facebook (‘Mind Your Head’) and Instagram (@mindyourheadcusu) giving top tips on how to tackle the blues, as well as advice for those sitting exams around this time. When lockdown eases the group plans to hold an inside-out day, where participants will be encouraged to wear their clothes inside out to promote awareness that “we may not always be feeling how we look from the outside”. With everything currently being done virtually, Darrian says it has been hard to engage students. 

Darrian advises that students focus on what makes them happy. One way to do this is through keeping a gratitude journal, where every day you jot down the things you are most grateful for. She says “with everything going on, it is easy to lose sight of the important things in life and it is important to make time to do the things you love and have regular breaks”. Cardiff boasts two gorgeous parks, Roath and Bute, where students can go to get some headspace. Another piece of advice is to keep in contact with friends and family to feel better connected in isolating times. 

Darrian says that, although it is easier said than done, try “not to dwell too much on what the future may bring”. 

Mind Your Head on Instagram [Credit: Mind Your Head Committee]

Make a Smile

Cardiff Volunteering Project

“Make a Smile is a student led charity that primarily works with children in hospitals, or in the community, with disabilities giving them the opportunity to interact and form a bond with the characters that they look up to and admire”, Luke Morgan tells me. Luke is a medical student, who founded Make a Smile four and half years ago. The organisation works to ensure children with long term illnesses and disabilities do not miss out on interacting with the characters they love, that they often have limited access to. 

In usual times, Luke and his team visit children, predominantly in hospitals, dressed up as Disney characters and other childhood icons. But, in a pandemic, usual activity has come to a halt. Luke and his team had planned a medieval re-enactment fayre for their children, which has been put on pause. Luke is a “firm believer in silver linings”, and has “used the lockdown to start virtual visits”.

Make a Smile Volunteers Pre-Lockdown. [Credit: Luke Morgan, Make a Smile Founder]

Virtual visits have broken down time and space constraints — with Make a Smile can now being able to ‘visit’ children anywhere in the country, regardless of location. Visits may include a simple chat and storytime with a character, or safety reminders. Luke’s “personal favourite is Spiderman encouraging children to wear a mask to protect their friends and family, as think, as far as children are concerned, they are far more likely to listen to Spiderman than a politician”. 

The organisation hasn’t stopped there. During lockdown they have been using their website to deliver training to volunteers in British Sign Language, Makaton and non-verbal communication. 

Make a Smile has become hugely successful, operating in 12 cities across the UK, visiting as many children as they can.

Make a Smile Volunteers Pre-Lockdown. [Credit: Luke Morgan, Make a Smile Founder]

Interested in reading more about volunteering and campaigning in lockdown? How about our most recent interviews with:
– Catcalls of Caerdydd: The Cardiff University Students #chalkingback Against Street Harassment
– Cardiff University’s Help 4 Homeless Society

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