Veronica & Jana on a Year of Volunteer Organising

By Veronica Benduski

Leading the Volunteering Team this year has been a journey of exploration and learning as my co-leader Jana and I formed partnerships within Ustinov, other colleges, local organisations, and with the larger international community. To best explain what the Volunteering Team does, let me give you a little walk-through of the year, as Jana and I developed exciting relationships

After preliminary meetings and brainstorm sessions with volunteers who signed up during the Ustinov clubs and societies day, Jana and I dove into planning events for the term, initiating a partnership with the undergraduate volunteering society (SCA) to tutor children at Keenan House Homework Club.

Bake sale! (Photo: GCP)
Bake sale! (Photo: GCP)

Still learning the ropes, we collaborated with other GCP teams, putting on a successful, thought-provoking event called ‘Concepts of Home’ with Race Crime & Justice and UIF, and a Café des Arts Christmas Event with carols, poetry readings, and a bake sale that raised money for the school children of the international Ustinov Foundation. The volunteering team is always on hand to collaborate or help out with other GCP projects, even participating in a prestigious art exhibition opening at the Oriental Museum.

We also began a partnership with Old Durham Gardens (ODG), a 17th-century walled garden with a long and fascinating history. Even though the day was rainy, more than ten hardy volunteers came to clean up the rose garden, dig holes for trellises, and create a new gravel path at the entrance. A few volunteers studying archaeology even found old pottery and animal bones! We celebrated the hard work back at Ustinov with a delicious hot meal at the cozy Keeper’s Cottage. We will have more volunteer days with staff and students at ODG this summer and are thrilled that some students have stayed on to initiate their own projects to improve the garden.

In the spring term, Jana and I discovered a Durham charity called RT Projects, an organisation run by two artists that use many forms of art as healing and empowerment for those who face dementia, stroke, autism, and other mental health challenges. A group of us went to RT Projects to learn about their work and do a bit of art of our own. We saw first-hand the powerful effects of creating a collaborative painting from our collective memories of the sea, which we then cut out and turned into stationery to send to family members and friends.

Volunteers gardening at the Ustinov allotment (Photo: GCP)
Volunteers gardening at the Ustinov allotment (Photo: GCP)

To combat the frenzy of exam stress at the beginning of Epiphany Term, our team organised gardening, dog-walking, and other stress-relieving volunteer events. This year, Jana and I began working with our undergraduate neighbours at Josephine Butler to revive the Ustinov garden allotment and greenhouse. Although few know about it, the garden is open for students to plant and care for their own fruits, berries, and vegetables. Seeing that the garden needed some serious tidying up, volunteers weeded beds and discovered strawberry and rhubarb plants, planted flowers and herbs, and are hoping to fundraise for a new greenhouse.

Veronica and Jana (Photo: GCP)
Veronica and Jana (Photo: GCP)

Jana and I are looking forward to improving the Ustinov Garden with our weekly summer ‘drop-in’ gardening hours that are open to everyone—mentors, students, and staff. Durham University Volunteering at Maiden Castle also has many fantastic summer opportunities—from dog walking to kayaking, colouring, and playing games with kids at summer camps.

Through co-coordinating the volunteer projects at Ustinov, I have learned that this programme is  all about community. It’s about forming relationships with one another and local organisations, as well as thinking critically about volunteering as part of our role as global citizens. I’ve found that no matter where you are, volunteering requires learning about your community–thinking about the needs that exist and how to create sustainable projects and partnerships. Through the GCP Volunteering Team, I have found the intellectual postgrad community, friendships, and connection to the Durham community that I had hoped to discover in graduate school.

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