This year marks the 15th anniversary of Student Volunteering Week, which takes place 22-28 February 2016. SVW is an annual celebration of the not for profit work that students all over the UK engage in; work which is often at the frontline of community development, adds to their university experience and makes a difference overseas. Although Student Volunteering Week had humble beginnings, it is now a popular nationwide campaign and this year alone over 10,000 students are expected to participate in events up and down the UK. The campaign is run by the lovely people over at Student Hubs, in conjunction with the NUS.
I fell into volunteering a bit accidentally; it definitely wasn't something I planned! I struggled with my mental health as a teenager and depression and anxiety followed me to University. I was walking through the Students Union one day, and in typical student-style there was a bloke there getting his chest waxed for charity. I stood for a little while to revel in the commotion and as I approached I noticed that it was the 'Cardiff Mental Wealth society'; a student group aimed at raising awareness of mental health and promoting positive wellbeing on campus. They had one of those little clipboards for students to register their interest, so I slung a pound into the collection bucket and left my details.
It wasn't some huge 'a-ha' moment for me; I had checked out the student volunteering centre long before but nothing really took my interest. But when I got a text from a guy called Nate in the year above me asking if I would be free to help out with a cake sale the next week, which would accompany the 'What do you do for yours?' campaign to ask students how they look after their mental health I couldn't see why not. Plus I was going through an episode of depression at the time and at least that way I knew I would see some people and get out the house even if I was feeling bad.
The campaign went really well; we ran round the union asking students how they look after their mental health, offering yummy treats to anybody who took part and we even made it into a spot in the local paper! It felt as if I was finally doing something which turned my experiences into something positive; I was part of a team who dared to talk about mental health and prioritised student wellbeing over top grades.
The rest, they say is history. I got very involved in Cardiff Mental Wealth and the other committee members encouraged me to speak out about my experiences. I penned an article for the Gair Rhydd, Cardiff's student newspaper on eating disorders, based on my own experiences. The article was spotted online by the CEO of a student eating disorder charity who got in touch and asked me if I would be interested in setting up a self-help project at Cardiff. It was perfect. I was already in the momentum of mental health campaigning and the prospect of being able to make a bigger difference by running a self-help group for students with eating disorders was very attractive.
Needless to say my final year was very busy; I balanced my dissertation with leading the Cardiff Mental Wealth project and coordinating and setting up the Cardiff SRSH project for students with eating disorders. On top of this I took on my first trusteeship at SRSH. Volunteering gave me as much back as I put into it; it gave me a sense of purpose and self-esteem, and a wonderful group of friends who had similar interests to me and were willing to share their stories of volunteering and recovery.
My volunteering experiences at University were the catalyst to me choosing to pursue a career in the charity sector. Funnily enough I started my career working for Student Hubs on their graduate scheme, and during that year Mental Wealth UK and SRSH merged to become Student Minds.
Three years later volunteering is still a huge part of my life; I am an e- mentor for young people with mental health problems, I produce content and blogs for Community Interest Company MHFA England, run the London Mental Health Campaigners Network and up until recently I was a trustee of CLASP; a suicide prevention charity. It's a very busy lifestyle, but it's one that I enjoy; it gives me the chance to give back and it helps me stay positive.