Volunteering at University of Plymouth Students’ Union (UPSU) has always been a popular activity, with lots of opportunities from a wide variety of charity and community based organisations offering fantastic roles for students to learn new skills and discover their hidden talents. The first port of call for students interested in volunteering is the UPSU website and as, the pandemic took hold in 2020, the UPSU web team accelerated their roll out of a revamp to the volunteering area to create a new Volunteering & Recognition showcase.
We set to work with the intention of updating the UX & UI, the branding with a focus on the logging hours area and the volunteer profile view – but by working with different teams in the SU, not just Volunteering, we identified some great new opportunities to engage with students even during the pandemic - Lewis Akeroyd, Web & Digital Developer at UPSU.
The first job for the project team was to look at how volunteers engage with the Volunteering home page.
With MSL’s Volunteering & Employability system supporting all the volunteer, provider and awards functionality the ability to display engagement stats which use real time data pulled in via an API has proven to be a real draw for new volunteers.
The home page is clean, striking and constantly updating with total hours logged, volunteer numbers, hours logged by society and sports members, student reps, SU voluntary roles and charity and community fundraisers.
Next on the list was to design a Volunteer Toolkit – a one-stop hub to give volunteers, or people curious to see if volunteering is for them, quick access to everything volunteering related, from their own profile, hour log, opportunity search, provider details and award information to details about student led volunteering, Raise And Give and a brand new initiative, the SU Buddy Scheme.
The SU Volunteering Toolkit makes use of all the MSL Volunteering & Employability features, presenting them in a way that makes the most of the new UI designed by the UPSU team.
For any SU planning a review of their Volunteering programme, getting as many different people involved as you can from the start will help you refine the team’s unique ideas into some really practical new ways of doing things.
The SU Buddy Scheme was initially a trial to support students as they started back at university in the midst of the Covid crisis. Pairing up a new student – or someone just looking for informal support - with a student registered as a ‘mentor’ with the Buddy Scheme opened up new ways of meeting new people, trying a new activity and boosting wellbeing for students missing out on the usual social interactions.
Volunteers registering as a Buddy with the scheme logged the hours spent providing support and the scheme has been so well received it is now a permanent feature of the SU Volunteering Toolkit.
Whilst 2020-21 is undoubtedly a challenge for all students’ union and their volunteering teams, using MSL Volunteering & Employability to create a digital hub to encourage and recognise participation in activities outside of academic work has been essential for UPSU.
Their providers have stepped up to the challenge and a number now offer online opportunities that will arm students with new skills and a sense of achievement even during the current restrictions. These opportunities and the support the UPSU team are able to give to their student community - which is still keen and able to volunteer their time on campus and in the wider community – play a crucial part in overall student welfare and retention.