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‘Volunteering made me feel more at home in Bristol’

University of Bristol student Mercedes Hobkirk-Capps in front of the Wills Memorial Building

Left: A student volunteer gardens in Royal Fort Gardens. Right: Psychology with Innovation student Debby Olowu, who volunteered for a youth mental health charity

Student volunteers and locals at a winter tea party arranged by the University's Careers Service and Bristol SU Volunteering Team

Press release issued: 25 September 2023

Student volunteers gave 23,000 hours back to the community during the last academic year.

New figures show that 1,300 University of Bristol students volunteered through Bristol SU-organised schemes in 2022/23 – although many more may volunteer outside of University programmes.

One student said volunteering with teenagers who have learning difficulties was “so rewarding” and made “Bristol feel more like home”. Meanwhile, a local hospice said student volunteers provided an “extra pair of hands, positive attitude and a fresh outlook”.

Projects that students got involved with include tutoring disadvantaged children, planting trees and fundraising.

Debby Olowu, a Psychology with Innovation student, gave up her Saturdays to volunteer for a youth mental health charity.

She said: “Giving back to your community is really nice – you feel good because you know you’re doing good.

“At uni, it’s so easy to stick with people you know and not get out in the community. It was great to meet so many nice people in Bristol and hear new perspectives.”

Through the volunteering, Debby achieved a level 2 certificate in mental health, which will help realise her dream of improving people’s wellbeing as a clinical psychologist.

As the new academic year begins this week, many students will be looking to sign up to volunteering roles.

Medicine student Mercedes Hobkirk-Capps volunteers for – and co-chairs – Pitstop, a student society that takes teenagers with learning disabilities on days out. Recent trips have included pottery painting, bowling and the Bristol Zoo Project.

Mercedes said: “When I moved to Bristol I wanted to be involved in the community. And it’s been so rewarding – you talk to everyone: young people, their parents, community organisations.

“Volunteering really made me feel more at home in Bristol. I hope it’ll also make me a better doctor.”

The most popular places for students to volunteer over the past academic year were Oxfam, Bristol Hub (a local branch of the national charity, Student Hubs, which “aims to mainstream local student social action in higher education”)  and St Peter’s Hospice – all of which are organised through Bristol SU.

A St Peter's Hospice team member said: “Apart from the obvious help that comes from having an extra pair of hands, all of our volunteers from Bristol Uni always bring a positive attitude and a fresh outlook to their shifts at our shop.

“They are all very switched on and quick learners, more than happy to help with any tasks that need doing.”

Often, students’ generosity benefits the community and the volunteer. Population and health Sciences PhD student Saba Faisal, who volunteered through Bristol Hub, said: “I’m a PhD student, which gets lonely sometimes. It was good to be a part of a team, work together and make friends. I think it really impacted positively on my social wellbeing.”

Many students use their volunteer hours to achieve the Bristol PLUS Award, the University of Bristol’s employability award that rewards extracurricular activity.  

Others volunteer through the University’s City Challenges programme, which links student volunteers with local charities to help them solve real-word problems.

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