Tue 14 Nov 23
The remarkable commitment of University of Essex students to their local community has earned the Students' Union's VTeam volunteering programme the King's Award for Voluntary Service 2023.
This is the highest national award a voluntary group can receive in the UK and is given to volunteer groups across the UK to recognise exceptional service within their communities. The Award is considered the MBE for voluntary groups.
Chris Moore, SU Volunteering Manager, said: ““The University of Essex Students’ Union’s VTeam is a record-breaking collective of students at the University of Essex who, with the support of the Students’ Union, volunteer thousands of hours to make a positive difference to people’s lives.
“Their impressive roster of volunteering projects includes cultural integration for refugees, support for the vulnerable both young and old, schools’ projects around science, maths, languages, and more, plus a range of larger projects supporting charities and community events, and tackling big issues like the environment and mental health”
Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster said: “I am extremely proud of each of our student volunteers. They represent the Essex Spirit in action and this national award for the vTeam is extremely well deserved. As we begin our 60th anniversary celebrations, this award is fitting recognition for the amazing impact of our student volunteers over many years.”
VTeam aims to give students rewarding experiences while also helping them gain transferable skills for the future. Students can get involved in various types of regular, one-off, and online projects with VTeam covering all travelling and equipment costs to ensure all students can get involved.
VTeam representatives will receive the King’s Award crystal and certificate from the Lord-Lieutenant of Essex Jennifer Tolhurst at a future date and two VTeam volunteers will be invited to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace next summer.
Recent MSc Speech and Language Therapy graduate Rosie Waspe was Project Leader for Poetic Legacies last year and was long-listed for a National Societies and Volunteering Award. Through the project volunteers created a poetry anthology for East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, available for palliative patients, their families and the staff supporting them.
Rosie said: “It has been the greatest pleasure and privilege to share my time with VTeam over the course of my MSc. Setting up the ‘Poetic Legacies’ project and working with students from all different backgrounds and disciplines has been a truly insightful and humbling experience - I am so grateful for all of the encouragement and support I have received from the team.”
The King’s Award for Voluntary Service was created in 2002 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee and, following his accession, His Majesty The King emphasised his desire to continue the Award and recipients are announced annually on 14 November, The King’s Birthday.
VTeam volunteers have made a big difference to the First Stop Centre in Braintree a grass roots project that offers real and immediate help to members of the community who are struggling with problems in their lives. VTeam volunteers spend Saturdays at the centre supporting learners with English, Maths, IT and other subjects.
The First Stop Centre team said: “Our people really appreciate the efforts and all the input that the young student volunteers have invested. They bring new ideas, skills and energy to what we offer.
“For a set of young people to be so understanding and compassionate to people who have not always had a great start, and to treat them with respect and not question them, is honestly exceptional. It is and continues to be a great collaboration and partnership.”
Ewa Haladus from Essex Integration which has worked with the VTeam on the Refugee Teaching Programme for the past six year, says student volunteers make a huge difference: “The students, both UK and international, help our clients integrate by teaching them English, offering four sessions a week, online and in person. Within the sessions, students sit next to learners and help with writing, reading, pronunciation, and practising speaking and listening skills. The students throw themselves into everything - from washing up after coffee breaks, to teaching 1:1 Literacy to our Afghan ladies who are illiterate.
“They don’t just offer tuition, they offer friendship and their own personal lived experience of adapting to a new culture. The international students that run our tuition sessions are able to empathise with our service users from the point of view of learning English as a second language, the cultural adjustment of moving to a new country, and even an understanding of what it’s like to go through immigration processes.”