September 27, 2013, by Malvika Johal

When volunteering is a good idea….

Alumna Clare Harvey, Creative Writing 2012, reflects on her involvement this year with the Lakeside Literacy Project which has been supported by the University’s Cascade fund.

So, you’re doing a full-time masters, wading through all that reading and writing and meanwhile your husband is on a six-month operational tour of duty in Afghanistan and so you’re a de facto single parent to three primary-age kids, one of whom has a physical disability and special educational needs, and you’ve got a geriatric dog with terminal cancer who you have to keep taking to the vet, and did I mention the rats? You’ve also got two pet rats.

Given that this is your situation, you really don’t want to over-commit; I mean, it would be a really stupid idea to even think about doing some voluntary work at Lakeside Arts Centre as well, wouldn’t it?

Yep, you’re right, it would.

But, sometimes, stupid ideas have a way of working out.

Last year Lakeside’s galleries learning officer, Ruth Lewis-Jones, started the pilot of the Lakeside Literacy Project, a scheme where UoN creative writing students devise and deliver literacy workshops for local schoolchildren in the university’s Lakeside Arts Centre. At the time I was doing my creative writing masters (with the three kids, absent husband and half-dead dog), and I was one of those first student volunteers.

Since its inception at the start of 2012, thirteen creative writing students (a mix of undergraduates and postgrads) have worked with more than 300 primary school pupils over five exhibitions at the Djanogly Gallery at Lakeside.

For the first two exhibitions I was a student volunteer, but after graduating last autumn I moved across into a mentoring role, helping to recruit new student volunteers for the 2012-13 academic year, and to plan training and schools workshops.

There are so many things I love about being involved with the project: seeing school children freeing up their creativity in the art gallery; watching the creative writing students engage and inspire a whole new generation of potential writers; and noticing how the students themselves develop in confidence with each workshop. It has been an absolute joy to remain involved.

Ruth and I have plans for the future, too: recruiting more students for 2013-14, offering the writing workshops to more schools, and consolidating the work by undertaking research into measurable educational benefits of the project.

So it seems to me that sometimes having a tendency to over-commit is a good thing; sometimes the stupid ideas turn out to be the best ones you ever had.

Posted in Cascade fund