Fay Holland, Convenor of the St Andrews Voluntary Service, tells us about links between student volunteers and the local community
A lot of people compare student life in St Andrews to living in a “bubble” but, having been involved in St Andrews Voluntary Service (SVS) for several years, that’s not an assessment I recognise. With over 200 volunteers working on almost 50 different projects, I get to see first-hand just how connected the student body is to the local community.
My first experience of volunteering in St Andrews was helping out at the primary school breakfast clubs run by the local charity Families First, and at education days at the Botanic Gardens. In my third year I joined the SVS committee as Youth with Special Needs Project Officer and began volunteering at a wonderfully glittery Craft Club for adults with learning disabilities. This year I was lucky enough to be elected Convenor, giving me responsibility for the overall running of SVS, and have continued volunteering on the projects that have become an integral part of my student life.
The thing I love about volunteering is that it is a really simple way of creating quality time for yourself and for the people you work with. An hour that you might have let slip by, drinking tea and browsing the internet, becomes productive and uplifting. Volunteering is also a great way of meeting people you might not usually get to know and can give you valuable work experience either by helping you get to where you want to go in your future career or by helping you to work out where that is!
The range of volunteering opportunities we offer through SVS reflects the diverse interests of our volunteers. We have seven main project areas: youth, youth with special needs, adults with special needs, the elderly, befriending, animals, and the environment. From helping at youth clubs, animal sanctuaries, or wheelchair ice-skating sessions to working one on one with a student at Madras College, there’s an opportunity to suit everyone.
One of our newest initiatives is the Town and Gown Befriending Scheme, set up in partnership with one of the medical practices in St Andrews. Volunteers are matched to an individual in the local community who might be isolated through medical or personal circumstances and meet up with them every week or fortnight. The volunteers aren’t there to provide essential care but simply to offer companionship and brighten the day of their ‘befriendee’! The first partnerships have been a great success and we’re very excited about expanding the scheme in the year to come.