Making change happen through volunteering

Student VTeam members

Volunteering is at a historic low in England, suffering a sharp decline since the pandemic which it has failed to recover from. 

But for over 20 years, University of Essex students, supported by the Students’ Union, have been making change happen though volunteering - by giving their time, energy and talents to a host of projects to make a genuine and lasting difference to a wide range of communities. 

This remarkable commitment rightly earned the Students' Union's VTeam volunteering programme the King's Award for Voluntary Service 2023.

Student VTeam members

Unstoppable dedication to volunteering

Students are inherently aware of the big issues of the day – from climate change and sexual violence to mental health and international conflict.

They want to take action that makes a difference.

And at Essex we support them to do this.

The unstoppable dedication and commitment of the students who are part of the Students’ Union VTeam volunteering programme made them worthy winners of the King's Award for Voluntary Service 2023.

This is the highest national award a voluntary group can receive in the UK and is considered the MBE for voluntary groups.

Since its inception over 20 years ago, the VTeam has helped thousands of individuals in schools, care homes, refugee programmes and a range of community projects.

The impact of VTeam’s volunteers is vast; they deliver regular projects, one-offs and online volunteering, covering a huge range of causes and issues, with a large number of different partners and beneficiaries.

And for the students themselves, volunteering gives them a sense of belonging and community, a chance to gain skills and experience, and to meet new people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Since 2016, over 6,700 students have logged 187,441 hours of volunteering. This equates to an incredible 21 years of volunteering, every minute of every day.

International students, representing 130 countries, are consistently some of the most engaged volunteers, dedicated to making a positive impact during their time in the UK.

Collection being gathered for a foodbank
Collection being gathered for a foodbank

“I wanted to get involved with the VTeam because attending the dog therapy sessions last year helped me become more comfortable around new people and larger crowds. I wanted to have the same impact on other students and, in a way, help them become the best version of themselves without feeling awkward or uncomfortable in more social and crowded environments.”
VTeam volunteer Ramona-Nicoleta Ion

Volunteers collecting clothes

Meeting challenges of the local community

What sets the VTeam apart from other voluntary organisations is the diversity of its contribution.

Universities are places of innovation, and the VTeam benefits from our students’ unique talents, ideas, energy and enthusiasm.

Students not only meet existing needs within the local community for voluntary support, they proactively seek opportunities to benefit others. They frequently create their own projects, demonstrating a unique and creative response to social, environmental, wellbeing, and topical issues facing the wider community and future generations.

VTeam delivers one-off projects ranging from beach cleans and marshalling marathons to parcel packing at the local Foodbank and a Washathon at Colchester Archaeological Trust. 

Alongside these one-off projects, student volunteers have improved the environment through regular litter picks and transformed lives through initiatives like the Essex Law Clinic and the Human Rights Centre Clinic.

Their work benefits multiple generations – from school clubs like Einstein, Lingo and Coding, to schemes like Trivia Travellers, which was set up during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Students set up Zoom quizzes for elderly residents from a local care home to help improve welfare and tackle loneliness during such a difficult time.

As well as local community projects, they support local and national charities. The student-run fortnightly Clothes Exchange project donates to a different charity each time. Recent charities benefitting include the Robin Cancer Trust, Autism Anglia, and the Haven Project.

Chris Moore

"VTeam is a record-breaking community of Essex students who dedicate thousands of hours every year to make a positive difference to people’s lives.

“The Students’ Union recruits, trains and supports student volunteers to take part in regular projects, one-offs and even micro-volunteering through initiatives like our VTeam Café.

“Essex students volunteer at schools, care homes, animal sanctuaries, refugee centres, community events and much more. They use the power of volunteering to address big issues they are passionate about like the environment, austerity and support for survivors of domestic abuse.

“They are a truly amazing student community, and a huge credit to the SU and the University as a whole."
Chris Moore, SU Volunteering Manager

Helping those who are struggling

Volunteers working with the First Stop Centre

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.

This includes offering support to single parents, senior citizens, the unemployed, those affected by mental health or substance misuse, and anyone with a learning disability.

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.”

Making a positive impact on the lives of refugees

Student volunteers are making a huge difference to the lives of refugees in Essex.

For the past six years, Essex Integration has worked with the VTeam on the Refugee Teaching Programme, where students, both UK and international, help teach 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 one-to-one literacy to our Afghan ladies who are illiterate", explained Ewa Haladus, from Essex Integration. “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 the tuition sessions are able to empathise with the learners 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.

“The volunteers have made a huge impact on the lives of our refugees through their time, dedication, and friendship,” added Ewa.

Student Gemma Smith, who volunteers at a number of VTeam projects including the Refugee Teaching Programme, added: “I feel like volunteering is addictive. Once you start you can’t stop. It is so fun, giving back to people and your communities – it’s just brilliant.”


Find out more

Volunteers in high vis jackets

Find out more about the VTeam

VTeam is the volunteering team of your Student's Union. Our goal is to ensure you gain transferable skills for the future while helping the community.

Students celebrating the Holi festival

The Students' Union

When you join Essex, you join a community of 15,000 students representing 140 different nationalities from around the world. Our campuses are buzzing with activities and events and you'll find a supportive network of like minds where you can pursue your passions and have fun. 

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Sixty Stories

We’re celebrating 60 years of making change happen.  60 years of boldness and bravery from our students past and present. 60 years of creating change.