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Matthew Turbett is a second-year Physics student who volunteers as the project leader on two VSU projects, ‘Out of Silence’ and the Schools’ Film Festival.

‘By meeting so many new people, be it professionals, volunteers, pupils, or members of the public giving their opinion, I have become more rounded as a person and understand a lot more about different communities.’

How often do you volunteer, and for long?

It varies from intense rehearsals/all day get-ins at a theatre to small weekly group sessions developing workshops for schools, but it’s probably about 15 hours a week. What makes it interesting is that it’s hardly ever regular and can involves late nights on my laptop organising random things which always keeps you on your toes.

What do you do as a volunteer? Describe your typical session.

For ‘Out of Silence’ (a theatre project discussing abortion) I am the Project Leader and the Producer, so the job description is very open ended, but it involved casting actors with my director, sourcing set, finding funding from external organisations, organising and administrating the budgets/general logistics and publicity.

For the Schools’ Film Festival (a new film festival for inner London secondary schools) I am the Project Leader and general manager, which involves working with the team of volunteers to develop a series of workshops which we can take to secondary schools. It also involves trying to get schools involved, which requires meetings with the schools and I have also been organising professional workshops for the volunteers at UCL, as well as trying to organise the big screening for all of the films that are produced.

How did you find out about this volunteering?

Initially both of the projects were conceptualised and then brought to the VSU. We decided on coming to the VSU because it gave both of the projects fantastic structure and support which was required. We heard about it from previous volunteering schemes that had occurred with the Drama society.

What were your first impressions when you started volunteering?

Challenging. But in all the good ways! Initially all of the paper work was pretty intense, but that was because for both projects we were applying for VSU funding so we had to know exactly what we were doing which I think is one of the most important things if you are running a volunteering project, as obvious as that may sound. Even if it comes down to a single session plan, it’s good to have a clear idea of what’s going on so that you are as efficient and effective as possible, because at the end of the day volunteering requires resources, be it time, money or otherwise, and if you’ve hired a theatre for an entire day and you need to make an archway formed of 3000 envelopes, you really need to know what you’re doing.

How do you feel about it now?

Still challenging! And best of all the tasks are ever changing. With ‘Out of Silence’ we have done our first set of shows and are now moving onto developing an exhibition and organising a set of show at a theatre festival in France! The Schools’ Film Festival is still developing and when we get into the schools I know that each week we will be focusing on how to better our classroom management skills. I think what I have learnt at this point is that having a good team to work with is crucial, and to achieve that you have to keep everyone involved throughout the project.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?

The best thing is getting to meet so many people, whether it’s volunteers who I already know or school pupils who I get to work with for 5 weeks, meeting new people and engaging with them is always exciting and sums up the whole point of volunteering, which is helping other people. Not only is it memorable to those who your work is aimed at, the memories that can be made with the volunteers (especially after all of the hard work that is put in) is really heart-warming.

And what’s the most challenging thing?

For ‘Out of Silence’ the most challenging thing was finding external funding. The VSU gave us a grant which covered a large portion of the theatre hire, however as the entire project is a free event (something we decided on from the get-go) we required further funding, which meant meeting a lot of people to discuss the project and involve a lot more people, which was nothing but a bonus for the project. If anything, the biggest challenge has been one of the sources of my largest learning curve.

For the Schools’ Film Festival, one challenging thing can be getting everyone into a room at the same time! But mostly I would say it is trying to contact schools. It seems odd that when you send an email to a school offering (what you think is) a great opportunity for pupils which is free (very important!) you get no reply. So without a doubt the most challenging thing has been trying to get schools on board. However, the reactions of the pupils taking part are definitely work the hard work.

How has volunteering changed you?

It has offered absolutely tons of opportunities for me to develop my project management skills as well as planning and communication skills which, when volunteering, is almost always the most crucial skill to have at hand. It’s also helped me test the boundaries of stress control, which is always fun! I would also say that by meeting so many new people, be it professionals, volunteers, pupils, or members of the public giving their opinion, I have become more rounded as a person and understand a lot more about different communities.

What difference do you feel you’ve made by volunteering?

With ‘Out of Silence’ I feel like I’ve been able to give people the chance to voice their opinions, namely at one of our Waterstones discussion evenings where audience members and members of the public outside were demonstrating. Regardless of whether I agreed with their views or not, it was humbling to see that a discussion was occurring.

Has volunteering given you any new perspectives on your academic studies at UCL?

Definitely not directly, but that’s not to say that what I have learnt doesn’t influence skills that aid my academic studies. The level of organisation required to run the volunteering projects has certainly helped. I would definitely say that it has and is helping my knowledge of the industry that I am aiming to have a career in, and that goes for the volunteers taking part too. Equally, it is nice to have this as a project that is so entirely different from my academic studies.

Would you recommend the project to anyone else? If so, why?

100%!  The Schools’ Film Festival will hopefully expand after every year and by taking part you get to develop your own technical skills as well as teach them! You also get the opportunity to meet industry professionals who are super cool and incredibly motivating and hear about the film industry from their perspective. You also get to work with a small group of other volunteers on quite a large task.