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Social Hackathons are problem-solving and solution-creating events that give UCL volunteers first-hand insight into charity careers. 

Volunteers are placed with a local not-for-profit organisation for one day, devising and implementing solutions to issues they currently face.                                                     

In teams, the volunteers develop skills, learn about the Third Sector from its own professionals and connect with new communities across London.

During November Reading Week, UCL students volunteered with four London charities at our Social Hackathon events, collectively solving a pressing issue each charity is facing. The tasks differed wildly on each day, but one factor that was constant across the board was the enthusiasm and dedication of UCL students to fully get involved in the challenges. In case you missed out on our flurry of social media posts, we’ve given you a rundown of each hackathon below.  

London Museum of Water and Steam

We started our Social Hackathons off on a high note, with our students heading over to the London Museum of Water & Steam, to work on improving the way the museum recruits volunteers. By getting a tour of the museum and talking with current volunteers, our students got an insight into the day-to-day running of the museum, further helping to inform the research they would do on volunteer recruitment and retainment. The day was a journey (literally!) with the volunteers getting a chance to ride on a steam train around the museum.


At the end of the day, they got to pitch their ideas to the Water & Steam team and made some wonderful contributions!  Don’t just take our word for it, our student photojournalist Julia, wrote an article of the day, with some lovely pictures to complement her experience!  

Action on Hearing Loss

Day two, and our Hackathon volunteers were volunteering with Action on Hearing Loss. They were tasked with designing a sensory garden at a specialist care home for people who are deaf, and who may have other needs, such as sight loss. The students worked in an environment that although was unfamiliar to them, did not hamper the quality and dedication of their work and research. The interpreters on hand definitely helped with understanding the needs of the garden users, so students could effectively design the best sensory garden possible.

Our student photojournalist Ruth joined them on the day and wrote on what she thought of the Social Hackathon – it’s definitely a must read and there are plenty more pictures too! We also have Marine who wrote a great piece on her Social Hackathon experience at Action on Hearing Loss. 

Holborn Community Association

On the third day, student volunteers visited Holborn Community Association (HCA), which aims to encourage community integration, increase opportunities for local people and reduce social and economic inequalities. In their art room, the first task for the seven enthusiastic students was to stitch a felt patch with their initials on them that should portray their personality and background - this definitely was a fun and unexpected icebreaker! 

This group was then tasked with assessing the viability of HCA creating a social enterprise which sells and promotes the art work created by the community. The volunteers were asked to then conduct research on similar social models that also sell art work of local people and what resources are needed in order to test a pilot phase.

It was truly admirable to watch the students work so efficiently and devotedly, investing their ideas and time in a great cause, a cause that concerns all of us: helping our neighbour, contributing to the creation and maintenance of a community. This is especially vital in a city like London where it can sometimes feel anonymous, isolated and lonely. Watching the volunteers on the day, makes us all want to follow the example of charities like HCA and do our best to make others and ourselves feel like members of a community, supporting each other when needed. If you want to know more about what the volunteers were up to at this particular Social Hackathon, look at Maria’s great article where she draws on her experience and gives you some insightful tips on how to make the best out of these volunteering opportunities.

Museum of Brands

The Museum of Brands is a small, independent museum located near Ladbroke Grove. The museum itself is a treasure trove of packaging and brands, with the exhibition spanning from the Victorian era to the modern day! Although a niche space, it is beloved by culture and art fans alike. Nine UCL students attended on the day to help the Museum of Brands increase their engagement with people within the 25 to 35 year-old demographic that live in the local area.

Before being given their brief, our volunteers got to explore the museum to check out the different collections that were currently on show, which definitely gave them a feel for what the Museum offers, and sparked ideas on how they could market the museum more effectively.

Although the students had little experience within the realms of marketing, they didn’t let this hold them back and fully immersed themselves in the task by identifying areas in the museum that could be improved to increase engagement.  Some students tackled the social media aspect to boost the museum’s online profile, whilst another group got stuck in with different events the museum could hold to increase custom. Everyone was able to contribute, and during the final presentation, were proud of their achievements.

If there’s one thing this series of Social Hackathons has taught us, it’s that you can definitely achieve some monumental things, all in the space of just one day! The students had never met each other until the day of their Hackathon, but this didn’t hinder the quality of the work they produced, and further demonstrated the willingness of the students to prioritise the task at hand and cohesively work as a team. Students not only got a further insight into the third sector, but they understood and empathised with the needs of different London communities and fully engaged with the challenges on the day. To get a better insight on what the volunteers worked on, go and check out Candace’s and Philippine’s awesome articles where they wrote about their experience and insights of the day.

Written by Vanessa Florio and Yasmin Gulay

If you want to volunteer with some amazing charities like the ones above, check out our volunteering directory for all the latest opportunities waiting for you! And if you’re interested in volunteering for a day, our One-Off events are calling your name!