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Sam Huddlestone is a Third Year English Language and Literature student who has been volunteering remotely with Age UK Kensington & Chelsea, a local charity working with and for older people. Read on to find out how volunteering helped him to stay connected with the members of his community.

Tell us a little about your volunteering

I host weekly online poetry sessions via Zoom for Age UK. This involves choosing poems to discuss with the group, much like a book club.

How did you find out about the role?

I found out about the role through the UCL Writers’ Society, who encouraged its members to apply through the UCL Volunteering Service.

Why did you want to become a volunteer?

With the COVID-19 pandemic threatening to erase the bonds between the members of communities, I felt it important to help in any way I could to try and bring people together, especially older people who have been disproportionately affected by this virus.

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

I hope that I’ve managed to offer people a weekly hour of fun through engaging poetry-based discussion, where they can also find some solace and conversation during a very difficult time.

What impact has volunteering had on you?

By volunteering online I’ve gained a greater understanding of how facilities like Zoom might be used for group work and connecting those with shared interests, both now and in the future. The nature of the poetry session is also not much different to that of a seminar, and by hosting these sessions weekly I’ve been able to develop some rather cursory academic teaching skills.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?

The best part about volunteering is the people you come into contact with who you might not have otherwise had the chance to meet.   

And the most challenging? How did you overcome the challenges?

The most challenging part of my volunteering experience derived from my lack of Zoom expertise (turns out not all young people are good with technology). Having gained a better understanding of Zoom through some practice, I was able to find ways to use it constructively in the sessions (i.e. through screen and audio sharing) and stop seeing it as a limitation.

Tell us about something memorable that’s happened to you whilst volunteering

A woman in the session read out a very stirring poem which really struck a chord with all those present. We only found out later that she had written it herself (normally the poetry we discuss is by well-known and established poets). Those moments of great loveliness happen more often than I thought they might during these sessions.

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?

I would wholeheartedly recommend volunteering. Beyond the surface-level CV serving aspect, there’s also a real, true sense of doing something that might not have otherwise been done; of – as clichéd as it sounds – making a difference, even if that difference feels infinitesimal in the grand scheme of this horrible situation. It seems to me that I’ve unduly gained more out than all the work I’ve put in during my time as a volunteer, which is testament to the experience itself, and to the people, I’ve met over the course of doing it.

If you want to help charities that are shorthanded and continue to contribute remotely, check out our directory for many remote roles you can do today!