Student and staff volunteers honoured at Durham Awards night

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Students were honoured for making a difference in the North East and beyond at the Durham University Volunteering Awards on 24th June. 

This annual ceremony celebrates the outstanding contributions student and staff volunteers have made over the course of the year.

There were a total of eighteen awards, presented to projects covering a wide range of issues, such as education, social inclusion, and improving the environment.

This year, the ceremony took place via Zoom due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in relation to which many of the nominees had done work. These included technical staff Paul White and Colin Wintrip, who organised colleagues to make face visors and shields for frontline workers.

Amathul Farhath, a Law undergraduate at Trevelyan College, received the Student Volunteer of the Year prize for mentoring work done at the County Durham Youth Offending Service, as well as helping tenants with housing issues at the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

Farhath, who was unable to attend the ceremony itself, told Palatinate, “It was a great honour and I felt really happy” to win the award.

She added that volunteering “started as a way for me to put my studies into context. I study Law and the Youth Offending Service and Citizens’ Advice Bureau offered me ample opportunity to put academic teaching into practical context. 

“Alongside this, I wanted to do something that would simultaneously affect the wider community in a positive and helpful manner and enrich my personal experience.”

When asked if she had any advice for students who want to volunteer, she said, “Research, research, research! There is a vast array of options for prospective volunteers so do not feel that you are limited. It is great to volunteer for something that greatly interests you, but do not hold back from trying something new.

The Staff Volunteer of the Year prize went to Jennifer Smith, who is an Instructional Design Officer at Durham University Business School. She organised hampers to be packed for distribution by the charity Feeding Families and ran a ‘wear your pyjamas to work’ fundraising day for the cause.

The number of Durham students volunteering has been increasing in recent years. Each year, over 2,000 students dedicate almost 40,000 hours of their time to volunteering, compared to 1,000 students collectively putting in 14,000 hours four years ago.

Last year also saw a record of over 400 University staff undertake volunteering for a combined 6,000 hours.

Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge said, “At Durham University we pride ourselves on the positive contribution we make to local communities: economically, culturally, through our world-changing research and, in the case of volunteering: directly to our society.

“We undertake just about the most volunteering per head, staff or student, of any university in the country and, as we grow the University, we have a goal to increase our staff and student volunteering to 100,000 hours per year by 2027.

“Of course, Covid-19 has affected volunteering greatly, as with so many other areas of everyday life. But I am very proud of how our staff and students have responded to the crisis in support of others.

“We would also like to thank our many community partners who work with us to host volunteers. Our staff and students could not make the difference they make without your support.”

Palatinate also contacted Alex Moorhouse, winner of the Outstanding Newcomer award, for comment. He said of the event, “It was definitely a surprise when they called my name! 

“If there’s one thing I realised from the awards ceremony it was just how active Durham University staff and students are when it comes to volunteering; there have been so many incredible contributions this year from so many people and the real reward is to be able to be a part of a community that takes its responsibility to the wider world and society so seriously.”

When asked how he got started volunteering at Durham, Alex responded, “It was only because the Project Leader role hadn’t been filled at the end of the previous year that I was able to apply for it in October. 

“I’d been involved in mentoring maths and science students for several years at school, which I really enjoyed, so it seemed like a natural next step to lead a mentoring project.”

He added, “I’d recommend getting involved with volunteering to anyone at Durham.

The full list of winners was:

Best Environmental Initiative: ECO DU, a student environmental campaign group

Best Cultural Volunteering: Xinran Lu, for Out of the Shadows, an art project at Collingwood College for survivors of domestic abuse

Best Social Inclusion and Complex Needs Volunteering: Carers Respite Committee, a Van Mildert College initiative to support disabled children and their families

Best Educational Volunteering: Mahek Vara (Code Camp), an NGO that has helped nearly 80,000 Indian children gain computer skills

Best Example of Collaboration: Sophie O’Sullivan, for various initiatives including co-ordinating volunteers to help the local homelessness charity Durham Action on Single Housing (DASH)

Best Fundraising Activity: John Snow College Boat Club, which raised over £1,500 for MIND through a sponsored ergathon

Most Improved Project: Durham University Student Volunteering and Outreach Generations Together, which has increased its work with older people

Most Committed Volunteer (Staff): Judith King, who has worked to support Stray Aid animal charity, in Coxhoe

Most Committed Volunteer (Student) – three joint winners: Christian Palmer, who supports junior rowing programmes; Emma Graham, who supports children with disabilities to enjoy horse riding and swimming; and Paul Burgum, who established BCT Aspire, a Community Interest Company which aims to raise aspirations of children and young people in Billingham

Outstanding One Off Event (Staff) – two joint winners: Colin Wintrip, who organised colleagues in the Engineering Department to make face visors; and Paul White, who organised technicians across the University to use 3D printers to make face visors for frontline workers

Outstanding One Off Event (Student): Rebecca Fraser, who organised the John Snow College Fashion Show in aid of the charity Heads-up Durham

Volunteer of the Year (Staff): Jennifer Smith

Volunteer of the Year (Student): Amathul Farhath

Outstanding Newcomer: Alex Moorhouse, who restarted a Further Maths club for sixth form students and is tutoring online during Covid-19

The Finalist Award (for final year students): El Conway, who has tutored school children and volunteered with Durham for Refugee Kids Club

Images: Durham University

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