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Over the course of 2020, people from all areas of the University came together to navigate the pandemic. We saw countless examples of our staff and students joining together for support. Not only did they look to help each other, many also contributed to charities and organisations to help those struggling through this difficult time.

If you’ve often wanted to get involved with local communities or charities, but don’t know where to start, the University’s Day to Make a Difference initiative could work for you. It entitles all University staff to use an additional day of paid leave to volunteer at any point in the year. Here, two members of staff share their experiences.

SCOREscotland

After the Black Lives Matter events of 2020, Sarah Ford-Hutchinson, Communications Manager in the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability (SRS), chose to use her day to volunteer digitally with SCOREscotland in contribution to her team’s pledge to be actively anti racist. SCOREscotland supports people affected by racial discrimination and inequality.

Sarah explains how she chose the charity: “I recently moved to South-West Edinburgh and know very little about the experience of the BME community here. It was a good chance to learn more about, and contribute to, anti-racist work in my local area.”

It also aligned closely with the goals of SRS. Sarah elaborates: “SCOREscotland  have a fantastic  Green Futures Project  that helps local BME communities to address the causes and effects of climate change, so it’s a really good fit.”

Sarah was able to use her communication expertise to support their work. After an initial video chat, she was able to offer help and advice on a handful of projects at their beginnings which she will then follow up on once they have evolved more: “I’ll volunteer with them for seven hours in total, the equivalent of one working day. I volunteered for four hours in  mid-October, and will volunteer for another three hours in the next few months.”

Sarah is looking forward to volunteering more this year and using her Day to Make a Difference again: “Knowing that I have a day of special leave that I can utilise each year is the motivation I needed to kick start my volunteering. I want to support the issues I believe in and have skills and experience to give, but sometimes finding the time can be the barrier.”

Pregnancy and Parents Centre

You don’t have to find a new project or charity to make use of your day. Annie Lovett, Senior Philanthropy Officer in Development and Alumni, has been volunteering with the Pregnancy and Parents Centre since March 2020 and joined their Board as a Trustee in June.

Annie explains the impact the pandemic has had on the charity: “Not everyone has positive experiences through pregnancy and early parenthood. And with rates of post-natal depression soaring in parents throughout lockdown, the Centre has never been more needed.”

Annie’s reasons for getting involved stemmed from her own experiences: “It wasn’t an essential part of the role, but having personal experience of pre- and post-natal depression meant that I was acutely aware of how valuable these sorts of services can be to individuals, and what sort of things can really help people who are struggling.”

Having a lot of professional experience in fundraising, Annie was keen to use those skills to support the Centre. “I offer fundraising and business development advice to ensure the charity can move forward sustainably and effectively and support as many families as possible. It’s been an incredibly inspiring and positive experience to work with and learn from a great team of fellow Trustees and staff. The wanting-to-make-a-difference reasons for working for the University, over the private sector, absolutely apply here too.”

It was easy for Annie to use her Day to Make a Difference to contribute to the work she was already doing. “I used my day in December, easily booking it as a leave type on People and Money, exactly the same as requesting a day of holiday. I spent the time putting together some grant management resources, looking at what our funding needs are for 2021/22, and planning the next batch of applications.”

And to anyone hesitant about getting started, Annie couldn’t recommend it more: “To anyone considering volunteering for a local charity, I would very simply say, do it! I’ve learnt and enjoyed so much, and am hopefully having a hand in improving things for some local families. And if you feel you have the time, energy and skills to offer more, whether it’s informal volunteering that is more regular than one day, or joining as a Trustee, all the better.

“The skills and expertise we have across the University are immense; just imagine even a little bit of that being put to use in the city. That could be a really great thing.”

To find out more about how you can use your Day to Make a Difference visit the Edinburgh Local website.