Students supporting Sheffield

Students supporting Sheffield - 01/12/2020

Students in Sheffield have played a huge part in supporting homelessness services in recent years. Whether volunteering their time at The Sunday Centre, fundraising for Cathedral Archer Project, or organising donation drives for Ben’s Centre, the student population, both from Sheffield Hallam and the University of Sheffield have been a real force for good.

2020, as with most things, has thrown something of a spanner in the works! As services have restricted access due to social distancing measures, students have found the opportunities to actively get involved in supporting them diminish.

Help us Help spoke with Jarvis Marriott, final year English student at SHU and Project Lead for the student group, Think Care Help, and Jonathan Dick, Volunteer Coordinator in the volunteering team at University of Sheffield Students’ Union, about the contribution that students make in the city, and how they’ve had to adapt due to lockdown.

Tell us a little about your role at the University

Jarvis: I’m the Project Lead for Think Care Help - we are a student society at Hallam set up to raise awareness of homelessness in Sheffield. We work with organisations that support homeless people, running campaigns, events and helping out where possible. 

Jon: I’m employed by the Students’ Union Community Volunteering and Fundraising team. My role involves supporting student led projects, and acting as a broker between volunteering organisations and students. I support the student group Helping Hand, which has been running for a few years now, providing outreach support in the city centre to people on the streets, and take a lead on work related to homelessness and volunteering for our students.

What have Think Get Help been involved in recently?

Jarvis: Our group is quite small, there’s 10 of us involved at the moment, and pre-lockdown we were mainly engaged in physical volunteering, either at Archer Project or Sunday Centre. Now, obviously we can’t do any face to face volunteering, so we’ve been supporting charities and services through fundraising and donation drives. We are running a Christmas food drive to support Archer Project, and helping the reverse advent calendar campaign being run by St Wilfrid’s Centre too.

We’ve still been able to get involved in some volunteering at Foodhall, in the warehouse and behind the scenes, as it’s safe for us to do that. Apart from that, our main focus has been on awareness raising, mainly through social media. 

Helping Hand have been long term friends of Help us Help. Tell us more about them!

Jon: Helping Hand pre-date my time at the University - they are a really well established group, and have been running for 3 or 4 years now. Last academic year before lockdown, the students completed 37 outreach walks, and had 122 meaningful conversations with people on the streets - really impressive numbers!

Like Jarvis said, lockdown changed everything for the students, and we too have had to adapt and switch up the opportunities we promote for them to get involved in. 6 students have continued to support Archer Project in non-client facing roles and 20 have supported Roundabout in research roles. Pretty much everything else went virtual, including Bummit, and our Sleep Out. Our students usually support the Help us Help Christmas donation drive, and volunteer on the Christmas Market stall, but as that’s not happening this year, they will be supporting the Shoebox Appeal instead.

How have students adapted since lockdown in relation to volunteering?

Jarvis: Our group and other societies involved in similar work have adapted massively. But everyone is still 100% committed to the cause. We are all looking forward to being able to physically volunteer again, as the face to face stuff is what we all really enjoy. We’re refusing to write the year off just yet - as soon as we get that green light we’ll be ready to get stuck back in!

Jon: My reflection from working in the Students’ Union and supporting student projects is that students really, really want to help. The end of the last academic year and the start of this one have been pretty rough for students and they’ve been getting a bad rep in the press. The student experience has been different to what they hoped for, thanks to the pandemic, and the opportunities they’ve had taken away from them are huge. Like Jarvis says, the commitment and drive is still there, and I know just how much our students are looking forward to getting back out there, once it's safe to do so.

What advice would you give to students looking to get involved in supporting homelessness projects in the city?

Jarvis: One lesson we’ve all learned this year is to follow the advice and do what’s required, not what you think needs doing. There are lots of services working in the city with experienced staff, so take the lead from them, get involved where you can, and make a difference.

Jon: We would share the available opportunities we have with students and really encourage them to get involved, learn new skills, and find out more about the issues. We always refer back to the Help us Help website and social media, and to the Helping Hand social media too, as they work hard at digesting the city wide advice and present it in a student friendly way to encourage others to get involved with them.

We asked Steve Clark, Chair at The Sunday Centre, to comment on the impact students have had at their project:

“The Sunday Centre relies on our student volunteers. Students make up about half of our numbers, so we couldn't do without them. We find our student volunteers to be reliable, hard working and with a very positive attitude. It really is a win win. We get an important contribution from students and give them a chance to serve some of the people in most need in the city and to gain some valuable experiences. We think all our students are great, but it is particularly good that we get a lot of international students. It is special when we see students who have come to Sheffield from other countries and step forward to help people here who are in need.”



Alison Wise for Help us Help, December 2020 

Help us Help is a collaboration of local charities, Changing Sheff, SHU, University of Sheffield, BID, Safer Communities Partnership and other services. 

We share information about the support available to people rough sleeping and begging in Sheffield, along with providing advice and guidance for businesses and the general public about how to best support people on the streets.