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Issue 483, 5 June 2002

Volunteer capital of the north

The University is to create the largest higher education volunteering scheme in the country, helping to make Leeds the volunteering capital of the north, under a new £500,000 community action plan.

With over 800 students registered to volunteer last year, including 250 in inner-city schools, the University's scheme is already one of the largest in the UK. Under the HEFCE-funded plan, a further 280 volunteering opportunities will be created, with staff as well as students encouraged to take part.

Leeds Student Action – currently run by volunteers and one sabbatical officer – will employ its first permanent development worker and clerical support, with £65,000 of the grant over three years.

"It's a perfect time for us to get this funding," said Action co-ordinator Chris Ring. "At the moment we've more volunteers than we can find places for. The development officer will help us create 80 more opportunities over the next two years."

Action days targeting a particular area of the city to carry out clean-ups, do gardens, or paint community centres will provide activities for both staff and students to get involved in.

"The action days will be perfect for those who can't make an ongoing regular commitment, but can do a one-off event," said head of the city, regional and widening participation office, Ceri Nursaw. "But it's not all about painting and gardening – a whole range of skills and experience at the University could be used to benefit the local community."

The benefit will be mutual, as volunteering becomes part of staff development programmes, and is used to give staff valuable experience such as project management or team leadership.

A new website will bring together volunteering opportunities from the University, Action and local voluntary organisations. The city, regional and widening participation office is moving to the former premises of Leeds Innovations, on Woodhouse Lane, to provide higher visibility and easier access for staff and students alike.

The grant will fund the appointment of new staff to oversee the organisation and implementation of these new developments. Campus Connect's coordinator Chris Pickering will take over as volunteering manager and an arts co-ordinator – based part-time in Wakefield – will focus on volunteering opportunities and outreach in fashion, design, music, drama and fine art.

To ensure the University's active involvement in the city, Gavin Betts, formerly of the institute for corporate learning, will take up the post of city officer, helping to develop policy and managing the University's activity in the community to assist regeneration. A new community project officer will be appointed over the summer.

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