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Meet our Volunteers of the Year

12 May 2017

From helping the homeless and supporting anxious students to regenerating a community, here are our campus champions

Volunteer of the Year Awards

Our Volunteer of the Year awards ceremony celebrated the very best our campus champions have to offer.

This year’s winners included a student helping the homeless, an alumna supporting anxious students and a colleague who led the regeneration of her community.

The awards, now in their eight year, recognise the outstanding achievement of students, staff and alumni who give their personal time and energy to undertaking public engagement work or volunteering with disadvantaged groups in the community.

The overall winners in each category also received the University Medal for Social Responsibility, part of the suite of established President's Distinguished Achievement Awards. First, second and third places also receive a donation to support the organisations where they volunteer.

Staff winner

Staff winner Dr Karen Rees-Unwin was honoured for helping regenerate Ridge Hill, an area of Stalybridge with a population of 6,000 that was awarded £1m by the Government to improve deprived or disadvantaged areas.

Her tireless work has brought the area to the crest of a wave with the long-awaited return of the famed Stamford Belle – a large boat on Stamford Park’s boating lake, which will be refurbished to run pleasure cruises, reviving a tradition that began in the early 1900s.

Karen, research associate at the Division of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Sciences, School of Medical Sciences, led the process as Director of Ridge Hill Big Local Enterprises. She secured grant funding of £36,000 from the Big Local Trust and a further £2,000 from UMIP, established an office within the Ridge Hill area, applied for status as a registered charity, and the company employed its first employee, a local man, on 1 January 2017.

The Enterprise aims to improve the appearance of the area and develop land which will house a fishing lake, outdoor classrooms, countryside areas and a pleasure boating lake. Karen has liaised with the local council, the Environment Agency, schools and scout groups and has re-established a local fishing club to ensure that this land will be used to its full potential for the community.

These developments led to a further £25,000 award from the Big Local to underpin these activities to the end of 2018.

Anne Sherriff, from the Big Local Trust, says: “Karen is an impressive individual and has made a massive difference in the time she has been involved. She is completely committed to achieving desirable outcomes for her community and has demonstrated the ability to stick at a project until it is finished.”

Student winner

Lucia Banjo, set to graduate with BA (Hons) in Management and Leisure this year, set up the Big Change Society as a way to connect and engage students with the Big Change campaign.

The Big Change is part of Manchester’s city-wide approach to tackling homelessness and encourages members of the public to consider alternative giving: donating money to the Big Change fund, rather than giving money, food or items directly to rough sleepers on the streets.

Lucia had been volunteering on the Big Change campaign and helped to raise the profile of the campaign by attending consultations with councillors on the Manchester Homelessness Charter and business meetings with CEOs of local companies to acquire funding. She also met with local charities and used this community research to inform her contributions, including the development of the Street Support app, an online hub bringing together information on the city’s homelessness services.

As Chair of Big Change Society, Lucia leads fundraising activities, promotes responsible giving through student events and signposts to relevant volunteering opportunities. She works hard to make connections with other students interested in homelessness and maintain a good working relationship with the key charity partners so she can identify opportunities, for example ambassador training and events where students meet people with experience of homelessness. And she sets a good example to her committee by taking part in events alongside students, such as a fundraising sleep-out which raised money for the Big Change.

Lucia also took part in the Team Uganda project in summer 2015, working with fellow students and charity SALVE International to provide better opportunities for street children in Uganda.

Alumni winner

Hannah Paterson, who graduated in Psychology in 2009, was honoured for her work as the Vice Chair Trustee of the Nightline Association, the charity that supports, promotes and develops Nightline services. Nightlines are confidential listening and information services, run by students for students.

Hannah first became involved with Nightlines as a volunteer and then coordinator for Manchester nightline during her time at the University. Having now got to a place in her career that she has key skills, time and influence in the charity and voluntary sector, Hannah decided to return to the charity that helped her develop her passion for supporting and working with people with poor mental health and campaigning on those issues.

When Hannah first started at Nightline it was at the brink of bankruptcy, had staffing issues and no strategic approach. Over the last 18 months, she has worked hard to secure the financial stability of the charity, lead on changes to the staff team and developed a strategic framework that has allowed the organisation to support 36 Universities helplines with over 2,000 volunteers and ensure that over 1.5 million students have access to out-of-hours peer-delivered listening support.