Ellis, Students’ Union

Ellis Thomas, BA (Hons) History 

Copy of Website click through.png

What voluntary work do you do? 

I spend around 20 hours a week volunteering as a Student Voice Rep at the Students’ Union, which I’m quite passionate about. I look into student issues in my school, Design and Digital, and liaise with the Executive Officers in the Students’ Union and members of staff across the University. I see it as a problem-solving role. 

Since my first year I have also volunteered as a Research Assistant on a project led by History lecturer Darren Macey. I undertake research into local sporting heroes in Rhondda Cynon Taff, and eventually the research will be displayed across changing rooms in the county. It’s something I find quite interesting – I’m not really a sporty person, but I like to see how sport plays an integral part in the local community. 

I spend a few hours a week volunteering at the Meadow Street Community Garden project in Treforest. It’s a stone’s throw from the Treforest Campus and was set up by Pontypridd Town Council just under a year ago, so it’s a relatively new project. They want to turn the space into a community hub, with a garden, spaces for independent work and an educational facility. When I first visited the centre, I was really captured by the idea of it. My volunteering consists of helping with groundwork, helping to clear the space out, planting in the garden and more. 

I also like to take part in more general volunteering opportunities that are run by the SU and the University, for example the SU Halloween Trick or Treat initiative. Having helped with the project in my first year (2019), I led the 2021 Treforest event with the help of a group of students. We went around the streets of Treforest for a few hours and collected around 50 items for the local foodbank. I think it’s nice to give back to the local community. It’s close to my heart as I have grown up in this area and I understand that a lot of people do struggle, so it’s nice to know that I have helped people. 

Why do you choose to volunteer? What are the benefits? 

You learn a lot of skills when you volunteer that you might not be expecting. I’ve learnt a lot of practical skills with the gardening project, such as health and safety skills, how to plant certain things and how to identify types of plants. I’ve also learnt a lot about the realities of sustainability. I am a green person, but there’s a lot of barriers, so it’s grounded my sense of what can be achieved. My Student Voice Rep role has really boosted my confidence and I’ve learnt a lot about the university and the wider workings of the different departments. I’m a lot more attuned to what standards should be expected from a university degree. The role has also really helped me with my project management, organisation, and communication skills. 

I also choose to volunteer because I like helping the community. For example, with the gardening project, I’m not necessarily good at gardening, but the idea of a community centre where people can go to learn something is exciting to me. I like to help provide opportunities for other people.  

Volunteering has also made me more aware of the wider community and the different groups that are working in my area. For example, during my work at Meadow Street Community Centre, we participated in Pontypridd Green Week, which allowed me to meet lots of people and organisations who are working in the community. I’ve learnt that there are lots of groups out there that you can contribute to, you just need to find them! 

What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in volunteering but doesn’t know where to start? 

I would say the best thing to do is to start small and then work your way up. For students and staff at the university, there are a lot of opportunities – projects are often run by the Chaplaincy, the Students’ Union, and individual members of staff. 

Outside of the University, you can find lots of volunteering opportunities on local Facebook pages. Rhondda Cynon Taf have also set up a social platform for volunteering called Interlink RCT, which lists different opportunities that you can apply for.  

In general, I would advise that people look for opportunities on a local level first as you are likely to have some understanding of the area and see some familiar faces. 

What are your plans for the year ahead? 

For the next year I am hoping to stay busy. I am currently working on my dissertation on South Wales communities and its impact on identity. After graduation, I am looking to apply for roles where I can take my voluntary work on student representation into a paid job, as well as running in local council elections.  

On the volunteering side, I aim to continue working with the gardening project and hopefully to find new opportunities within areas I am passionate about, including representation, education, and Welsh history.