A Look into How St Andrews Voluntary Service (SVS) is Adapting to the Challenges and Opportunities of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
With over 70 opportunities for students, St Andrews Voluntary Service (SVS) is the volunteering hub of the University of St Andrews. They are a subcommittee of the Students Union and are run by a committee of 15 student volunteers. SVS works with both student run societies and local organisations to provide projects for students. One area that they have recently been expanding is their Environmental Project Area.
SVS covers quite a lot of the environmental work being done locally. Since there are so many different causes and charitable groups in St Andrews, it can be difficult to know where to start when you want to get involved. This is why SVS is a good starting point to find all the active projects going on in this town and the surrounding area. Whether you want to get involved in biodiversity, diving, gardening, recycling, bike fixing or communicating about climate change, St Andrews has it all. You can apply through SVS to volunteer with any of their 12 environmental groups, including Transition, St Andrews Botanic Gardens, Balgove Larder, Towards a Sustainable St Andrews and many more! They also advertise opportunities to work with groups such as the Environmental Subcommittee, Community Aid St Andrews (CASA) and St Andrews Environmental Network (StAndEn). In the past year, SVS has also held one-off events, such as beach cleans and a tree planting event, where volunteers planted around 180 trees at Cambo Gardens.
So how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected St Andrews Voluntary Service and their Environmental volunteering projects?
On the one hand, SVS has faced plenty of challenges. With the Student Union’s imposed ban on in-person events, as well as physical distancing being a requirement in all activities, it has been much more difficult to plan any events or volunteering during this time. In fact, SVS has had to cancel and delay some of their projects. The SVS committee is planning a huge increase in the environmental focus of their activities this year. Pre-corona, plans were underway for a variety of collaborative events with other groups, including a sustainable ball and a food-waste reducing potluck picnic! While coronavirus has put those plans on hold, SVS is hopeful that Semester 2 will allow them to host more events like these.
On the other hand, challenges are nothing new for environmental groups. When working with topics in sustainability and environmentalism, there will always be obstacles to overcome. SVS has emphasised the importance of staying positive and focusing on the opportunities that have arisen from the pandemic.
Due to outdoor distancing rules, SVS has still been able to plan another collaborative beach clean and another tree planting event with their partner organisations for Semester 1. The committee has said that the best thing to come out of the pandemic is everyone’s reconnection with nature. With increased social distance, more people have been turning to the outdoors, and spending time walking, gardening, and appreciating nature. This is one aspect of the pandemic that SVS hopes to capitalise on with their one-off projects, giving not only the chance to embrace and protect nature, but also the opportunity to have some much-needed social interaction while they do so.
The pandemic has also opened many doors to the committee in terms of virtual volunteering. Over summer SVS partnered with organisations such as eBird, UNV and Zooinverse to offer virtual volunteering opportunities to students and members of the community throughout lockdown. They also set up a new project with REUSE Orbis, a national e-waste organsation, who offer virtual opportunities for students to encourage the reduction of electronic waste. SVS has never engaged with online volunteering in the past, but the pandemic has made remote involvement much more accessible, and as far as the committee are concerned, it has been a great way engage with volunteers during the pandemic.
“This is one aspect of the pandemic that SVS hopes to capitalise on with their one-off projects, giving not only the chance to embrace and protect nature, but also the opportunity to have some much-needed social interaction while they do so.”
SVS is also launching a new series of training events this semester, which focus on growing skills and gaining knowledge that will be helpful in the projects they offer. The programme will run throughout Semester 1, and will include training specific to their projects, as well as more general areas. Due to the pandemic, video conferences and remote engagement are increasing. It has thus been easier than ever for SVS to engage with external speakers and trainers to make the program the best it can be for their environmental volunteers.
One of the sessions that they have announced ahead of their programme launch is a Climate Change Communication session led by 2050 Climate Group. One of the main struggles for many environmentalists is communicating about these important issues with others, especially if those close to us don’t quite hold the same views. The session will teach volunteers some good techniques for getting their point across and educating the people in their personal and volunteering lives about climate change.
“Volunteering is one of the most active ways to make a sustainable difference on a personal level.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly caused plenty of ups and downs for all of us, it is very exciting to see the ways that St Andrews Voluntary Service has found to adapt and to take advantage of the new opportunities it has presented. Volunteering is one of the most active ways to make a sustainable difference on a personal level. By getting involved and combining your efforts with those of others, you can make a tangible difference within your community by encouraging sustainability. SVS makes it possible to commit as much or as little time as you like – even an hour can make a difference. I personally can’t think of a better time to get involved!
Art by Oliver Walter