A UCU survey in December 2014 showed that individual students, as well as small groups, also engage in a huge variety of voluntary community outreach at their own initiative, often without any central co-ordination. This activity includes: volunteering for ‘Stichting Present’ which supports vulnerable people in their practical, household or personal matters throughout the Netherlands; voluntarily teaching local disadvantaged children to swim; providing advice to patients’ families through the Dutch healthcare charity Human Concern; acting as Board member for Red Cross Utrecht.
Around 60% of the students’ civic engagement takes place in Utrecht, with the most popular activity centering around children, followed by the environment, the disabled and the elderly.
35% of respondents volunteer once per week, and 26% do it once per month, with others engaging less regularly or on a one-off basis. When asked about motivation for getting involved in community outreach, the majority of respondents said it was ‘important to give back to society’ and also it was ‘simply enjoyable’. Others found the work valuable preparation for later in life.
The survey showed that 58% of respondents engage in volunteering or community outreach of some kind. Of the remaining respondents, over 90% said they would actually like to get involved but lack the time and/or information to do so. In response, UCU’s Humanitarian Committee and UCWorld (the college’s own NGO) have offered to centralize some of the most helpful information about local community engagement for students, together with some UCU staff.
Building on succes
The Student Association’s previous successes in civic engagement have grown into established parts of UCU life.
For example, the Cultural Cookery project is now a yearly event, where a team of 15-20 students voluntarily take total management of a local restaurant in Utrecht. Everything is student-led including the menu, cooking, serving and entertainment, and profits made are donated to a different charity each year.
Many other individual students and campus groups continue to get involved with communities ‘outside the gates’: BicyCo and other committees have helped arrange a special cycle ride from Middelburg to Utrecht, bringing, students, staff, local businesses, neighbours and friends onto campus for a festive reception in anticipation of the Tour de France starting in Utrecht in 2015 year and MarathonCo continues to raise money for charities by participating in races.