Emily Gilford
BSc Zoology
President of The Beach Clean Project

For many people, university might sound like a very daunting prospect. Coming straight from my A-Levels, I assumed studying my degree would involve a lot of contact hours and no free time to do things that I wanted to do. Thankfully, I was very wrong! Many people come out of university with just their degree, and that’s absolutely fine, but I wanted to boost my CV while learning and contribute to things in the local area.

I started volunteering once I reached second year by helping out with postgraduate projects and volunteering with student-led groups and groups in the local area. I also took my community volunteering abroad over the summer, logging over 500 hours working at a bear sanctuary in Romania. Working with the Students’ Union and a group of like-minded friends in my final year, I helped to take-over and revamp ‘The Beach Clean Project’, one of the Union’s volunteer projects. While connecting the group with the local branch of international charity Big Blue Ocean Clean-Up, we ran events with the aim of cleaning up the local area, raising awareness about single-use plastic, and enhancing relationships between students and the local community.

In February, we organised a campus-wide Plastic-Free Week, raising funds for our adopted NGO, Big Blue Ocean Clean-Up. The week included events such as a Plastic-Free Market with local companies and organisations such as Lush, Tidal Revival and Incredible Bulk, a conference featuring speakers, such as author and creator of the #2minutebeachclean, Martin Dorey, and Sue Sayer from Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust. The week attracted interest from over 500 students and local people and raised £250. Our Plastic-Free Week even earned us a National Society Award from the National Union of Students for the Best Fundraising & Campaigning Society against over 800 other student-led groups across the country. Other events, such as our Big Street Clean collaboration with the Community Wardens and Falmouth Civic Society, attracted the attention of local news outlets and was shortlisted for the Students’ Union’s Activities Awards. We were also shortlisted for Volunteer Project of the Year, and both Co-Presidents (myself included) for Most Outstanding Committee Member.

Using the SU’s platform ‘Legends’, I could record all of the volunteering that I’d been doing across all of these activities, which then gave me an idea of all of the skills that I’d gained and how many volunteering hours I’d accumulated. I am grateful for all of the opportunities which I’ve been able to have, thanks to the SU and other projects in Cornwall. They’ve allowed me to connect more with other students outside of my course, connect more with my surroundings in Cornwall, and accumulate over 1,000 hours of volunteering for my CV and to talk to future employers about. All of my volunteering earned me a School’s Commendation Award from my college for outstanding contribution.

I’ll be continuing on next year as President of The Beach Clean Project while studying my Masters, and am excited to continue on my volunteering journey!