Vanessa, UEL student, on her volunteer experience

I have been lucky enough to be able to experience session both as a member of the education team and as a volunteer team member, so I have a lot of love to share about my favourite bits of session.

Being on both teams means I become a juggler before session even starts. I’m simultaneously signing in volunteers, calling volunteers, signing in children, helping the Young Pirates settle in after school and checking snacks are not too sugary or cab heavy. Sometimes I think that I need extra arms like some-kind of human-octopus hybrid, and I love how lively it is. Even when the Young Pirates decide to play a mass game of hide and seek or have a party in the secret passageway.

When greeting Crewmates and Young Pirates I love it when I correctly remember the name of a Crewmate or a Young Pirate. It makes the interaction more personal and you really start to build up a rapport with them. It is also a personal aim of mine to learn and retain as many names as possible, so every time I correctly remember a name it’s like scoring a point in a competition with myself.

Although I enjoy meeting the Crewmates, I do secretly like it when they head down to The Deep so that I can focus on the Young Pirates. I like to chat with them about their days, what the most exciting part was, what they didn’t like. I also challenge them to many rounds of Connect 4. I’d say that I win around half of the time. One of my goals for 2020 is to get the YPs to teach me how to play chess so I can challenge them to that too.

At 5.00pm comes my favourite part of everyday – breaktime. I allow the YPs to help me run through the rules, they have a piece of fruit and then its game-time. Breaktime vastly depends on whether I’m in a Primary or a Secondary session. In Primary I’m fun but firm, in Secondary I’m cool, the latter does not come naturally to me.

However, you’re never too cool for a game of darts or yet another round of Connect 4.

Breaktime is a chance to get to know the YPs on a different level – you get to see the friendships they form and really get to know their personalities. For instance, I have a YP who almost every break will sit and write a thank you card to their Crewmate. I also have a group of boys who treat games of dominoes as if they are playing a high-stakes game of poker as they all gather intensely around a circular table. When someone wins or loses the reaction is not dissimilar to fans at a football match.

After break there is sometimes another game to get the YPs focused again. I will always join in. I have been told that I get too invested in games of splat and it should really be about the children. (Untrue – I’m just really good at splat!)

In the second half of session I manage the Library. This gives me a chance to chat to each YP individually, find out what they’re reading, whether they’re enjoying it and why and give them the opportunity to take a book out.

After session (and the shout-outs, celebrations and the declarations of “Thank you SO much for being my Crewmate!”) if it’s a volunteer day, I run debrief.

Running debrief allows me to hear the highs of the session and what could be even better. It is also an opportunity for me to get to know the volunteers in an environment that doesn’t involve a lot of energetic children. I enjoy hearing their insight from working directly with the Young Pirates and it gives me a chance to personally thank them for all the hard work that they put in and to let them know the impact that they’re having. I also get to hand out badges to volunteers on their 1st, 6th, 12th, 20th, 30th, 40th, 50th etc. session. This is accompanied by a pirate action and a round of applause. My favourite pirate action is the 6th session Seadog Seal of Approval (I assume in other jobs it is considered unusual to bark like a seal and clap your hands but I have lost count of the amount of times I have done that in my three months here.) Most importantly, I enjoy seeing volunteers leave the session pleased with the fantastic work they have done. It reminds me of when I was a volunteer Crewmate at the ship last year, each session left me feeling like I had helped a Young Pirate learn and grow.

Annnnnd that’s it! My favourite parts of session (cheating because I couldn’t pick just one.) My routine changes daily depending on the needs of the YPs or the Session Leaders but losing Connect 4 to a Young Pirate remains a constant.

Shout-out from session – Adam transforming the Ideas room depending on what book secondary YPs were reading that week. The snow, hot chocolate and Turkish delight we had for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was magical. However, my personal highlight will always be scrambling outside for leaves in a random tiny park to decorate the room for A Monster Calls.  

Culture of the term highlight – Team Lunch! (In particular, the time Triona, Rosanna and myself all brought different types of Cous Cous)

Favourite Book in our Library – Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty (taken home by at least 10 different YPs this term.)

Session Leader joke – (After a vigorous game of Rhythm Detective) AMc – “We can all cancel our gym memberships after that. Just kidding – I don’t have a gym membership.”

Form assembly

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