Lauren Darwent (BSc Government and History) is President of LSESU STAR (Student Action for Refugees) a student led charity society that works to help improve the lives of refugees in the UK. The nation-wide network of societies aim to make a difference by volunteering at local refugee projects, campaigning to improve the lives of refugees and educating people about refugees and asylum. In this blog, Lauren explores what she has learnt through her work with the LSESU STAR society and shares some of their plans for Refugee week!
Since November 2019, I’ve been working alongside the Refugee Week Director to lead a team organising LSESU STAR Refugee Week 2020. This is the society’s flagship project, and is now in its fourth year. Our 2020 theme ‘Different Pasts, Shared Futures’ represents the diverse experiences of refugees and people seeking asylum both before and after their arrival in the UK. We’ve put together a really diverse events line-up with the aim of educating LSE students (and anyone else who wants to attend!) about refugee issues and fundraising for STAR (Student Action for Refugees).
For 25 years, STAR groups at UK universities have been welcoming refugees and people seeking asylum to the UK. Today, 50 groups including LSESU STAR are: running volunteering projects; campaigning to change legislation; raising awareness on campus; and making university more accessible for people from refugee backgrounds. I joined the LSESU STAR committee in my first week of first year and never looked back, serving as Events Coordinator, Secretary and now President. Volunteering for STAR has been central to my uni experience and it’s something I’ll treasure for a long time after I leave LSE!
Being involved with STAR, and organising Refugee Week in particular, is great because I have the opportunity to work with like-minded students from a variety of year groups and on different degree programmes. When I started at LSE, I felt out of place in what seemed to be a corporate environment, but volunteering has really taught me that the LSE stereotype doesn’t necessarily hold. There are countless LSE students who care about the same issues as you do, you just have to get involved to find them. Also, there are students who do both (who knew?) Another reason why I love leading a diverse team is because we’ve all got different skills and prior experiences, but together it works! Our Marketing Team has produced beautiful promotional materials, the Treasurers have secured the funding which is essential to making the week happen, and our Events Officers have worked really hard to create a fantastic line-up.
Working on Refugee Week has undeniably been challenging and time-consuming. Constant communication between members of the events, marketing and treasury teams is required, as well as weekly face-to-face meetings of the whole team, plus 1-1 chats to resolve urgent issues. It takes time to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops, including completing event proposal forms, securing room bookings, and getting tickets on the LSESU website. But without these experiences, I wouldn’t know how much work necessarily goes into planning and delivering successful events. I’ve learnt how to manage projects and write funding applications, while also becoming more organised and (at least slightly!) better at delegating tasks to other team members. These skills and knowledge will be practically useful in the future, and can’t be acquired through a degree alone. Volunteering with STAR has affirmed that I want to work in the charity sector full-time after uni, and that I’m specifically interested in fundraising events roles. It would have been impossible for me to discover these things and know how passionate I am about making a social impact without volunteering.
We’ve been so lucky to have a diverse range of organisations interested in participating in our Refugee Week events. Our Climate Change and Migration Panel Discussion includes staff from Friends of the Earth and Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network, who will be exploring the link between climate justice and migrant justice. Speakers at our Immigration Detention Panel Discussion will include a representative from Freed Voices, a group of experts-by-experience committed to speaking out about the realities of the UK’s immigration detention system and calling for reform. We’ll also be joined by staff from Detention Action, Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) and European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). Through organising events such as these, we are educating both ourselves and fellow students about pressing issues facing migrants, refugees and people seeking asylum. Also, inspiring interactions with many professionals and campaigners from local, national and international charities at previous LSESU STAR events have made me even more assured that this is the right career path for me.
A key reason why I volunteer with STAR is to make a difference. LSESU STAR has raised over £1,500 for STAR this academic year, and are hoping to hit £2,500 in total! For the first time, our society is running an English Conversation Club where LSE student volunteers are connecting with refugees in the local community. Tying in with STAR’s Equal Access Campaign, we’re also organising a university open day in collaboration with LSE Widening Participation. Individuals from refugee backgrounds who are interested in undergraduate study will have the opportunity to learn about the admissions process and the LSE Access to Education Undergraduate Scholarships on offer. During the day, LSESU STAR volunteers will also be on hand to answer questions about what studying at LSE is like. And this isn’t just happening at LSE; the collective impact of the student-led STAR network is huge. Last year STAR student volunteers across the UK supported over 4,400 refugees in 86 volunteering projects, with clubs for conversation, homework, football and more.
If reading this has inspired you to volunteer with STAR, you can join the society on the LSESU website and email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out what volunteering opportunities are currently available. We’re always looking for help manning our stalls, but can also direct you to opportunities with charities supporting refugees in London. Finally, the LSESU STAR Refugee Week 2020 Committee has worked really hard to put this project together, so don’t forget to check out our full events line-up on Facebook.
If you were inspired by this blog, it’s not too late to get your volunteering started! Check out one of our other 200+ ongoing opportunities or book a one-to-one with David Coles, the Volunteer Centre Manager if you have more questions. If you are short on time, then take a look at the one-off opportunities happening over the rest of Lent Term, organised by the LSE Volunteer Centre. If you want to share your volunteering experience with us, why not write us a blog? Have a scroll through our blog page to read what other students have written and get inspired!