During Lent Term we ran the first ever LSE Community Engagement Programme, where 49 fantastic student volunteers completed a consultancy piece for 7 different charities. Whilst conducting research and writing up their findings, we asked our students to think about how their perception and understanding of ‘community’ changed throughout the programme.
“Prior to this experience, I imagined ‘community’ as a group of people with a shared characteristic, commonly a shared location or identity attribute. Working on this project purely through technology and never in the same place as the rest of the group, our organisation partner, our mentor, or those within the wider community our organisation supports meant that this ‘commonality’ was – I think – harder to procure than if we were to meet in person. Because of lockdown rules I have never even been to our research location. However, thanks to countless Zoom meetings, emails, and Whatsapps, I do feel I’ve formed a community-of-sorts with my fellow team-members, albeit technologically-mediated, and I do feel more engaged with the community in Islington because of the research undertaken. Community for me, thanks to the experience on this programme, is now some less about physicality or shared space but is more of a heterogeneous, collaborative imagined environment.”
“For a lot of members in our group, participating in this programme meant being able to meet new people, inside of LSE and outside, with a wide range of different backgrounds, experiences, and feeling part of a community of like-minded individuals with a shared desire to help. We are all very different students, from all over the world from Hong Kong, to France to the US, with different degrees, some of us masters students, other undergrads, but in the end we all had the same idea in mind when participating in this programme: we wanted to help. The day when we all met each other this idea of wanting to actively help out, work for the welfare of a wider community outside of the limits of LSE by giving back through our work, was spoken about by all of us in our introductions. Some of us didn’t necessarily have a lot of experience with volunteering, some even volunteering for the very first time, hesitant in their capacity to make a difference, but the presence of other more experienced group members, as well as having mentors, really helped us feel supported, and part of a united group involved all together rather than working individually.”
“Through this project, we have learned the importance of volunteering for the collective community. Volunteering doesn’t have to take the form of going to work directly with a charity’s desired group of people or simply working for the charity itself. This volunteering has involved helping a charity to function more effectively, which trickles down to the target group of people the charity works with positively benefitting from our work too. ”
“A community, simply put, is a network of relations. This network is made up of individuals who share some aspect of their identities– perhaps related to culture, education, or geography. More abstractly, a community may be defined in terms of its values, such as support, inclusion, and companionship. These values might manifest as individuals working together, looking out for each other, and, overall, contributing to an environment of mutual-care. As one group member said, “a community does not come from thin air. It needs every members’ efforts to make it happen.” This baseline consensus on community leads to our subsequent definition of community engagement : an activity performed by community members to address relevant issues.”