Reaching outside of KCL

Georgie Whiteley shares her experiences of venturing out of the ‘university bubble’.

 

If you have ever been on an awkward date, had to make conversation with a distant relative or got chatting to a stranger on the bus, you’ll know the ever so familiar question, “What do you do in your spare time?”. I used to mumble something about seeing friends or watching a film to hide my embarrassment that I lived in one of the most exciting cities in the world, yet mainly experienced it from my sofa.

It was definitely time for a change. So when I came across the charity ReachOut at the King’s Fresher’s Fair, I knew I wanted to find out more. ReachOut works with eight to eighteen year olds from disadvantaged communities, providing them with one-to-one mentoring and team activities that help them grow in both character and competence.

One week and a short training session later, I found myself in a primary school in Camden along with eight other mentors waiting for a group of ten year old girls at the ReachOut Club. I had no experience with children and I hadn’t been in a primary school since 2000. So it’s safe to say, I had no idea what to expect.

The ReachOut Clubs run weekly from October to March, in various schools across North and East London. Each session begins with snack time, followed by forty-five minutes of one-to-one academic mentoring which focuses primarily on improving the children’s maths and English. What then follows is forty-five minutes of activities, which can range from anything like cake decorating to a game of football or even drama.

Both parts of the project aim to give the mentees the skills and confidence they need to leave primary school and progress into secondary school. And nothing can prepare you better for the terrifying world of secondary school than taking on nine ten year old boys in a ferocious game of dodge ball. The confidence gained from winning the match should set the girls up for life.

Throughout the entire project, I mentored a girl called Katie who was struggling at school because she was incredibly shy. The first time we met, Katie was too nervous to tell me her name, which did nothing to help my own nerves. But once we had bonded over a shared love of pasta and The Hunger Games, we worked on giving her the confidence to speak more in class and engage with the other girls in the club.

Aside from the warm glow of helping disadvantaged children, ReachOut give you the skills and experiences that will be invaluable in the workplace, look great on your CV and sound even better in an interview. I’ve used the dodgeball match countless times as an example for when I “overcame adversity”. There are also opportunities to progress through the charity, from a mentor to a project leader, to organising and running a ReachOut Club. Having graduated from King’s, I am now working full time with ReachOut – so there may even be a job for you at the end.

It’s easy to think that, as a student, you know London inside out. You know where to get the best coffee, have a cheap night out and buy a pizza for under a fiver (Goodge Street, in case you hadn’t discovered that one yet). Volunteering made me realise how much more there is to London outside of the university bubble. If it wasn’t for ReachOut, I probably would never have met anyone living in the council estates that were a stone’s throw from my student accommodation.

We live in a very diverse but extremely divided city, and volunteering with ReachOut gives you the rare opportunity to challenge some of these boundaries. If nothing else, the look of admiration when you tell your date, relative or bus companion that you volunteer weekly with children from disadvantaged areas means it’s definitely worth the hard work.

ReachOut is now recruiting volunteer mentors. For more information or to get involved visit www.reachoutuk.org.

 

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