Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Student Eats Project

Justin Groves, a final year Undergraduate studying Applied Ecology and Conservation at the University of Reading has written an interesting guest blog for us about volunteering and the Student Eats project......

I had just been appointed President of Reading University Botanika Society when I was asked by RUSU to attend a meeting about a new vegetable growing project on campus. RUSU had received funding from the National Union of Students (NUS) to develop a vegetable garden and given that Botanika undertake just that sort of thing, we were very keen to get involved.

It was by sheer chance that during the summer holidays, whilst on my Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) placement on biodiversity, that I stumbled across the rather derelict and forgotten Bridges Hall Walled Garden. I could instantly see the potential to make this area an excellent social and sustainable growing space for students to enjoy. As with any project, it has taken time and patience to get off the ground, but since the end of January we have had a great team of students visiting each week and overseeing its transformation.

As a result of the NUS 'Student Eats' funding, which supports institutions across the UK in cultivating their
own student-led growing sites for fruit and vegetables, we took the decision to change the name of the Botanika Society to Student Eats Botanika and amalgamate it into the NUS  initiative, so that RUSU and the society did not conflict. This has allowed the society to lead the project and has provided our members with the most fantastic space within which to work. The task ahead is considerable, given that the garden has not been tended for over five years and as a result is very overgrown.Plans were drawn up of the intended layout of the garden, although this has changed and evolved over the period as the garden has started to establish itself.

Since January, around a dozen student volunteers have helped out at every session; despite some of the most atrocious weather. Together we have worked tirelessly in reclaiming at least a third of the garden that had been lost to scrub, marking out beds and giving the shed a much needed tidy!

Since the start of the year, over 260 hours have been put into this project by volunteers and with spring at last here, this will increase as the lighter evenings make volunteering to help much easier for both for students and members of the community.

We hope to grow the student volunteer base further, as well as involving RUSU and University staff and the local community. The project has funding for a three year period and after that the challenge will be that the garden will need to sustain itself by way of selling the produce to generate money to cover the running costs.
The more volunteers we have involved the better and joining the volunteer team is simple. Check out our Facebook page and blog, or pop in to Student Activities Centre in the Students' Union to have a chat to the Volunteer Co-ordinator about the project.
Hope to see you at the Walled Garden soon.
Justin Groves
3rd Year
BSc Applied Ecology and Conservation

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Why Interns Need to be Paid

Last week, you may have seen in the news that Reading Football Club advertised a year long unpaid internship for a ‘first team performance analyst’. This sparked controversy amongst internship campaigning organisations as the internship was not only unpaid but did not pay travel expenses. As this internship was offered at our closest premiership club, I thought I would state RUSU’s position on unpaid internships.

RUSU believes that all workers should be paid for the job that they do. However, we do recognise that students will wish to gain experience in their desired careers to improve their chances of getting the jobs that they want on graduation. Unpaid internships inhibit students from low-income backgrounds from having a chance to get the experience that some professions require.

Students who wish to make their CVs more attractive often volunteer their time to partake in all sorts of activities. These activities include work experience but also include volunteering in the conventional sense. This is fantastic and it is often these students who get the best jobs after university. However, it is important that students get the best opportunity to get a job because they have the correct skillset for it and not because they can afford to run a car for a year and give up lots of their time for free, like Reading FC are asking students to do. It is also vitally important that whoever gets the job or internship, can afford to do it.

Intern Aware, an organisation that campaigns for an end to unpaid internships, has released statistics that show that only 25% of interns are able to make ends meet with the compensation offered for their time and that over 65% of interns rely on family members to help them financially when they are committing their time.  The harsh financial times we are in make it even harder for families to help out students when they are forced to work for little or no pay.

The London School of Economics estimates that living in London for a month will cost a young person, on average, £1,000. The average length of an internship is three months (so £3,000 in total). Therefore, if a first year undergraduate University of Reading student enters into a London-based internship this year, they would have committed themselves to:
·         £9,000 in tuition fees
·         An average of £5,400 in living costs while at University
·         £3,000 for the internship
So that is a total of £17,400. Over three years, that is £52,200! That is equivalent to approximately two weeks pay of a Reading FC footballer,but crippling to a student from a low-income background with no help or job,but with a desperate ambition to be successful in later life.

I encourage all students to get the best that they can out of their University experience and to prepare themselves for the competitive job market that they will face after graduation.

I also encourage employers to pay their interns. They provide you with valuable work, they will be more loyal to you if they know that they are appreciated for what they do and you will be helping to increase the chances of those who have been given the smallest of opportunities in life,if you pay them for their time.

If you are a student and would like to receive free financial advice, please visit the Student Advisors in the RUSU Advice, Representation and Campaigns centre (ARC) or email the advice team. Also, if you would like to find paid internships, visit the Job Shop in the RUSU building.

If you are employer and would like to advertise a paid internship in the Job Shop, please visit the Job Shop online.

James Fletcher
RUSU President