UCEM’s centenary volunteering programme: Mucking in for Launchpad

UCEM staff are invited to take a charity day once a year. This contractual perk enables colleagues to arrange to volunteer for a charity or use a day’s work to devote to a community project. To highlight this opportunity, UCEM has organised a centenary volunteering programme with four group events in 2019 at Reading-based charities.

Having volunteered at Purley Park Trust in February, our second group of volunteers helped Reading homelessness-prevention charity Launchpad with its allotment project. Launchpad is using allotments to provide important horticulture therapy to its clients and to grow fresh produce seasonally. Once picked and washed, the fruit and vegetables are taken to local foodbanks and the community to give to people and families in most need.

Launchpad logo

Launchpad is UCEM’s charity partner, which means that UCEM regularly fundraises for Launchpad to support the fantastic work it is doing in Reading. Here, Ian Caren, Launchpad’s CEO, explains why Launchpad is a vital charity, and we hear from some of our volunteers about their experience of helping out…

At Launchpad, we strive to prevent homelessness by helping some of the town’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged people. By providing homes, tailored support programmes and a drop-in centre to more than 1,200 people every year, we aim to get our clients back on track, help them rebuild their lives and ultimately ensure that everyone has a home where they feel safe and secure.

Our work focuses on three main areas:

  • Preventing homelessness through a ‘Drop In’ and ‘Advice & Information’ service;
  • Providing homes – We house and support 100 people for up to 12 months in our properties. We also provide a small number of long-term homes for both families and single people in housing need;
  • Rebuilding lives – We provide a wide range of activities, support and training to help people get their lives back on track; whether it’s learning how to use a computer in our IT Suite, creative writing, art, yoga, meditation, money management and budgeting, or kickboxing. Our allotments play a vital role, providing unique tranquil spaces for our clients to enjoy horticulture therapy, the benefits of which for physical and mental wellbeing are well-known.

We could not provide these services without the support of organisations like UCEM who understand the importance of our work. This year we need to raise over £700,000. We would like to thank the staff and students of UCEM for everything you are doing to support Launchpad. It’s great to see the many fundraising activities you are organising and the fun you are having coming together as a team to prevent homelessness in Reading. Thank you.

Ian Caren

Ian Caren

UCEM sent 20 volunteers over two days in March to help with the allotment project. Here’s what some of our volunteers had to say…

Group shot of staff before they start working Group shot of staff before they start working Staff digging the allotment over Group shot of staff before they start working Staff having fun whilst digging Group of staff leaning on garden forks

Aled Williams, Director of Research, Innovation and Partnerships:

“We worked at the Launchpad Allotment on Reading Road and were inducted and then split to carry out specific jobs. Mine was preparing the ground by removing the grass and edging the new vegetable plot. It also involved some digging for new fence posts to increase the size of the composting area.View of staff digging through a car tyre

“I hadn’t volunteered within a work context before but found it a really positive experience!

“It was really useful and informative not only to learn new skills, but also to work collegiately within teams which helped make the day enjoyable. I learnt a lot that I didn’t know about my colleagues and it was a great opportunity to connect informally.

“I would recommend volunteering to others as it is an opportunity to make deeper connections with your colleagues.”

Mo Fahey, Alumni and International Partnerships Manager:

Staff members laughing whilst digging“It was such a good day! Providing home grown fresh fruit and vegetables is a great sustainable and economical way to feed those in need and one in which I believe in. Not only was it a fun day but I learned how to prepare an allotment and how to seed it. It was quite the horticultural education.

“It was back-breaking work but very rewarding, especially when we reviewed what we had achieved at the end of the day.

“I was informed about what Launchpad intended to do with the food and that they wanted to ensure a constant supply of fresh food every day. Their main food supply consists of donations which can contain dry long-life food which is very gratefully received but they also wanted to provide a meal that contained all the essential food groups.”

Gethin Edwards, Retention and Data Officer:

“Launchpad has an allotment in Woodley that it intends to use to grow produce to feed the homeless. Two UCEM teams worked on the allotment over two separate days. I was part of the day one team that dug a plot ready for the second team to plant spinach. We also assembled a shed and cleared some overgrown brambles.

“It was my first experience of volunteering. I enjoy gardening so signed up within minutes of the email being circulated!Staff members laughing whilst digging

“It was a very enjoyable and rewarding day. It was fantastic being outside in the fresh air away from traffic and noise. It was also a great opportunity to work with colleagues on something a bit different and not UCEM-work related. I also enjoyed talking to some of the other allotment owners and getting to see the various things growing and the interesting techniques used. There was a great sense of achievement at the end as we just managed to finish digging the entire plot before leaving – we all dug and carried the final square of grass together in triumph!

“I learned I probably need new wellies – colleagues’ wellies put mine to shame! It was also incredible how much we achieved working as a team. When we arrived it seemed impossible to dig the entire plot in just one day, but working together, taking turns to dig and transport the soil to the composting area, we did incredibly well. I also picked up some ideas for my own garden whilst walking around the other allotments, whether it be something new to grow or a new way of keeping birds or snails away.

“I would volunteer again and recommend others do so, with gardening at the top of my list! It was a great opportunity to spend time with colleagues outside of the office and was a very enjoyable and rewarding day.”

Louise Riches, Executive Assistant:

Staff digging up a large clod of earth“The day comprised digging, shovelling and running around with a wheelbarrow shifting the excess soil!

“Previously, I have volunteered before for other charities like Solent Mind – supporting wellbeing groups for 18-25-year-olds. This experience was very rewarding. We finished our allocated patch for the day, it was great to meet the locals who continue to support Launchpad and also an excellent opportunity for teambuilding.

“I would recommend volunteering to anyone. The buzz you get from helping others is unrivalled!”

To find out more about Launchpad, visit www.launchpadreading.org.uk/