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City Year UK: We don’t know who benefits most – the students, the schools, or the volunteers

25 October 2016: posted by BigChange

Last week, we had the pleasure of seeing one of our newest project partners in action. Alex, Karl and I travelled to Daubery Primary School in Hackney to meet with the City Year UK Team, take a tour of the school, and speak to the volunteers themselves about their experience since they began working at the school in September.

City Year operates on the belief that young people can change the world. They bring together 18-25 year olds from diverse backgrounds to give a year to serve in schools in deprived communities as tutors, mentors, and role models, and provide them with leadership training one day a week. The goal is to set young people up with skills, confidence, and networks for their future careers – whilst at the same time providing much needed support in local schools.

There are currently 11 volunteers at Daubeney Primary School, and it was great to see them working with the pupils, which includes everything from walking them to school in the morning, running around in the playground, to helping students through their lessons.

Magical Moments

After touring the school, we joined a roundtable with the City Year volunteers and the head of school to talk about the impact the organisation has had at Daubeney. The head teacher started things off by asking the City Year students to recount a magical moment that they have had in their first six weeks at the school. A magical moment, he described, is one that both the volunteer and child will both remember forever. “All students will forget lessons, but they won’t forget these magical moments,” he explained.

One of these moments was when a City Year volunteer helped a young boy to participate in a school trip. He described that this boy had certain behavioural issues that made the prospect of going on the trip a concern with staff, but with the help of City Year volunteer, Nathaniel, he was able to take the day out with his classmates and visit the Royal Albert Hall, no less!

The Daubeney PS City Year volunteers at the round table meeting.

Rikesh, another volunteer, recounted a moment when he helped a student get through a tough day. This pupil struggled with anxiety when his regular teacher was away, and was very nervous to come in when she would be absent. With Rikesh’s help, the student made it through the day feeling relaxed, and his parents contacted Rikesh later to thank him for his help in making their son feel so comfortable.

These are but two moments of many that were mentioned when the volunteers were asked about their magical moments, and we can imagine there will be many more over the course of the year. It’s clear that these volunteers have a wonderful impact on the students that they work with, but as the school head mentioned at the round table, “it’s hard to tell who benefits most, the students, the school or the volunteers…”

Giving Back

One of our ambitions with City Year is to make the concept of a year of service as normal and popular as it is in other countries, such as the US and Germany, so we were curious to know what made these volunteers decide to join City Year.

There were a range of motivations for signing up, and most fell under two categories. The first was that all of these volunteers were passionate about giving back to their community; they recognized that young people in the UK need more support. The second reason that came up was that through City Year, not only were the volunteers giving back, but they were opening doors for themselves as well. Through working at the school and corporate training days, volunteers develop skills, make connections and gain opportunities that will help them hugely in their professional lives.


While volunteers are having a lasting impact on the lives of the students they work with, they are also setting themselves up for success in their future careers; a definite win-win. Yet still, a number of volunteers said that their families and friends were confused about why they would take part; why would you give up a year of your time to volunteer in a school and not be paid? While the answer was clear to the volunteers, we clearly have a way to go in creating a norm around a service year in the UK.

Before the meeting ended, the teacher left us with an idea that we think sums up the reason everyone should take part; there is a difference between spending time and investing time. Not all dividends are financial, and a program like City Year most definitely pays dividends for your future.

We look forward to working with City Year UK on this concept, and we hope we’ll get to meet many more wonderful volunteers down the road.

The Big Change Team with the City Year volunteers.


Find out more about City Year UK.

Read about the Big Change 2016 Project Portfolio.

Support Big Change.