Summer is drawing to a close, and we know what that means; a new semester for the Student Volunteer Army at the University of Canterbury! I caught up with the Events team to find out how their first week has gone and hear all about what they’ve got planned for the first half of this year. 

The SVA Club is run by a team of 28 University of Canterbury students (called The Executive), and is the biggest club on campus! The Exec are given lots of different jobs – some are in charge of communications, some (who you may have met!) are in charge of engaging with schools, and some are in charge of organising the 50+ projects that go on over the school year. The Events team consists of Alyce, Sophie, Kahlil and Luke. They are all at different stages of their university career, have had different routes in and levels of involvement in the Exec before now and are studying a range of different subjects. Together, they organise big occasions on the SVA calendar such as the famous Big Give and Connect the Community events.

‘People look at work done by the Big Give and think ‘wow, students did this… I could do this!”‘

Matt Wong-Kam, Vice President of the SVA Club at the University of Canterbury

The first two weeks of uni are the busiest – and the most fun! This week, the whole Exec has been involved in Clubs Day – where all the university clubs and societies showcase what they’re about and register new students that want to join. This event is super important for the SVA – not least because without volunteers, none of the projects could run! Alyce tells me that it’s important because it’s the first impression a lot of people get about the SVA – ‘it’s great for new students to see first hand that we work as a well oiled machine’. A main attraction to the SVA is that there is no joining or member fee – and everyone that joins gets a tshirt and free food (this year, it was candy floss… yum!). Vice President (and past Events team member) Matt describes how the sign up process being simple and free is both central to the ethos of the SVA, and useful for attracting volunteers: ‘it really reflects our whole purpose – we want people to volunteer, so we’re going to make it as easy as possible. We’re going to feed them, we’re going to make sure it’s free, we provide transport, we make things run smoothly.. Clubs Day is the opportunity to showcase that. We want people to come – that’s the main thing. The whole process for signing people up is so quick – they just give us their email, their username, and they’re set – they get their free thing. In that process, we get the chance to pitch our stuff, which is really cool.’ Sophie touches on the social aspect: ‘volunteers have progressed through the Service Award at secondary school and are excited to volunteer socially, in a group, as opposed to by themselves on their own projects. It’s cool that they can see us like that.’ 

Free food! Free clothes! The SVA Club Exec at University of Canterbury’s Clubs Day.

When asked, the majority of the events team said that the event they are most excited for this year is the Big Give: group volunteering doesn’t get bigger or better than this. On the second Saturday of the year, 1,000 UC SVA volunteers get together and launch into their first volunteering activities. 10 years on from the Christchurch Earthquakes, the Exec have decided to return to the Red Zone to carry out a variety of projects – building an adventure playground for a primary school, assisting in the Richmond Community Garden and at the Travis Wetland, to name a few. After a good day’s work, all the volunteers will regroup to get to know each other better over some music and a free barbecue at the Hub space. While more work might get done faster at a standard event, Matt tells me that the Big Give is about creating impact: not just on the local community, but on the volunteers themselves. ‘The ultimate goal is that they have such an amazing and enjoyable experience that first time that they go, “hey, I want to come back and volunteer. I want to come back to the SVA, I want to see more about it”. It’s about creating an amazing experience for people who probably haven’t volunteered before and making them want to make it part of their student life.’ 

The Big Give 2019: wheelbarrows and volunteers at work; relaxing at the end of the day with food and music.

Organising 1,000 people for a day is a task in itself, let alone everything else that is required to make the Big Give run smoothly. Luke says that the Events team tackle a big task like this by breaking it down into small pieces: one person on food, one person on projects and so on. Kahlil tells me that the best place to start is with a project: ‘you’ve then got a location and an idea of what it will look like to build the event around.’ Alyce says the best time to start is early – the events team were organising the Big Give all the way back in November! 

Keep up with the Events team, Big Give and the rest of the SVA Club Exec on Facebook and Instagram