University student Rowan dedicated some time to Sustrans and found both companionship and a sense of purpose during difficult times. She picked up new skills and worked on new ones, which she later applied to her degree in mechanical engineering.
Through volunteering Rowan was given the opportunity to get outdoors and spend time surrounded by people during lockdown. © Roger Dutton
The national lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic impacted us all in different ways.
Many of us found ourselves searching for ways to cope and ways to pass the time in isolation.
Whether that was spending more time in the kitchen, finding ways to stay active or taking up a new hobby.
Without school, college, and university to go to, children and young people were left cut off from their friends and peers.
This was a time that inevitably triggered poor mental health for many.
We spoke to 20-year-old Rowan who found herself isolated in university halls during lockdown in late 2020, during what should have been an exciting time of new beginnings.
Rowan’s teaching was moved entirely online, and she became ill with Covid-19.
After taking the difficult decision to leave university and move back home to Cwmtwrch Uchaf in South Wales, she discovered volunteering with Sustrans in early 2021.
The experience lifted her spirits and provided Rowan with a sense of purpose in uncertain times.
Volunteering combatted my loneliness
Rowan began by translating our tweets and emails into Welsh and helping with captions for Sustrans Big Walk and Wheel videos.
Picking up a spanner and joining forces with her dad, Rowan then got involved with servicing bikes and scooters at Dr Bike sessions.
This led to her helping to deliver scooter and bike skills sessions at schools.
Giving her time to Sustrans gave Rowan the opportunity to get outdoors and spend time surrounded by people. She said:
“Volunteering helped me through lockdown by allowing me to contribute to the community.
“There weren’t many opportunities in my local area for young people to work or volunteer, as a lot of places like shops were closed due to the pandemic.
“Without volunteering with Sustrans, I would’ve been stuck in the house all the time without a sense of purpose.
“I would’ve only seen my family, as my friends had all gone to university.
“It was also so nice to have a change of scenery.
“This combination of meeting new people and getting out of the house really helped my mental health and improved my confidence.
“I have anxiety which is worse when talking to new people, so volunteering meant that I could practice talking to people in a semi-formal environment.
“This will give me the confidence to be able to communicate better in a future workplace.”
20-year-old Rowan said her mental health improved while volunteering with Sustrans. © Roger Dutton
The importance of young people giving their time to volunteer
We asked Rowan to tell us about the benefits which she feels volunteering can offer young people.
“In my opinion, it’s important for young people to volunteer because it can be a fun way to improve your existing skills, learn new ones and give back to your community in a positive way.
“It can improve career prospects too, as the skills you learn are ones that employers will look for in job applications.
“It can also introduce young people to new career paths which they hadn’t considered before.”
Carrying skills into the future and beyond
Rowan then told us about what she personally has gained from her experiences with us.
“I’ve really appreciated volunteering with Sustrans as I enjoy working with children.
“It’s always so nice to see the children engaging with the activities that we did with them.
“Doing the Dr Bike sessions gave me practical skills which have been beneficial to my university degree.
“These are the kind of skills that you often wouldn’t gain from other types of volunteering.
“Every Sustrans staff member I met was really friendly and encouraged me to push myself out of my comfort zone by giving me responsibilities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
“I hope to be able to do more in the future as it’s such a great experience and a fun organisation to volunteer with, with an amazing vision for the future.”
Since embarking on her volunteering journey, Rowan has since re-joined university and has just completed her first year at Swansea University doing mechanical engineering.
Rowan has applied the practical skills she picked up through volunteering to her degree in mechanical engineering. © Roger Dutton
We're always looking for volunteers
We have lots of volunteering opportunities across the UK that you can get involved in.
If you’d like to find out how you can use your free time to volunteer with Sustrans, just like Rowan. You can visit our volunteering page: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer/