I spoke to the lovely Alankrita Singh, a master's student studying MA in Sociology in childhood and children rights at the Institute of Education (IOE) and is one of the project leaders for CreativeMinds. 

Tell us a little bit about the project you led.

Our project is called CreativeMinds, and I am working with a non-profit organisation called Catch 22 Hive; they work directly with young people in Camden. 

 Our project involves working with young people to raise awareness of mental health, and we wanted to do this through art. More specifically, making people aware of depression, getting people to open and talk about it, and giving them certain strategies to handle depression. Art has been recognised as a medium for handling stress for a long time, and this is what I have been exploring with young people. 

We have interpreted art widely, including painting, theatre, and creative writing. We will expose a variety of art mediums to young people, and I am focusing on particularly art with watercolours and acrylics. 

Tell us about your Project Leader role.

My role is very creative, we have brainstorming sessions, and it is about imagining and then putting your imagination into action. So, the first question I was grappling with is how you connect art with mental health awareness, how you make it accessible and how you make it enjoyable.

If there is no buy-in, you're not supposed to force anybody to come onboard and make everyone do art with you. It was about bringing onboard the young people and having buy-in to this project.

So, my project leader role involves creativity and communication with the young people, encouraging them, motivating them, and doing those activities with them. 

Why did you want to become a Project Leader?

I was looking at many volunteering activities and opportunities offered by UCL, and the project leader role attracted me for two reasons. The first reason was the flexibility I had to plan the project and to bring in new ideas. Secondly, I am interested in the non-profit sector and working with young people. This project attracted me because this NGO works directly with young people. Another reason is that I am interested in art and various art forms.

What difference do you feel you've made by leading your project? 

Firstly, I think it directly benefits a set of young people, even if the number is small. Nevertheless, I consider it very significant if you can touch even a single life with your thoughts and ideas, it is worthwhile.

For the organisation Catch 22 The Hive, they are also encouraging us to use the brand value of UCL and encourage the young people to enter higher education and aspire to go to these institutions. Thirdly, with the team of creative leaders; most of them are younger than me, and that interaction has been mutually beneficial. 

What impact has volunteering and leading a project had on you? 

This role has given me a nuanced understanding of young people's lives and challenges. It helps me appreciate each of them as an individual, as a subject, rather than, children being just figures, data, and statistics that we talk about and discuss in meetings.

They are real people; every child and young person has a story, agency, and ability to choose what is good for them. So that has been the most profound learning for me in this project.

Also, working with the non-profit sector to understand their values, how they handle real problems, and how they safeguard young people. There is a lot this role has given me. 

How has your network developed while being a Project Leader? 

So I have networked with other students at UCL and have worked for the non-profit sector. And once I started following Catch-22 on LinkedIn, I could use that network to find more organisations that work in similar areas.

Later on, it will be very useful because if I wanted to do a Ph.D., I'll have access to these organisations. I could approach them with a request to work with them. I could also use the networking opportunities to work in the non-profit sector. 

What was the biggest challenge you encountered? How did you overcome this challenge?

The biggest challenge was paperwork and accessing the required documents like utility bills and council tax invoices. Time invested in all these did not feel like time purposefully utilised.

Tell us something memorable that's happened to you while being a Project Leader? 

So the first time we interacted with the organisation, we were provided with safeguarding training and were told many things that could happen. The training was very interactive, with fun activities and a lot of new things to learn. I found it very useful in the present as well as for future workplaces and in general. 

What best advice would you give someone thinking about being a Project Leader? 

I would say that they should choose the project based on what they consider necessary and what they are passionate about. They should select it accordingly; many options and opportunities are available. Even if students want to explore opportunities with organisations that the Student Union's Volunteering Service is not working with, that is an option. They can also initiate new ideas through the Volunteering Service.

So I hope this will reach out to students and advise them to be open-minded, bring in new ideas, and choose something they are passionate about.  

Want to start your own Student-led Volunteering Project? Find out more and share your ideas with us here!