Not an ordinary student

Don’t all students sleep till noon, live on Pot Noodles, avoid lectures and go clubbing all night? Rachel Reddington, tells us about her experience while on student placement at VAL.


This is certainly not the case for me!

As a mature student, like many others I face a variety of challenges everyday. Trying to juggle employment, housework, academic work, my children and family with some small hope of a social life can be a daunting task.

To manage this I have to be organised and manage my time efficiently, skills an employer would grab with both hands. After a successful career in sales I decided I wanted to retrain and started my journey towards a career I felt passionate about.

Having previous experience working with young people as a volunteer at my local Youth Provision, I took the leap and applied for the BA (Hons) Youth Work and Community Development at Leeds Met University in 2012.

With over 15 years of work experience and a vast amount of transferable skills and knowledge, I am not the only student on my course like this.

What is a placement?

My course requires 900 hours of practical placement within the field of youth or community work.

I decided to use my first placement to gain valuable basic youth work skills within the statutory sector. I opted to take my second year placement with a bit more of an 'out of the box’ organisation and in the Third Sector and found Voluntary Action Leeds (VAL).

Having worked in the private and statutory sectors previously I felt the Third Sector was somewhere I could learn vital new skills to use in my education and career. The Voluntary Action Leeds, Prisoner and Ex Offender Project was certainly an outside the box opportunity. How many other students get to do some of their placement in the prison service? Offering just what I was looking for: a challenging, diverse project where I felt I could really help and use my skills.

What do students bring to organisations?

Students are enthusiastic and can offer a fresh new approach, plus an extra pair of hands. They are often up to date with current events and social media trends, capable of providing innovative and creative ideas for organisations.

Taking on placement students can provide an opportunity for staff members to develop supervisory and management skills, plus the benefit of a full time volunteer is priceless in a busy charity.

What's in it for me?

Practical placements offer the chance to learn new skills, gain knowledge and build a network of connections which can be used after University.

Organisations like VAL and other third sector organisations such as Better Leeds Communities, Oblong, Cardigan Centre and Youth Offending Service are committed to ensuring students have a positive learning experience, achieve academic success, work hard and have fun while doing it. 

Having a placement vital to achieving the best out of my degree and being part of VAL has been a great way to remind me of why I started my journey three years ago. Helping prisoners and ex offenders find volunteering opportunities is a very rewarding. 

What Next?

My placement is nearly over and I have enjoyed every minute of it!

I have already learnt so much about the Third Sector, the criminal justice system and how prisons work; gaining experience and knowledge in areas which other students could only dream of. I hope to return in the autumn to gain even more skills and knowledge, this time working with young offenders.  

Comments (3)

  1. Rachel Reddington:
    Mar 17, 2014 at 02:31 PM

    Thank you to everyone who takes time out of their busy day to read my Blog. Feedback or other comments are always welcome.

  2. Katie:
    Mar 17, 2014 at 02:57 PM

    Great hearing about people getting involved in different projects no matter how busy they are- very inspiring! Also, shows employers and charities what a student placement can offer- for the individual and the organisation.

  3. Laura Elson:
    Mar 25, 2014 at 12:04 PM

    I've been Rachel's supervisor this semester, I've been working with placement students for years and could not encourage people enough to give it a try. Placement students not only provide support and an extra pair of hands, but a vital link for practitioners into academic reflection, research and best practice. So many charity workers are so busy that they can't find the time to update their knowledge, and keep up to date with current research in their field. You may find that you learn as much from your student as they learn from you! Thank you Rachel for being a fantastic volunteer, we will miss you, and we're looking forward to our next student!

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