Oxford students volunteer to create a positive impact on the environment | University of Oxford
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Oxford Hub cards

Oxford students volunteer to create a positive impact on the environment

Though many have been physically away from Oxford in lockdown, our students have still been thinking about the wider Oxford community, and how to make an impact in it outside of their study.

Green Labs, an initiative run by the Oxford Hub and funded by the University’s Department of Sustainability, ran a six-week programme for people who want to learn how to create a positive impact on the environment through community action.

We spoke with Lucy, a 4th year studying Medicine at St John’s, and Lion, who is studying for a DPhil in Molecular and Cellular Medicine about their experience of the Green Labs programme.

How did you first get involved with Green Labs?

Lion: I knew the Oxford Hub already quite well through some other initiatives I took part in, all of which I quite enjoyed. When I saw them advertising Green Labs during lockdown, I thought that it would be a great opportunity to finally take part – so I applied and luckily got accepted after a short interview.

Lucy: I also saw the Oxford Hub advertising Green Labs during lockdown. I’m really passionate about climate issues, but for a long time I’ve struggled discussing this with those who are less engaged - so I thought the programme could be useful in that respect. I applied for the programme, and after the interview I was accepted, which was very exciting!

Can you tell us about what you’ve both been working on?

We’ve been working together on implementing a short course online about sustainable living in Oxford, to be taken by students when they first arrive at Oxford. The reason we both started on this project is that we were interested in the communications side to it.

We've also both seen similar online courses that have been started by students at other universities, and such a course is something that we think would be practical for people starting at Oxford.We hope that this course makes students aware of simple things that they can do around Oxford to live more sustainably.

What was it like working on this project over lockdown?

Lucy:  Not being able to meet up with Lion and others now involved in the project has made the whole process slower than I think it otherwise would have been. However, I have got used to working via webcam, and the course is now coming on very nicely. I still find it strange that I have never met Lion in real life!

Lion: It was (like so much else during lockdown) a bit of a strange experience. However, I think we managed to make the most out of it and tried to keep in touch regularly to make sure our project was progressing well.

Could you give a short summary of a 'day in the life' working with Green Labs?

Not really, I’m afraid - every day is different, and it can quite often be odd hours depending on how much there is to do! But initially, over the course of the programme, days would include a weekly group webcam call, which required a couple of hours of preparatory reading, or watching videos.

Then, as the group projects emerged, the focus shifted towards refining our ideas and plans, and finally implementing them. This meant that there was a bit more time spent talking in our project groups. The programme finished at the end of term, and right now, we’re producing our online course, so we’re currently doing a fair amount of research and editing!

How did you both balance volunteering with your studies/other parts of Oxford life? 

Lucy: I did Green Labs in the term I sat my exams, and everything was remote, so it was actually a relief to have something to do other than revision. Other volunteering initiatives that I do are very flexible, and I find that while I can be reluctant to go if I’m busy with work, after I do go, I feel like I’ve actually gained time in my schedule - rather than lost it.

Lion: Given that the whole training had to be done virtually, it was a bit easier to fit the course into your schedule. However, in general, Oxford Hub is very aware of the time constraints that Oxford students face during term, and they really try to be as accommodating as possible. 

What would you say to a student who is thinking about applying to Green Labs, or getting involved in volunteering in general?

For Green Labs, we would really encourage you to apply if you care strongly about the environment, or if you want to learn about activism more widely. You’ll learn loads of valuable skills, and get introduced to a lot of interesting concepts related to the environment.

More generally, though, volunteering is an amazing way to get involved in both the University and in the wider Oxford community. Oxford makes it really easy to get involved in many different clubs, societies and initiatives which can offer a great counterbalance to your studies - you just have to take the leap, and sign up!

Outside of learning skills, it’s a great way to meet outside the narrow field of your chosen research study or subject. The University can feel like a very small world during term time, but volunteering makes you realise how much life there is outside the University.

Oxford Hub has lots of different opportunities to get involved in volunteering and social action. Read about the Oxford Hub and its other initiatives to find out how you can make a difference and connect with other like-minded people across the University and beyond.