Brain Sciences


UCL students embrace opportunities and create connections across London

29 July 2021

Written by Professor Alan Thompson, Dean, Faculty of Brain Sciences and Pro Vice Provost (London), UCL with guest feature by John Braime, Volunteering Manager at the UCL Students’ Union Volunteering Service.

Professor Alan Thompson

As we approach the end of term, I have been reflecting on what has been a very different academic year for most. The coronavirus pandemic impacted all of our activity in some way and for the London Office it meant a new way of working with our partners in London. We started 2021 having just launched the London Framework in late 2020, as well as an exciting signatory event for the UCL-Camden MoU which was signed in December.

Since then, we have been speaking to many colleagues to truly understand the partnerships which UCL has with individuals, communities and organisations in the capital. In the upcoming weeks we will commence a research study to start to look at these relationships and the value that UCL can make to London. We will talk to our partners and stakeholders as well as local people across all 32 boroughs, with in-depth conversations taking place in Camden and Newham specifically. This research will help to inform the London Framework as we move into the new 2021/22 academic year.

We have been working closely with Camden Council and we will continue to do so. There are many exciting collaborations in the pipeline with Camden and in particular the launch of the Camden Renewal Commission with UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose in the upcoming months. Also, as part of the UCL Public Policy run Policy Summer School project, UCL currently has five students undertaking internships with Camden Council. Undergraduate students Farida Ahmed, Anna Altenau Smith, Georgia Box, Inés Buetow and Louis ​Velati are undertaking a 10-week internship hosted by Camden working across a portfolio of services. This blog written by Olivia Stevenson, Amy Lightstone and Yelena Bide looks at how our partnership working has created opportunities for UCL students. A huge thank you to Camden Council for hosting our students – we look forward to working together on many more opportunities for students in the future.

In addition to student opportunities such as internships and placements, we are also looking at staff volunteering and in particular how UCL staff give back to London. In autumn, through the London Office, we will be launching an all-staff survey as we begin to capture all of the staff volunteering activity which is taking place across UCL. We know that this information is currently unmeasured, and we also know that staff volunteering in London has increased throughout the pandemic with individuals wanting to give back, whether it’s through charity work or helping at vaccination centres. The survey will be the first part in a series looking at UCL staff volunteering, and I would really encourage colleagues to take five minutes to participate. UCL already has a fantastic support mechanism in place for student volunteering and we would like to be able to recognise staff in the same way.

I am delighted that John Braime, Volunteering Manager at the UCL Students’ Union Volunteering Service has kindly provided this months guest feature, and there is certainly lots to learn from his fantastic work, in particular making connections with organisations across London.

Finally, just to note, we will pause our London Office update for August, with the next update in September. If you have any questions in the meantime, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

In this months guest piece John Braime, Volunteering Manager, UCL Students’ Union Volunteering Service, provides an update on how UCL student volunteers are making connections in London.

London is home to a diverse array of organisations dedicated to making life better for its citizens – there are over 12,000 registered charities here with a focus just on the capital, and many, many more small local community organisations and other not-for-profits. There are another 12,000 charities in London with a nationwide or international remit.

Here at Students’ Union UCL’s Volunteering Service, our mission is to connect up our students with the civic life of our city – with our neighbours. Each year, we support over 2,000 students to go and volunteer alongside other Londoners. Those students give over 55,000 hours of their spare time, most of this is with small and medium sized charities and neighbourhood-based organisations. The range of activities is amazing, and we try and capture the students’ stories on our webpages. Some recent interviews include:

Zainab Dar, (BA Comparative Literature) who has been volunteering with BUD, a Brixton-based social enterprise which develops community leadership programmes. Zainab helps them with research to help inform new workshops for BAME leaders.

Zoe Schott, a master’s student studying MSc International Public Policy, who has been undertaking collaborative research with youth sexual health charity Brook as part of our Community Research Initiative.

Kirsty Goodman, a MRes/PhD student in the Department of Security and Crime Science, who has been volunteering as a Dementia Wellbeing Volunteer with Age UK Camden. She told us “I think strengthening community ties is the best thing about volunteering … it really helps create a collective sense of wellbeing.”

As you’d expect, we have a particular focus on Camden with over 40% of our students’ volunteering takes place in the borough. We’ve had increasing numbers involved in east London over the last five years, as we’ve built partnerships there in the run up to the opening of UCL East.

COVID-19 has made a lot of our regular face-to-face volunteering more difficult in the last year, but our community partners and our student leaders worked hard to move their activities online. One example is Project Impactive, a student-led group of Engineers who work with disabled Londoners to co-design improvements to disability aids. New projects have also sprung up during the pandemic, such as B.Zine. This UCL student group have been running online sex and relationship workshops for London schools.

Students consistently tell us that volunteering helps them feel more at home in London and they feel they’re making a difference within the capital and getting to meet other Londoners. In turn, our community partners frequently comment on what great ambassadors for UCL our students are. For example, Roy Normile from Caris Families, a charity supporting homeless children and their parents in Camden and Hackney, recently wrote to us to say “We are so grateful to all of our UCL student volunteers, as without your support we would never be able to manage the volume of children who attended our homework and kids’ clubs, your input really does make a big impact on the services we provide.”

These connections start with student volunteering but can often blossom into other forms of collaboration with UCL - for research, teaching or course placements. If you’d like to find out more about our work with the Voluntary & Community Sector, please feel free to drop us a line.


Colleagues from across UCL have continued to impact London and Londoners through their research, opportunities and activities. To share just a couple of examples…

UCL President & Provost, Dr Michael Spence has encouraged visitors in London onto the UCL campus in this recent interview with The Times. Opening up UCL’s historic buildings, museums and heritage is part of longer-term plans to open up the campus to local people and the public, from London and beyond.

A new five-year project to improve adolescent mental health has received £5.3million funding from the UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP). ‘Kailo’, led by Professor Peter Fonagy OBE (UCL Psychology and Language Sciences), will work with specialists to develop locally tailored strategies to combat the underlying causes of mental ill health. An initial trial will take place in Newham, East London as well as in North Devon.

UCL’s Evaluation Exchange, a partnership between UCL and voluntary and community sector organisations in Camden and East London, have recently closed applications for this year’s programme which aims to improve evaluation practice and provide postgraduate students and early career researchers an opportunity to put their research skills into a real-life setting. 12 voluntary or community sector organisations will be matched with small teams of postgraduate students and researchers, working together for 6 months, from October 2021 to April 2022. 18 organisations from Camden and Newham, alongside 70 postgraduate students and researchers, applied for this fantastic scheme.

An exciting opportunity has arisen to support Islington Council’s Youth Employment, Progression and Skills team on their programme “Improving employment and skills outcomes for young adults not in employment, education or training”. The role will support the team to develop an evaluation framework and devise a plan on mapping the development of the pilot programme as well as setting up best practice. This policy placement is open to registered UCL staff and PhD students and for up to 6 months (part-time or full time), starting in Sep 2021 (or as early as possible thereafter). The closing date is 27th August. Please contact us for more information.

To share any London impact stories or to get in touch, please contact Amy Lightstone.