Rachel Wylie

BSc Geography

Placement: WISE Project Leader

Organisation: Together Women Project

Ideal career: Weather Forecaster - now changed to Third Sector!

Rachel is a 3rd year BSc Geography student who had never volunteered until she came to University here in Leeds. Rachel has been volunteering with WISE -Women in Sustainable Engagement - for the past two years and is now the Project Leader. Rachel originally wanted to become a weather forecaster after graduating, however she has now gained employment working in the third sector.

No one has ever cared this much, it’s like you actually want to help me

Whilst in my second year a friend and I decided that we wanted to make an impact in the community during our time at Leeds and work with other women in some way. With the help of the Student Society Enactus, WISE was born and we focused on supporting vulnerable women with the help of the organisation Together Women Project. Together Women Project moves women out of crime into positive futures by working with them to build resilience and develop skills and strengths which enable them to move away from damaging lifestyles.

We started with an eight week pilot study, working with the women on designing products using old paper with the aim of empowering women to gain new skills. That process was a huge learning curve as it became apparent that we were focusing on what we thought the women needed rather than what the women themselves wanted to gain from workshops. This was something which we hadn’t even considered and we realised that in order for the project to be a success we needed to revaluate. We asked the women what they wanted out of the craft group, with the majority of women wanting to gain employability skills and increase their confidence.

After going back to the drawing board, we formulated a new plan. The women now complete a skills needs assessment and the other volunteers and I create a craft idea which will enable the women to learn a new craft in the weekly workshop. For example, the skill  might be time management and the women will create a lampshade using everyday objects and “upcycle” them against the clock and make multiple projects at once.

Out all of the skills I have developed, creative problem solving is probably the one which I use the most. Women decide on the skill they would like to gain the previous week and we have 7 days to come up with a craft, find the unwanted objects and buy materials we need; time is always of the essence! I have certainly become a lot more organised as I probably volunteer for around 20 hours a week. Although it seems a lot of time, it is definitely worth it as I get to forge relationships with people you wouldn’t normally come across in your day to day student life. Every volunteer will learn something from doing a workshop itself but the real learning comes from what the women teach us.

I could write an entire CV based purely on the experience from WISE, in fact I could probably write about 1000 CVs! Whatever you are prepared to put in to this project you will get back from it, both in personal gain and in seeing the change which you make on another person’s life. It is very easy to walk out of a workshop and know that you have had an impact on someone’s life. A woman once said ‘No one has ever cared this much, it’s like you actually want to help me’, statements like that make all the planning and organising worth it.