Liddy Swales

History of Art and Philosophy

Placement: My Case: My Journey

Organisation: Leeds Museums & Galleries and the Together Women Project

Ideal career: Working for a third sector Arts organisation

Liddy Swales is in her 4th year of a joint honours degree in History of Art and Philosophy. Last year she enjoyed a study abroad year in Canada and as her graduation approaches she reflects on the volunteering she has done since coming to Leeds.

When Liddy heard about the My Case: My Journey project she knew she had to get involved.

My first experience of volunteering was for my Duke of Edinburgh award when I was doing my A levels. I worked in a charity shop for a local hospice and I found it really rewarding. When I arrived in Leeds I became involved with the Student into Schools scheme as I was interested in teaching as a career. I volunteered at a school in Beeston and I quickly discovered that teaching wasn't for me. The experience was still really valuable and I'm glad I found out sooner rather than later! In the summer between my first and second year I volunteered at a disability support centre as office admin support. It was advertised as a meet and greet role but once I started I got involved with all sorts of tasks, particularly using my computer skills. I felt really valued as my input allowed other members of staff to spend more time with their clients so I knew I was really contributing.

At the start of my 4th year I saw an opportunity on the Volunteering Hub which really interested me. It was a collaboration between Leeds Museums & Galleries, the University of Leeds and the charity Together Women Project. I was one of eight University of Leeds volunteers working on the project and we had the chance to curate an exhibition at Leeds Industrial Museum for International Women's Day called 'My Case: My Journey'. The exhibition aimed to give a voice and tell the story of a number of migrant women who have made Leeds their new home.

After some initial training each volunteer was matched with a group of female refugees and asylum seekers from communities across Leeds who had agreed to be part of the project. I worked closely with a group of Polish mothers. At first it was a case communicating and getting ideas flowing so we did a lot of icebreakers to get the ball rolling. They were amazed that others might find their lives interesting and they really didn't feel that they had anything valuable to share. As the weeks passed it was really nice to see their confidence rise as they saw how interested people were in their stories. Each session had a theme such as 'identity' or 'journey' and I supported my group to plan what they would input to the exhibition, such as an object or some creative writing. In between these workshops all the volunteers met regularly to plan the activities, work out logistics and budgets. We were also responsible for putting the exhibition up, all the marketing and the opening event so there was lots to plan and organise!

I gained so many skills from this project, from running community sessions to marketing the event and then all the practical tasks of curating the exhibition. Now I can say that I can do all these things which gave me lots of confidence. I also really appreciated the chance to connect with so many different and interesting people outside of the university in the local community.

Volunteering is a great way to gain loads of new skills. You value what you do so much more when you're doing it because you enjoy it and not just because you're getting to the end of a shift. Everyone is there because they believe in it, feel passionate about it and you learn a lot about other people and yourself.