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UCL Public Engagement Blog



STEPping into lockdown

By Caroline Francis, on 2 September 2020

In this blog post, STEP trainee Caroline reflects on her experience of joining UCL Culture during the Coronavirus lockdown and working with the Engagement team.

I joined UCL Culture in June 2020, during the height of the Coronavirus lockdown. Having just left Foundation for FutureLondon, where I spent the first six months of my time on the Shared Training and Employment Programme (STEP), I had already begun adjusting to the new style of working remotely. Still, the thought of beginning my new role at UCL during lockdown and not meeting my new colleagues face-to-face was extremely daunting! With zoom conversations with friends feeling increasingly awkward and stunted I wondered how I would manage to be myself within a new and unfamiliar team.

Participants of the 2020 STEP programme

Participants of the 2020 STEP programme (taken pre-lockdown)

Thankfully these concerns were short-lived, and the Engagement team have been friendly, open and supportive the whole way through. I’ve found informal catch-ups really important in the absence of meeting the team face-to-face. They provide that much needed space to find out how everyone has been coping during this period and to share stories about life outside of work! Hearing about people’s pets and the next best series on Netflix may be seemingly small but important ways to connect (and provide relief) during a global pandemic.

During my time at UCL Culture, I have been working closely with the Community Engagement team supporting their projects and work for UCL East. I’ve really enjoyed finding out more about what public engagement entails and what it means for communities in east London. To me, the value in public engagement work has come to represent the opportunity to connect marginalised communities with the university in ways that are empowering and beneficial for them.

One of the projects I have found most inspiring during my time at UCL has been the Engagement ‘Listen and Respond’ activity, a programme of activity and rapid response funding to support  Voluntary Community Sector Organisations (VCSOs) dealing with the immediate and longer term impact of Coronavirus within London communities.

I am currently commissioning a video about one part of this project – a series of online Social Hackathon events organised by UCL Students Union Volunteering Service. During one of these events, UCL staff and students worked collaboratively to support Tower Hamlets based housing association PoplarHARCA to improve their online communications and services for local residents during lockdown. This was the first time the Volunteering Service had run a hackathon online, and so there was a steep learning curve for all. Enhancing the support and services for communities who have been suffering especially from the impacts of Coronavirus is crucial. I was amazed by how the teams worked so well together over zoom and by what they could achieve in such a short amount of time.

Supporting the creation of the video, has given me the chance to get back in touch with people involved in the event and find out more about their experiences of taking part. It was great to hear accounts from different individuals about how the event benefitted them. I am excited to share their stories with soon when the video is finished!

You can find out more about Listen and Respond on the UCL Engagement website.

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