07 January 2022

Aziza Begum won UEL's volunteer of the year award for 2021 and recently attended a carol concert hosted by the Duchess of Cambridge at Westminster Abbey.

Here, the second year Social Work student and NHS worker talks about what volunteering with bereavement charity Cruse brings to her life and the lives of those in need.

Why did you start volunteering with Cruse?

Cruse offer support to people who are bereaved and grieving. This pandemic period caused so many untimely and shocking losses for so many.

I wanted to work in a different sector to what I am experienced in and has links to social workers. Also, I wanted to build resilience. Most importantly, it was about giving back. I had a difficult year with my own mental health after working frontline in a busy London hospital.

Now more than ever, Cruse are a crucial service for so many people, and I am glad to be a part of a wonderful team of volunteers and staff who are making a positive difference to our clients.

I started training last November, and officially started in January 2021. I started training as an email responder and have now trained to work on the helplines too. 

How did you come to win two awards?

I won UEL's 'Volunteer of the Year' award in June 2021. I was nominated by my Cruse team leader for the 'Helpline Volunteer of the Year' award, and the head of service and my team leader came to present me with it as a surprise. I was absolutely shocked - I told them I don't think I'm doing anything different from the other wonderful volunteers. I was told that all the team leaders thought highly of me and all felt I was worthy of being nominated for this award, and for being awarded it.

I guess I come across as someone who is able to participate in lots of different things whilst juggling being a mum of five, frontline worker and doing a full-time degree….and finding time to volunteer!

I think also because I share how much I enjoy every little thing that I’m doing at the moment and am open to new challenges and experiences. I have been so busy being a mum to four children in my 20s and nearly started a degree in my 30s. I fell pregnant one more time and nearly decided this was it. I did some fundraising during the pandemic and met an amazing charity who support academics with scholarships. I met a wonderful group of PhD students who all shared their stories and inspired me with their journeys and how they are making a difference by working in exclusive government roles, and this motivated me to make the start. They all said it was never too late, and that was it. 

I don't want this journey and excitement to ever end, and so far, I'm still feeling the same motivation that I did when I started at UEL last September. I continue to explore areas that interest me and will consider other agencies so that I can prepare for life as a social worker.

What does volunteering bring you as a person?

The lockdown was terrifying. Even though I went out to work, I still had so many hours where I was trying to fill the time and be productive. I never want to take things for granted again, especially my time. I enjoy spending time with my children and my loved ones.

I fit in all my commitments around them, and I use late nights to study when it’s quiet and peaceful. I am enjoying learning my strengths, and I've learnt that I'm not too old to learn new knowledge and skills, that I'm a great team player, that I am able to work using theory to inform my practice which is helping me with social work, and that life is for living. 

Why would you recommend others volunteer?

Volunteering a few hours each week will boost your confidence, it's a great way to meet new people, and most importantly making a difference to the lives of that client group. I would often make plans to indulge in shopping and eat out with friends and family, all of which came to a halt during the lockdown. I have steered away from returning to this and I feel that I have a greater sense of direction and purpose now that I fulfil commitments that are important to me. I enjoy my life a lot more too and my mental health has improved massively since nearly losing myself before my first year of university started. 

Volunteering is like the gift that keeps on giving. I don't want anything back, but the rewards have not stopped coming, and attending the Carols service was just the best unimaginable thing that could have happened to me. It shouldn't be a reason to volunteer, but it certainly made me feel so humbled and grateful to those who acknowledge and appreciate the time volunteers offer.

How did you come to be invited to the special carol concert and how was the experience?

Cruse had 10 categories and all of the winners were offered this opportunity when the CEO received a call from the Royal Family’s events team. Initially, it was an invite to a carols service at Westminster Abbey, no famous names dropped. We found out a few days before the event that the Duchess of Cambridge was hosting the event and it would be on TV on Christmas eve. I’m still in shock…it was my first time in a church and what a wonderful service it was! People were invited from a range of charities and organisations and we were recognised for our contribution during a difficult and challenging year. I felt humbled to be a part of such a prestigious crowd, I was truly inspired.

The other highlights from that service was listening to Leona Lewis and Ellie Goulding sing beautiful carols live, seeing Ellie walk past me, and the best thing was being a short distance from the Royal Family and where they were seated. I took my dad and I will cherish my wonderful experience with my father forever. It was nice that I could take him, he loves the Royal Family!


Students and staff can volunteer across a number of different areas. Find out more about the opportunities available.

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