01 June 2022

The pageantry and splendour of the forthcoming celebrations to mark the Queen's 70-year reign have revived memories for University of East London student Aziza Begum - and her own brush with royalty.

As the country prepares for four days of celebration and ceremony to mark the Platinum Jubilee, the second year social work student from the School of Education and Communities is reflecting on the day, last year, when she was invited to a carol service at Westminster Abbey - and discovered the host was going to be the Duchess of Cambridge.

It all came about because of Aziza's volunteering, which saw her named as the university's Volunteer of the Year 2021. She worked on the helpline of Cruse Bereavement Support, which offers support to people who are grieving.

The royal family's events team invited the charity to attend the service on 8 December last year. Aziza was nominated to take a seat because she had just won Cruse's Helpline Volunteer of the Year award.

It was her first time in a church and she found herself among well-known faces, such as singers Leona Lewis and Ellie Goulding, as well as the Duchess. The service was televised on ITV on Christmas Eve.

Looking back on the day, she said, "It was such an incredible feeling to be a part of so many wonderful outstanding members of the community in Westminster Abbey that evening. I sat in an area where a large majority of the guests were also volunteers or community support workers who were honoured for their contribution during the pandemic and difficult times that followed.

"I feel privileged and humbled to have been a part of this for the role I played as a bereavement volunteer with Cruse. I wanted to do something using my skillset that will benefit others - I wasn't looking for any reward or special recognition."

Now the focus has returned to another special date in the calendar and another royal spectacular as the country marks the Platinum Jubilee.  

Aziza said, "I have been extremely busy with uni work and finishing my placement. Now I'm looking forward to getting together with my family and spend this long bank holiday with them all. Coming from a huge family who are royal family fans, we are excited about celebrating Her Majesty's inspiring 70 years of service."

Meanwhile, Aziza continues to prosper at Cruse, having successfully applied for the role of team leader for the national helpline.

"I started this new job last week!" she said. "I have adapted to my new role very well and have been welcomed warmly by the team."

Aziza originally discovered her volunteering position at Cruse at the end of 2020 using UEL's Career Zone platform. She had been advised to start building up her CV, a move which Aziza credits as the start of her journey. She contacted a number of organisations and Cruse responded offering a training package as part of an accredited course.

Now Aziza, a mum of four, plans to take out a gap year to focus on the job as part of her broader career plan.

She said, "I have a vision of managing my own team of mental health specialists and this opportunity was too good to pass."

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