Posted: 20 December 2013

Volunteering has been a totally invaluable experience

For the last six months I have had the pleasure of volunteering for the Policy and Public Affairs team at The Children’s Society headquarters in London. I’ve supported the team three days a week, balancing this with my Masters in conflict, security and development, and a part-time job. It’s been very busy!

The team is divided into policy areas focussing on poverty and early years, youth at risk and refugees and migrants, and I’ve been lucky enough to work on all the briefs at some stage. It’s been a steep learning curve, familiarising myself with the fine details of policy areas, the issues we were tackling and how we work with parliamentarians to produce change.

Having studied history and politics as an undergraduate, I was keen to explore parliament and government policy through a well-established charity, like The Children’s Society. I’ve been fortunate to work in a brilliant team, working closely with the government on key issues to drive positive change and ensure children’s voices are represented at national level.

Seeing how policy is created

I’ve acquired a working knowledge of how policy is formed, shaped and scrutinised by external organisations and parliamentarians. It’s been fascinating to watch how our policy concerns are translated into real change, such as key amendments to the recent Children and Families Bill and the policy announcement of free school meals for all infants.

From day one my time here has been really well organised and continually re-evaluated to ensure that I get the most out of the placement. The work I have been doing has been so varied, from organising parliamentary events, APPGs (all party parliamentary groups) to drafting briefings for MPs. I’ve been able to get a sense of how a successful policy and public affairs team operates.

I’ve helped to organise numerous parliamentary events for policy report launches, including  Still At Risk, the Refugee Council and The Children’s Society’s joint report, and the Say Something if You See Something and Who Benefits? campaign launches. In doing so I was able to see how we build and maintain relationships with MPs and peers and get an insight into how Westminster functions.

A totally invaluable experience

The team has been working with the government and civil servants to influence the government’s next Child Poverty Strategy, and as part of this we organised for them to visit two of our projects in Bradford. You can read my blog on this. This was to help the civil servants gain insight into the scale of child poverty in England, understand the differing experiences and most pertinent issues facing the community, particularly in light of changes to the welfare system.

It was amazing to hear about the range and flexibility of services the two projects offered and how committed the staff are to go above and beyond to support families in the area. The level of poverty was shocking and the challenges facing the communities are continually changing, therefore it felt all the more important to relay this straight back to policy makers. This trip also helped me to understand our relationship with practitioners and how their frontline work directly informs the work of the policy team.

Being able to volunteer within a fast paced, dynamic team for six months has been a totally invaluable experience. I’ve learnt so much during my time here and it’s equipped me with valuable and transferable skills I couldn’t have got elsewhere. Most importantly, the position has confirmed that this is not only the sector I want to continue working in, but that I would like this to be in a policy team too.