My name is Naznina Begum and I am currently in my final year at Goldsmiths University, studying International Relations. As part of my placement module, I completed a placement at Lewisham Local for 16 days, over the course of two months. This was such an important experience for me as it was my first real insight into the workplace and what a career in the third sector could entail.
During my placement, there were three main projects I worked on:
The first was updating the community directory, which was a database of all the details of community groups and organisations that work with Lewisham Local. This included finding out information such as, whether they were BAME led, what assets they could share with other groups and what support they needed from Lewisham Local. This was a great task to start on as I was able to learn more about different community groups working in Lewisham as well as the integral part that Lewisham Local played in providing them with information through newsletters, a place to advertise volunteering roles and other resources.
My second project was attending the virtual Get Involved Fair and writing a blog post about it. The fair connected eight community groups and over 50 potential volunteers. Attending the fair and speaking to leaders of the community groups allowed me to learn more about the way the voluntary sector had to shift and adapt to address the greater needs of vulnerable people during COVID-19 and how they were able to do this.
My third and favourite project to work on was Lewisham Local’s campaign for International Women’s Day. We wanted to focus on and elevate the voices of women in the community sector and local businesses through a series of pre-recorded videos which involved women discussing the discrimination they have faced, what they have learnt from stepping up during the pandemic and what women inspired them. This was such an impactful experience as I was able to watch these interviews where the women were so insightful and their stories were so authentic. I was also grateful for the diversity of our participants because, as a BAME woman myself who will soon be heading into the workplace, I personally benefited from the advice they gave and the stories they told about how to overcome challenges such as imposter syndrome.
COVID-19 vs. the Community
During my time at Lewisham Local, it was so important for me to learn more about the issues the Lewisham community faced during the global pandemic; Lewisham is in the top 20% of most deprived boroughs nationally, and the impact of Covid was that many groups in Lewisham were even more vulnerable to issues such as food poverty and unemployment due to socio-economic inequality. Being able to hear about this first-hand from the community groups that were at the forefront helping these people, to hearing about it from Kalbir Shukra who developed a report on Lewisham’s Covid Response Hub, really demonstrated the impact of COVID, but also the way the community sector came together to effectively help vulnerable people. It was so interesting to learn about the innovative way that Lewisham Local communicated and collaborated with the London Borough of Lewisham, Age UK Lewisham and Southwark, Voluntary Services Lewisham and Lewisham Foodbank to provide a united strategy and action plan to provide humanitarian support for the Lewisham community during such a difficult time. It is also reassuring to know that they want to build on these relationships and learn from the lessons of this experience of providing support during Covid to develop further and be ready if another crisis comes about.
Working Environment and Personal Development
The working environment at Lewisham Local is so supportive and welcoming. As a student and new member of the team, I thought I would struggle more with the isolating nature of remote working but having catch up meetings and team meetings allowed me to ask direct questions if needed and just be aware of everything the different members of the team were doing. Even when other members of staff were busy with a number of tasks, I observed how team members would check up on them or offer to take on more to help them out. I also witnessed how team members freely shared when they were confused about something or wanted some advice; it truly felt like a group working together instead of separate individuals working in different roles and places.
Working in this environment helped me to develop my confidence, as I have not worked in a professional workplace like this before so I was unsure of how to conduct myself, in terms of speaking up in team meetings and contributing ideas, or even writing up professional emails. Participating in weekly team meetings helped me to observe how each member of the team contributed and how each different perspective was valued. With the encouragement of my colleagues, I was able to increasingly gain confidence and participate more in meetings.
My time with Lewisham Local also strengthened my communication and adaptability skills in terms of remote working and having to communicate with a number of different people for different tasks. I found that I really enjoyed speaking to and actively listening to local organisations and charities about the work they do, the challenges they face and the support they need, and reflecting on this new information through mediums such as, a blog post for the website, providing feedback to my colleagues and researching what resources could be relevant for them.
Working with Lewisham Local has really shown me how much I enjoy working with local issues and causes. I always knew that I wanted to work on improving public services but I was not sure which avenue to follow. It has also inspired me to do some volunteering after I graduate and throughout my life as this experience really highlighted for me the importance of volunteers for the community, especially in such difficult times, and I feel that you can literally change someone’s day, week or even life by volunteering. I will end by highlighting one important story that really emphasised this for me: one woman talked about how during lockdown when she could not leave the house, all week she would look forward to the one day that someone would drop off her food shopping for her. It was the one day where she knew someone would be there to talk to her and the one day she would dress up and put some make-up on, and just feel less isolated. I could not imagine not having my friends or family around to rely on or to support me, so stories like this really stuck with me and impacted my thinking.