16 October 2016

One Volunteering Placement at a Time...

Before I started studying again, most of my negative thoughts were fuelled by this notion that if I did not at least try to redesign myself, then once again I was going to experience the isolation, the loneliness and the regression that I did two years ago. I thought that once I started university again I would feel the usual pressure to be that person I am not- the one that goes out, the one that drinks, the one that stays up until ridiculous hours in the morning. The truth is, I am never going to be that person, but I know deep down that I do not have to put on an act just to be accepted. I am who I am, I enjoy what I enjoy and after being at Sheffield Hallam for a month now, I can quite confidently say that I am happy with being just that.

Socialising when you are not into the whole going out scene can be a bit of a challenge at university, but so far I feel like I am doing quite well. I am spending time with those that I have formed close friendships with, doing activities that we all like to do and honestly, I could not think of better ways of spending my time than going to the cinema, watching the ice hockey and baking cakes. But as my timetable can be quite sparse some days, I have decided to embrace the opportunity to volunteer within the city. As somebody that loves nothing more than raising money, giving back to a worthy cause and working to improve peoples lives- I felt like this would be a great way to not only gain some experience for my career, but also to fulfil these passions of mine.

So far I have joined up to a project called FoodCycle. This fantastic scheme uses donated food from leading supermarkets that are unsellable due to being close to their ‘best before’ date, and transforming them into a three course meal to be served to the community in a local church. As the shopping bags are emptied on to the table at 9:30am every Wednesday, we are challenged with formulating a menu based on the products in front of us, ready to be served 3 hours later. Not only is this project a fantastic way for me to gain experience for my nutrition course, but it is also incredibly rewarding and socially interactive, as I then get to eat the food whilst conversing with the visiting members of the community. It is great to work as part of a team with people that are like-minded in their goals about wanting to make a positive difference by helping others and also in reducing food waste. It is inspiring to hear their stories, as well as those of the visitors, to find out how and why they have come to know the project and their motivations for spending their time volunteering. It is a truly fantastic project and I am looking forward to dedicating more of my time there throughout the year.

Whilst attending one of the many fresher’s fairs during the first few weeks at Sheffield Hallam, I came across a relatively new healthy food business that really captured my interest. A recent graduate from Sheffield Hallam University, Sophie Lane, launched Slaaw in May 2016. With a mission to change people’s preconceptions about healthy food, she has formulated recipes for various salads and clean treats, which she serves up at a pop up café every Tuesday at Union Street in Sheffield. Being a nutrition student with a keen interest in all aspects of the industry, I was excited to see that somebody was trying to put a healthy stamp on the food scene in Sheffield- and I wanted to know more! As soon as I got home from the fair, I began searching for Slaaw on Twitter and Instagram to get into contact with Sophie to find out if there was any way that I could volunteer and help out with her growing business. Just one week later and there I was, stood behind the counter in the café with my Slaaw apron on, ready to serve up delicious food to the public. For somebody that this time last year, could not even go into a supermarket without becoming overwhelmed with anxiety, I feel extremely privileged to have had the help of professionals throughout my time in recovery to enable me to feel comfortable working in a café. It is only as I take these steps that I look back on the past few years, even months, and evaluate my progress; undoubtedly filled with a small sense of pride.
Sophie is fantastic in allowing me to experience various aspects of her business and I am so grateful for the opportunities that she is providing for me, one of which being a recent trip to the Northern Vegan Festival! As we spent around 4 hours preparing for the trip on Friday night by making hundreds, and I mean hundreds of her delicious clean treats- Bliss Balls, I could not help but admire her determination to satisfy her customers and see her business succeed. Getting the 7:32am train (just!) to Manchester, armed with a granny trolley, a cool box and 5 shopping bags, I was excited to be back in a retail environment, meeting new people and sharing a passion for Slaaw’s products. I had a fantastic day and learnt so much about business, but also about myself.
I know it may not seem like a big deal, but for the entire day we were positioned next to an amazing gentleman and his son, who were serving hot falafel. Now, during my recovery, I have been incredibly sensitive to smell- to the point where I would cry due to anxiety over the presence of fish and chips or a pizza takeaway being in the car. However, this falafel was incredible, and although I still smell of it even after a shower, it is another sign of how far I have come. In fact, I am going to be honest now and say that I had a fair few samples of the falafel with hummus. I then enjoyed one of the wraps that he was making, again filled with falafel and hummus. You could then say that I enjoyed a dessert from the stall at the other side of us, as I sampled some of their ‘camembert’ cheese on a cracker. But the most incredible thing of all was that I did not experience any negative thoughts, any anxiety or any damaging compulsions. I was having such a fantastic day alongside Sophie, interacting with customers and immersing myself in the fairs’ atmosphere, that I did not let the remnants of my Anorexia grasp onto any potential opportunities to pull me down.

I have found a lifestyle that suits me. Alongside my studying, I am socialising, I am learning and I am having a great time. I may not fit the usual student ‘norm’, but that just is not me. Finding activities such as volunteering are playing a vital role in my time here at university and I would recommend them to anybody. Regardless of whether you are studying, working or maybe trying to integrate back into normal life through the first steps of recovery from an illness, I think that volunteering is a great way to develop new skills. It is rewarding, distracting but most of all, it is enjoyable.

‘Be who you are, not what the world wants you to be.’

Make sure to have a look at Slaaw via:
Twitter: @SlaawFoods
Instagram: @slaawfoods

Website: www.slaaw.com

1 comment:

  1. You certainly seem to be embracing the whole experience, Jess. I hope we get some recipes from you soon based on all your healthy cooking and eating experiences!