COVID-19 Updates: For advice and updates for staff, students, and applicants who may have concerns about the coronavirus outbreak please visit our Situation Updates page.

Physical labour and team-work enriches students on volunteering placements

Date 23.05.2019

As part of the ‘Occupational Therapy Skills’ module, year 2 students have the option of a placement that helps them understand and appreciate the benefits to service users of volunteering.

Instead of supporting people in the community as they do this, Occupational Therapy students provide the volunteering themselves.

The Press Office caught up with some of those who have been helping out across Northampton.


Workbridge is part of St Andrew’s Healthcare, which supports people with mental illness, learning disabilities, autism or brain injuries to reach their full potential and take their skills to the next level with work placements with a variety of local employers.

Mike Turney, from Milton Keynes, said: “Given my interest in working in a mental health setting, I jumped at the chance to help out at Workbridge and get to know more about what organisations like this do.

“We’ve been busy repotting and repricing plants and moving heavy objects about which has arguably been the most important thing we’ve done because – due to health and safety reasons – service users quite rightly don’t do this.

“We have had several sessions here over the past few weeks but I’ve gained a completely different perspective to OT practice – such as team-working, social interaction, the therapeutic benefits of working outdoors and seeing the positive impact and sense of achievement that follows this – than from only being in a teaching room.

Jessica O’Toole, from Birmingham, added: “I wanted to go into healthcare and I liked how the OT course and team seemed here – it seemed very well organised and the volunteering placements help you get further depth on what OT is and its place in the world. By volunteering you know you are helping and see the benefits this can have for other people”.


Delapré Abbey is an urban-country house, park and events centre in Northampton.

Chloe Knightley volunteered with her peers Helen Tustian, Edward Smith, Helen Jolly and Ellie Hawkins. She sums up their experiences: “It’s been a very rewarding experience – and a lot of hard manual labour!

“To start with, we cleared the yard at the back of Delapre. This involved removing rubbish that had accumulated, clearing weeds from the buildings – all done whether it was raining or snowing. Team work and supporting each other is crucial whilst volunteering, especially with all the digging! We made sure to keep each other in high spirits, which also helped us get to know each other better.

“It is up to individuals to motivate themselves to engage in volunteering and it is what you make of it, which reflects University of Northampton’s teaching and learning approach – fostering in students a sense of independence and for them to engage with their learning”.



UnityDEM is a meeting and support centre for people with a diagnosis of dementia and their carers in Northampton. It is a Changemaker* social enterprise initiative by the University.

Mianne Leung volunteered at UnityDEM: “I really enjoyed in volunteering with UnityDem. It greatly boosted my confidence communicating within practice and has allowed me to have a solid understanding of how a dementia support organisation can help service users and increase their engagement in daily life. It was really great to see some of them improving and fully engaging in activities that are beneficial to them.

“Throughout my time at UnityDEM, I gained a lot of insights about group activities which has allowed me to directly apply them within practice. Also, I was really happy when service users reported they enjoyed student participation.

“I really recommend students involving themselves in a volunteering setting like this, as it will help them build practical skills in Occupational Therapy”.


Cath Kenny, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy, concludes: “The University is committed to making the institution part of the local community and in many ways Occupational Therapy is ideally placed to achieve this as it cuts across the health and social care sector.

“This includes mental health settings so it’s particularly good news that for the first time we have been able to offer our students volunteering placements at Workbridge.

“Our students have – as we have come to expect from them – lent valuable helping hands and learned something more about their future careers in the process. We look forward to them presenting to the next the next cohort of Year two students about what they got out of this experience”.

Find out more about Occupational Therapy at University of Northampton, whether through the full-time route or full-time Extended route.

The University also offers an MSc in Advanced Occupational Therapy.

*Changemaker is a University of Northampton-wide initiative which focuses on staff and students finding solutions to environmental or social problems to improve people’s lives, either at home or abroad.