Volunteering — Activism That Changes Lives

In this post, as part of our celebration of Volunteers’ Week, Heather Conboy (Politics 2018), Helpline Volunteer Coordinator at Kirklees and Calderdale Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, reflects on how her studies at Leeds drew her to her current role and on the role volunteering plays in fighting injustice.

In March 2021, in-person and online social action TESTING reached a high point, as vigils were held across the UK to mourn the death of Sarah Everard. Women’s voices shone a light on the prevalence of violence against women and girls and for many, ignited feelings of sorrow, anger, and injustice. I strongly believe that through volunteering, these feelings can be channelled to change lives. Katie Russell, national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales, said: “We must come together as a society to end the narrative that tells women they are responsible for preventing male violence, and instead, tell perpetrators and potential perpetrators that we will not tolerate violence against women and girls any longer.”

As a politics student in Leeds in 2014, I was specifically drawn to Political Feminist Theory. Throughout my studies, examining the patriarchal structures that enable and perpetuate men’s violence, witnessing the declining number of people being convicted of rape and hearing women’s stories, ignited that same feeling of anger within me. It was this feeling that motivated me to begin volunteering for my local Rape Crisis Centre, Support After Rape and Sexual Violence Leeds (SARSVL).

SARSVL offers support for women and girls who have been affected by sexual violence through their helpline, advocacy and counselling services. As a volunteer, I worked on SARSVL’s Helpline three hours each week and witnessed the amazing team of volunteers change survivors’ lives through listening, believing and supporting them.

Similarly, as a volunteer at SARSVL, I received incredible training and support that enabled me to increase my knowledge on violence against women and girls and develop empathetic, active listening skills. Through developing my abilities and confidence as a volunteer, I was given the tools needed to progress to employment within Rape Crisis.

In September 2020, I began my role as Helpline Volunteer Coordinator for Kirklees and Calderdale Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (KCRASAC). Through our advocacy, helpline and therapeutic services, KCRASAC offers support for people in Kirklees, Calderdale and Wakefield who have experienced rape and sexual abuse.

As Helpline Volunteer Coordinator, I recruit, train, and supervise our volunteers and oversee the organisation’s helpline service. When recruiting volunteers for our helpline, the main attribute we look for in applicants is empathy and a passion for empowering survivors. Once recruited, it is then my role as coordinator to train our volunteers on subjects such as the impacts of trauma, domestic abuse and listening skills. It is an honour to watch our helpline volunteers then go on to provide empathetic support and change people’s lives. Equally, watching our volunteers’confidence in themselves grow while working on the helpline, just as mine did, is something I find very rewarding.

Overall, whilst marches, petitions and online activism is important, we cannot let these social movements come and go without real change. Through channelling our anger against injustice into volunteering, we can change lives for the better.

I am running the Leeds 10K in September 2021 on behalf of SARSVL. It would be greatly appreciated if you could share or donate to my Just Giving page.

If you have been affected by any of the themes mentioned in this post you can contact SARSVL (Leeds) on 0808 802 3344, KCRASAC (Kirklees, Calderdale, and Wakefield) on 0300 303 4787, or Rape Crisis National on 0808 802 9999. We are here to listen and support you.

https://rapecrisis.org.uk/news/on-violence-against-women-girls-and-victim-blaming/ https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jul/30/convictions-fall-record-low-england-wales-prosecutions https://rapecrisis.org.uk/media/2396/c-decriminalisation-of-rape-report-cwj-evaw-imkaan-rcew-nov-2020.pdf https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/heather-conboy

Celebrating Leeds alumni volunteers

From a deckhand sailing to give humanitarian aid, to a Covid-19 community care volunteer delivering essentials in Leeds. Across the world and right back here on campus, Leeds alumni are supporting causes close to their hearts.

For Volunteers’ Week 2021, a time to celebrate the contribution of volunteers everywhere, join us as we discover Leeds alumni volunteering stories.

And if you are interested in volunteering to support students and graduates at Leeds, get in touch to find out how.



The University of Leeds was founded in 1904, and its origins go back to the nineteenth century with the founding of the Leeds School of Medicine in 1831.

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