Two student projects that are changing lives

In the last seven years, 302 life-changing student projects, both locally and further afield, have been made possible thanks to our Cascade fund supporters. Each year, we receive more and more outstanding proposals for projects needing support.

Every project makes a difference to local or global communities and provides life-changing experiences for Nottingham students outside the lecture theatre. From providing free veterinary care to pets of Nottingham’s homeless and vulnerably housed people to bringing clean water to remote communities in Borneo — each Cascade project tackles unique challenges.

Rachel and Chris are two of over 13,000 students involved in Cascade projects. Their stories show these projects can change lives with your support.


In 2016, Chris, a maths masters student, was on a night out with friends. Everyone was having a good time, but towards the end of the night, Chris started to feel “a bit weird”.

He passed out in the club.

“The club’s bouncers thought I had drank too much, so they took me outside and left me out on the pavement. I was put into a taxi by myself and sent home to go to bed”, Chris recalls.

“I threw up in the taxi and was left abandoned, lying on the street for two hours. Luckily somebody called an ambulance and I was taken to hospital.

“They discovered that I’d been drugged.”

Chris’ ordeal is difficult to hear. But for him, it was the catalyst to join Night Owls, a Cascade funded project helping students stay safe on nights out.

The ‘Owls’, as they are affectionately known, help students get home safely as well as providing students with helpful supplies like water, first aid, food and warmth.

“It’s not just me, lots of others have had experiences like mine and I wanted to be part of something that can stop things like that from happening”, added Chris.

“When I saw the advert for Night Owls, I thought it would be a great opportunity to make a difference. I wanted to something to help other people.”

Earning a reliable reputation, many venues in Nottingham call on the Night Owls if a student has been asked to leave, or is in a vulnerable situation.

For the students that receive help from the Owls, the experience can make a lasting difference to their lives.

After the Owls found a young girl in a vulnerable state, she was given food, water and a warm place to wait while her phone was charged. The Owls contacted her boyfriend to get her home safely. A letter from the boyfriend later explained how his behaviour had completely changed — now he has much greater awareness of the welfare and safety of others on a night out.

This year, Nottingham Night Owls was highly commended at the National Societies Awards, a ceremony celebrating the very best student societies in the UK and now its aims extend far into the future. As Chris tells us, “We cannot see a time where the student nightlife in Nottingham will subside — there will always be students in vulnerable situations”.

The ambitious team aspires to continue recruiting volunteers until they reach a size that enables them to run patrols every night of the week during term time.

And it’s worth it. As one student said, “Not all heroes have capes; some have baby blue high vis vests.”


Building a lasting impact

When you think of children playing at nursery, your first thought might not be that of the nursery in Lephepane.

Lephepane is a rural village in the Letsitele Valley of South Africa with beautiful scenery and a hot sub-tropical climate. Yet, this area has the highest level of poverty in the whole of South Africa, with high levels of unemployment.

The nursery school in Lephepane was dark, hot and unfit for purpose. Lessons were held in a single concrete room, with no water supply and very basic toilet provisions.

With the help of Cascade supporters and fundraising efforts of their own, Project Myemyela was born.

Rachel Levy, a second year architecture student, explains, “As architecture students, we have common desire to impact positively on people’s lives through the creation of the built environment.

“Designing and building a school gave us the opportunity to make a lasting impact for the local community in Lephepane, as well as giving us a unique experience of working on a project from start to finish. Our goal was not only to improve the learning environment for the children, but to also provide employment for the local community.”

The project began with design, with students coming up with their own concepts for review. A design was chosen and the project started to become a reality. They had a window of just four weeks to build it.

“Delivering an architectural scheme in just four weeks would be a huge accomplishment for any building project, but as a group of students with little practical experience of construction, it’s a big challenge.

“The build was done in two phases, each of two weeks. I set off for phase two, knowing that phase one was almost complete.

“We quickly realised that problem solving does not end with the printing of assembly drawings. The delivery of the central steel structure was delayed early in the build, which meant we were behind on the roof structure too. This slowed down the process and we had to play catch up to get the build back on track for completion.

“The availability of materials also necessitated changes to our original plan. It was frustrating at the time but we came up with solutions and it all served as invaluable opportunities for on-site problem solving.”

Despite the challenges, the team delivered the build on time and within a week of completion, children were already using the school.

“Building your own architectural design first hand is a unique opportunity and has helped us learn so much about structures, construction, materials and detailing that will stay with us into our future careers”, added Rachel.

“I decided to study architecture because I believe the built environment can make a real difference in improving people’s lives. Seeing the project through from beginning to end has been so rewarding and meeting those that benefit will stay with me for a long time.

“Thank you to everyone who supported our project. Your support will not only help the school children of Lephapane now, but future generations of children will grow up in the school you’ve helped us to build. This project is just the beginning for them.”


This year, we are honoured to report the official closing of Impact: The Nottingham Campaign. A huge thank you to all our 18,500 donors who have helped raise a phenomenal £242 million, and to our 1,678 volunteers who have so generously shared their time, skills and expertise with our University community.

While our Impact Campaign is coming to an end, our work is not done. We will build on these strong foundations, ensuring that our University always remains a place where merit — not background — defines who becomes a Nottingham student, and where world-class research continues to tackle the global challenges faced by generations today and in the future.

Nottingham students have brilliant ideas to help communities at home and around the world. You can be the catalyst that makes their fledging projects a reality through our Cascade grants programme.

Find out more about Cascade.

Words: Tom Hills
Photography courtesy of Nottingham Night Owls, Project Myemyela and Emily Page.

Special thanks to Chris Stephenson and Rachel Levy.

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