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Jill Wells
Volunteering & Societies Manager
The Union, Manchester Met

I came to the movement after several years in frontline practice in the charity sector, as a registered Social Worker working in criminal justice and homelessness. In 2013, it was time for me to make a bit of a change after becoming a mum to a child with additional needs. Volunteering had been a big part of my own student journey, and the chance to come back a Union to support students to take those same steps seemed like the right opportunity at the right time. Over the last 5 years working in the Students’ Union here at Manchester Met I’ve taken up a management role and built a really talented team. Day to day, I look after 4 staff in the Opportunities department, supporting them with projects and the development of their areas of work which include volunteering, societies and diversity work. We collaborate a lot with other departments, and it genuinely feels like we’re working towards the same end goal as a Union.

The thing that stands out for me about working at The Union is how much they invest in me as a professional and as a person. I’ve been on some really weighty courses like PTLLS and an ILM, and was accepted onto the NUS Aspiring Women Leaders programme. This was a fantastic (if challenging) programme for self-identifying women in the movement, and really helped me build a strong network in the sector. After the course, I set up the national women’s staff network – the women in this sector are some of the strongest and most supportive people I’ve ever worked with, who fiercely advocate for each other’s progress. I’ve presented at national conferences on the women’s network and other areas of my practice like risk management and facilitating change. I’m really supported by The Union to get involved in this sector-wide work, which has built my skills and confidence. In the student movement, there’s a really strong sense of collaboration which doesn’t always exist in other sectors because of competition for funding or tenders. Being generous with knowledge and advice is not just common but encouraged.

The Union gives me the flexibility (and sometimes just kindness and compassion) I need as a full-time working mum – especially with my daughter’s more complicated needs. It’s really important in maintaining that work/life balance to have a supportive employer and The Union seems to understand what is needed to help you thrive at work when you have caring commitments. There’s a real sense of family here that carries you through intensely busy times and difficult days, and means everyone celebrates your success when things go well.

What I love most about being in a student-led environment is the diversity of the work. Working with student societies is a constant source of ideas, challenge and creativity which means you have to think on your feet and plan for the unknown a lot of the time. The chaos of supporting student leaders is repaid many times over when you see their hard work pay off – whether that’s through fundraising, a successful event, or a great trip. The most rewarding thing is seeing the change in individual students – as they find their feet in a big city, make lifelong friendship, take on leadership roles and discover the confidence to stand for election. It’s inspiring to play a part in that.

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