Help yourself by helping others

I’ve always been interested in volunteering and helping out people in my community who are in need of support, but I never thought that helping others could ever help me. For two years I volunteered with Special Olympics Ireland who are a sports organisation for people with an intellectual disability.

When I was 16 I got involved through my brother who was already a volunteer at the time, who asked me to help out because they were short on volunteers. Initially I was reluctant when I found out id have to get up early on a Saturday morning and leave my bed, which for most 16 years old is damn near impossible. However, I was persuaded nonetheless as I knew it was the right thing to do as I was really at nothing any way. I at first, I only thought the benefits for me is that it would look good in my CV, but I soon found out was that was completely wrong.

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I’m not going to lie, it was a struggle getting up some mornings after being out that Friday night reeking of tan and hair so sticky from god knows what being spilt on it, where you’d do anything to just roll over and go back to sleep. But, for some reason no matter how grumpy I was or how much of a bad mood I was in coming to volunteer, I always left in a good mood and with a smile on my face. For the first time I think ever, it made me really proud of myself.

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My role volunteering with Special Olympics Ireland was to help train the athletes for upcoming competitions. So, every week we would record their running times and practise with athletes competing in their chosen event i.e. throwing a soft ball or javelin. So, when the competitions finally came around and the medals would be pouring in from the athletes on our team its really rewarding knowing your efforts helped a little in achieving that. All those early Saturday morning spent outside on a mucky field in the rain, would all be worthwhile. As witnessing the pure joy in the athletes faces when they won a medal really melted my heart.

People choose to volunteer for a variety of reasons. For some it offers the chance to give something back to the community or make a difference to the people around them. For others it provides a chance to develop new skills or build on existing experience and knowledge. Here are just some of the benefits that I gained from my time volunteering:

Building bonds and Friendships

Due to your shared interested you make friends with people in your community you wouldn’t normally socialise with.

 

Improves Self-Esteem

Volunteering can help improve your self-esteem and motivate you to lead a healthier and happier life.

 

Developing skills

Volunteering can open the door to new learning opportunities that you may have not previously considered or thought you were capable of doing

 

Experience Improved Health and Well-being:

Many people who volunteer say that helping others gives them a good feeling inside, something that researchers call a “helpers high”

 

Volunteering increases self-confidence. 

You are doing good for others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment and the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals.

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Niamh McNally is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter at @Niamh_McNally or LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/niamh-mcnally-7a7079120/

My pursuit of placement

I began looking for somewhere to do my placement year quite late in the year …… actually really late (I don’t recommend this). But for me this was actually a blessing in disguise.

I’m not the most organised person in the world and I’ve always been very laid back and easy going and whilst looking for a placement back in second year I was no different because I left everything as I always do to the very last minute.

 

While everyone was busy preparing and panicking for their numerous interviews I still hadn’t even brought myself to start my CV. Although I was very keen on doing a placement and I just sort of figured, if it happens its happens and if doesn’t it’s not the end of the world. By March and April many of my class mates were running around like headless chickens in search of placement worrying that all the good ones had gone. What did I do? I took it easy like I always do and concentrated on my upcoming assignment deadlines.

 

It wasn’t until I finished my final test in mid-May when I finally put pen to paper and finished my CV and by this stage everyone I knew was sorted with placement. Did this worry me? I’m not going to lie maybe a little. But I just thought to myself it will be less competition to deal with when I go to my interviews. I had two holidays to enjoy one in Spain and the other in Dublin before I could even consider actually applying for any placement opportunities.

 

Once I had my two holidays over I put my head down and started looking, I heard back from two companies and was asked to come in for an interview. It’s safe to say I don’t think they could have gone worse for both interviews I was in and out in less than 10 minutes I should have just kept the car running to be honest.

 

So, another few months rolled by and at this point it was it was late august and the summer was almost over and being the laid back and easy-going person I am I still had not got my placement sorted. I hadn’t yet reapplied for my student loan and if I had, I would have probably given up only of course I hadn’t, because it’s an absolute nightmare to fill out and without fail I always seem to make a mistake somewhere. I was ready to admit defeat give up when I came across Mencap’s job advertisement. Having volunteered with the special Olympics Ireland for two years, a charity similar to Mencap I decided to give it go and apply. To my absolute surprise and just in the nick of time two weeks before I was due to start my final year at Ulster I got offered the placement at Mencap.

 

I’ve volunteered for charities before but I had never really considered working for one. I was so over to moon to have an organisation that wanted to take me on and help me develop and enhance my skill I didn’t think twice.

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Mencap are a learning disability charity that support thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they choose. They work in partnership with people with a learning disability in Northern Ireland to fight to change laws and improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities.

 

I had many rewarding and roles within the charity one of which was to assist in gathering and developing content for Mencap NI social media. I was also in of charge of researching and writing up the Mencap NI weekly bulletin. Another role was to assist in developing content for the Mencap NI webpages. This was a job I done on a daily basis and it involved me updating and editing blogs, news stories or publishing press releases.

 

I really learnt a lot from my manager during my time at Mencap and it was great to part of their team. It was amazing to see first-hand the great work they do and the difference they make to people in local communities.  I had a great year at Mencap loving every single second, I met lots of amazing people (including Rory McIlroy).

 

Niamh McNally is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter at @Niamh_McNally or LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/niamh-mcnally-7a7079120/

Battle of the Christmas Adverts

Yes, it’s that time of year again when every major retailer in the UK battles it out to become the nation’s favourite Christmas advert. Our TVs are flooded with emotional ads guarantee to tug at your heart strings or in extreme cases make you cry.

But there’s really no point trying to avoid them because there is no let-up or escaping it. That’s just a fact of life! As soon as that last firework on Halloween night goes off we are bombarded with festive adverts being thrown at us from every direction.

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It’s not enough anymore for brands just to have a TV advert. They throw everything apart from the kitchen sink at these campaigns. Taking advantage of merchandising opportunities, charity partnerships, and spin-off digital campaigns. It is certainly an expensive business, but has terrific PR attached to it, if it’s done well.

Once an area dominated by John Lewis has quickly become fair game.

With each year we have more and more retailers spending millions on multi media campaigns to stand out from the rest – with good reason. If done well and done right retailers can reap the rewards and spin off merchandise could be the most sort after toy that Christmas.

I’m sure we all remember the 2014 John Lewis Christmas advert? It told the story of Monty, a penguin who dreams of love at Christmas time. This emotional advert  was said to have ‘won Christmas’ and got the whole country talking about a fake CGI penguin. People become obsessed and when John Lewis released a £12 toy model of the penguin, which to no one’s surprise sold out super quick. People completely freaked out and bought this toy on eBay for up to £400. Its safe to say that people can get a little crazy during this time of the year.

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Whilst the TV ads are the main attraction, the ads usually go above and beyond by creating something for almost all multimedia platforms. John Lewis jumped on the Snapchat bandwagon with their own ‘Buster the Boxer’ filter in 2016, whilst Waitrose released an online interactive experience of the Robin’s journey, as well as a book available to purchase sold in-store. Brands at Christmas time are slowly creeping there way into every part of our lives.

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We can’t forget about the music that feature in these ads, because it plays a huge part in this battle as well. We are starting to see more often these songs that accompany the ads climb the music charts even hitting the number 1 spot sometimes. For example, in 2013, Lily Allen sung a cover of Somewhere Only We Know for the John Lewis Christmas advert. Her version surpassed the success of the original in the UK, topping the Singles Chart and staying at number 1 for 3 weeks whilst selling over 600,000 copies.

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Lily Allen | Somewhere Only We Know (John Lewis Christmas Advert)

The increased popularity of the Christmas advert in recent years is no doubt down to social media playing a huge role in heightening the campaign. With brands including hashtags in their videos social media users being able to take to twitter or Facebook and voice their opinion on the different Christmas ads retailers throw at them.

Whither you love them or hate them they are here to stay, and brands will no doubt have bigger, better and shinier campaigns in store for us next year.

 

Niamh McNally is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter at @Niamh_McNally or LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/niamh-mcnally-7a7079120/