Students participating in School of Law Community Engagement projects find creative solutions to delivery during COVID-19 pandemic
Students who would have been delivering StreetLaw and PrisonLaw presentations in schools, prisons or charities between March and May developed materials which can be delivered and used electronically.
StreetLaw aims to educate local school students across a range of secondary and sixth form year groups, who may not otherwise have access to legal knowledge, on law related topics. This project offers student volunteers the opportunity to engage with the local community and perfect their research, communication, team work and presentation skills, gaining valuable experience useful to a range of careers within the legal profession and beyond.
The project has been developed in collaboration with the Educational Engagement Team at the University of Leeds, who provide support with sourcing schools, communication with teachers and training volunteers.
Under usual circumstances StreetLaw student volunteers design and deliver a two-part workshop series in person in a local school in pairs, supported by an initial meeting with a supervising solicitor for specific topic research, and with the school teacher for tailoring their session to the class they have been allocated.
However, following the outbreak of COVID-19 in March, 16 volunteers instead created an interactive presentation in either a video or PowerPoint with voice-over format. These presentations were accompanied by activity resources for school students to work through as part of the workshop. Eleven online workshops were created and sent to Leeds West Academy and Notre Dame Sixth Form College, and sessions included a wide range of activities such as worksheets, quizzes, games and videos, and covered topics such as Human Rights & Conflict Resolution, Police Powers, Stop & Search, and Social Media & My Data.
Partner school Leeds West Academy were impressed by the switch to online learning – “All of the volunteers we have worked with this year were very motivated to deliver sessions appropriate for our students. They took on board feedback given before their sessions and really considered the engagement and ability of all the students in their classes. The online sessions provided due to the disruptions from Covid-19 were similarly professional, and have prompted some excellent thinking from our students at home. The teaching staff were very impressed by the quality of the resources provided.”
Volunteers also had positive feedback about their experiences –
“Truly this alternative method caused me to think outside the box for creative solutions, and that caused my team to come up with ideas that we ordinarily would not have.”
“Despite being unable to deliver the StreetLaw workshop in person, the experience has been hugely valuable and provided me with a number of opportunities to develop my skill set and expand my network. In particular, I have enjoyed adapting the workshop over the lockdown period, so that it can be delivered in an online format whilst schools are closed.”
For PrisonLaw, student volunteers research, prepare and deliver an interactive presentation on a relevant legal issue to people in prison, people who used to be in prison, prison staff or additionally vulnerable community members across a range of organisations related to the criminal justice sector. The aim is to equip these individuals with legal knowledge that may help to facilitate their reintegration into society upon/following their release from prison or provide staff and community members with legal knowledge to support them in their particular circumstances in connection with the criminal justice system.
Due to some volunteers being unable to deliver their session face-to-face as planned, they instead created a booklet containing all of the relevant and important information in an easy-to-read and visually friendly way. This was the format best suited to the prison organisations we partner with, given the limited nature of resources available e.g. laptops to access PowerPoints.
Five PrisonLaw information booklets (on topics including family, housing and employment law) have been prepared for the partner organisations and prisons.
PrisonLaw volunteers reflected on their work -
“Even though the circumstances were so difficult, we gained a lot from this experience. Personally, it was an honour to be a part of this team and program. It was an unforgettable experience!”
“I also just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed the process and getting to meet and collaborate with new people on topics which have completely opened my eyes to different areas of Law and what they look like in reality. I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity.”
“I am really glad that our team could still offer our research and handouts as these took the most time to perfect.”
“I have thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity as it was something that initially attracted me to the University of Leeds as I didn't realise experiences like these would be possible and I am delighted that I was given the chance to be involved with something so interesting and important.”
Rachael O’ Connor (who oversees both projects) and Niamh Byrne (Community Engagement Co-ordinator) were keen to facilitate a model that would work for both volunteers and partners and are very pleased with the outcome.
The Community Engagement Team would like to thank the following partners for their involvement:
- Dixons Trinity Chapeltown
- Elliott Hudson College
- Leeds West Academy
- Leeds City Academy
- Notre Dame Sixth Form College
- HM Prison Askham Grange
- HM Prison New Hall
- HM Prison & Probation Service Leeds
- Ripon House
- St. Giles Trust
Law Firms in Leeds:
- Blacks Solicitors
- Mills & Reeve
- Parisi Tax
- Pinsent Masons
- Simpson Millar