“I don’t think I’ll ever stop volunteering”


Katy Leverett talks to Eleanor Beckett, outgoing president of Amnesty Society, about the group’s achievements over the last year and how students can get involved.

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Image by Amnesty Society

By Katy Leverett

What made you join Amnesty Society? What made you run for President?
I heard about Amnesty when I was at school but I didn’t really join because it was another ‘thing’ and I don’t know… I just didn’t really get involved although I was very interested in politics and human rights. However, when I was in my first year in lockdown one of the few things that managed to carry on was Amnesty, thanks to the amazing President of that year, Poppy, and her committee.. They covered many different issues: such as the Uyghur population in China, national anti-war rallies, and that just really made me want to join. So I joined last year as an events organiser which I found challenging but allowed me to gain really good skills. I then ran for president and have truly loved it.

What campaigns are you most proud of from over the last year?
Every week is a new challenge and we’ve done some really exciting things. There’s definitely presentations I’m really proud of from our weekly meetings. But we’ve done some really good stuff on refugee rights because it's such an important issue at the moment. Focusing on Ukrainian refugees since our Vigil last year, our Vice-President Tash did a great talk examining who has the right to be a refugee as well as the western reporting on Russia’s war on Ukraine which had racist undertones, and diminished the diverse identities of many Ukrainians. We have invited speakers from local charities and tried to cover a wide and varied range of topics besides refugee rights, and our brilliant committee members have run great meetings on their own interests. We also have some great events coming up, next week, on International Women’s Day (8 March), we’re doing a panel on human rights with some lecturers from the University who have some really interesting research topics. The aim is to make the topic more accessible to people who don’t study law but who are really interested in human rights and activism. A panel is always something I’ve wanted to run so hopefully we’ll get a good turnout!

Will you continue to be involved in Amnesty after University?
I will! I think, like any big organisation, it has policies and actions I agree with and things I disagree with, but the core message of defending human rights is something I will always support. Therefore I would love to get involved in campaigns. It has really widened my horizons, in terms of leading teams but also being aware of lots of local organisations that work really well and the way that local and national organisations can work together. So I will definitely still be part of it and keep up with all the campaigns that they run and try to sign all the petitions. But hopefully do some more campaigning work in either the career that I go into, or just volunteering. I don’t think I’ll ever stop volunteering because it's such a nice community and it’s worth being part of.

Following on from that, what local groups can people get involved with if they want to volunteer?
So we just had a very lovely speaker from a group called Time to be Out, who are sort of York-based but they do actually support people across the UK. They support LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers, which is a really specifically difficult position to be in, and they are quite often escaping from awful situations and life-threatening persecution. They are a really small organisation who need a lot of fundraising and a lot of volunteers and support so definitely them! Refugee Action York (RAY) is a great one, they’re really active. Any food banks and shelters I’d always say be a part of as well because that is sadly always something that people need, and you can meet a lot of the community through these. There are so many organisations! SASH is another great one that I love being part of, they support young people in vulnerable situations to avoid them becoming homeless and provide them with a safe space, and there’s loads of fundraising you can get involved with for them. I’d just say if there’s a particular issue you care about there’ll be a local charity to support it, you just have to do a bit of digging!

Finally, how can our readers find out more, or if they want to get involved, how can they do that?
We have a lot of fun events coming up you that you can come along to! Our membership cost is not very high, only £4 for the whole year, but you can also generally come to a couple of meetings (Mondays 7pm in D/L/047) and, you know, we’re not going to kick non-members out so you can definitely become involved that way. But also, just keeping informed of what Amnesty does more widely because it is an international organisation and therefore you can see if there are particular campaigns you want to be part of. Send an email to Amnesty International Society and they’ll more than likely be really interested in what you are also interested in! Look on our socials, @uyamnesty, on Instagram, and or send us an email. Or try and be a part of our committee, or come to one of our upcoming events!

Further details about the Amnesty Society can be found on theYUSU website.