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Freshers: Why you should join your university's Marrow Society


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Massive congratulations to everyone who had their university place confirmed yesterday! Uni fever has well and truly taken over the country – in a good way, because over 400,000 students today found out they’ll be (almost) definitely getting a degree in 3 years time, a 3% increase from last year.

If you’re reading this and you’re one of these thousands, well done and enjoy basking in the knowledge that you’ve done enough to make it this far. Also, prepare for what’s probably going to be the busiest, but best years of your life, starting next month!

When you join university, you’re thrown into a new world. Societies are all scrambling to recruit you, usually with the lure of free food; Dominos are handing out pizza in the hopes of getting their local branch on your radar (which probably doesn’t need much persuasion); clubs compete for your attention via the cheapest Jager-Bomb, and lecturers are trying to regain their last threads of sanity reminding students to actually attend classes during those crucial first weeks. But amid this relentless craziness, last year one society caught my eye – and, sorry to be clichéd, but, also my heart.

Drum roll please... this society was Marrow! (Specifically Cardiff Marrow, because I’m at uni in Cardiff).

If you’re not going to Cardiff, don’t immediately think ‘Oh great now I won’t have the chance to join this so-called ‘best society ever.’ Happily, 40 universities in the UK, and even another 7 abroad, now have a Marrow – including Leeds, Durham, Liverpool, Plymouth, Manchester, Surrey, Cambridge, Sheffield, Birmingham, Keele, and, well, 30 more. So now you know there’s quite a big likelihood that you can join, it’d make sense for you to be wondering what exactly it is that Marrow do.

Marrow is the brainchild of Anthony Nolan, Britain’s main blood cancer charity. The organisation’s primary goal is to get the public on the bone marrow and stem cell register, often the only option for patients desperately needing a transplant. Marrow is the side of it that’s both run by, and generally aimed at, students.

This means we’re really, really enthusiastic about signing people up to the register and generally trying to improve how well-known a cause it is. Each Marrow society is also big on social media and in creating events to raise funds, awareness and a whole lot of fun.

At Cardiff, our Variety Night was a highlight of last year – we held it at a popular bar, featuring comedy, dance and live bands. And each Christmas we carol around the city centre, and, because it’s the season of goodwill and all that jazz, people are really willing to listen to what it is we do, and chuck us a few pennies as well.

But aside from arranging super-fun events, Marrowers are hard workers in the more serious side of things too. You kind of have to be, when you’re in one of the few student societies that directly save people’s lives. We host frequent recruitment clinics around uni, signing eager beavers (consenting, of course!) to be potential donors, which means taking a simple saliva sample from them.

All you have to do to join the register is be generally healthy and over 16. That’s pretty much it! So basically perfect for members of studentville (and no, being partial to a hangover does not qualify as unhealthy enough to sign up.)

Although everyone is encouraged to join this amazing chance to save a life, Anthony Nolan so therefore also Marrow are even keener to appeal to young men, people from ethnic minorities, and gay men. This is because men have more stem cells than women and are 6 times likelier to be a match to someone, yet form just 15% of the register at present – a statistic we’re working hard to change!

Furthermore, 94% of Brits can’t help an Asian blood cancer patient who needs a transplant, as not enough black and ethnic minority people are on the register. And finally, gay men are another demographic we want to actively encourage to get involved with Anthony Nolan, because there’s an idea among this group that they can’t donate. However, this is totally fiction, as this article by Stuart Brooks, who donated his bone marrow to a stranger last year, proves.

Marrow began in 1997 when Nottingham Uni student James Kustow set up a one-off recruitment drive having heard his childhood friend Karen had leukaemia. The success of Karen finding a donor meant James decided to make these uni clinics a more regular occurrence – and he named them Marrow. Thanks James!

I’m not totally Marrow-biased - a lot of societies are pretty cool. They’re a fun break from studies, a chance to meet friends from totally different social circles, away from the lecture theatre or flat, and an opportunity to enrich your personal life. Some of the ones I’m in also include Tea Society and Christian Union. But not many societies actively save lives. That’s why Marrow stands out all the more!

And our collective efforts are blatant, too – in 2012 alone, Marrow raised £145,000, enough for Anthony Nolan to recruit 900 potential donors. And we ourselves sign up 100,000 each year, forming a quarter of everyone who donates their bone marrow/stem cells here in the UK.  

I’m now 19 and next month starting my second year studying English Literature and Journalism at Cardiff, which I’m loving. When I was 15, I was diagnosed with blood cancer – Hodgkins Lymphoma – and although I had more conventional treatment of chemo and steroids, not needing a transplant myself, my experiences made me passionate about raising awareness of bone marrow donation.

Despite this, I hadn’t really heard of Marrow, so was excited to stumble across their stall when I was walking around somewhat aimlessly at Societies Fayre during my Freshers’ Week. Not only were the crew a really friendly bunch (who, unlike most other societies, DIDN’T need the helping hand of free sweets on the table to entice visitors), but the society spoke to me because I realised this was exactly what I wanted to do – help my fellow blood cancer patients.

So, Cardiff Marrow was the first I joined, and although I’m now also in many more groups, they’re definitely still my favourites, and in fact the only one I’ve been allocated onto the Committee of – I’m Media Coordinator, in charge of running our social media accounts, marketing and PR – and I guess writing hopefully-encouraging articles like this! As an aspiring journalist and Instagram fiend, I’m loving this role for the media side of things – but mostly because I can physically see the positive difference Marrow is creating.

So, congrats again on making it into uni. If you’re lucky enough to be coming to what is, in my eyes, the best uni in the UK - Cardiff (I’m not biased, I tell myself to no avail on a regular basis), be sure to say hello to us at Marrow at Societies Fayre (which is on 21st and 22nd September, fyi.)

And if you’re off elsewhere, see if your uni has a Marrow – and if not, why not set one up yourself, fundraise for Anthony Nolan in other ways, or, perhaps best of all, actually sign up to the register? You could be someone’s lifesaving donor and surely there’s no better accomplishment than that.

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