Reflections on Volunteers’ Week 2020

Volunteers’ Week is the annual celebration of millions of people across the UK who give their time and skills to help their communities by volunteering. It’s just one of the ways in which we can recognise and celebrate the contribution that volunteers make.

Normally marked with events up and down the country, celebrations for Volunteers’ Week looked a little different this year but it’s been incredible to see so many people getting involved.

Far from business as usual

This year is different for very obvious reasons. With many restrictions still in place, coronavirus dominates almost every aspect of our lives and the normal celebrations associated with the week were put on hold. Not least because of current constraints on our own capacity, NCVO made the difficult decision to step back from many of the things we’d usually do around Volunteers’ Week.

One of the most encouraging things to come out of this terrible chapter has been the willingness of people to step forward to help, and much of the Volunteers’ Week activity that has taken place this year has focused on recognising the incredible contribution that volunteers make, both before and during this crisis.

Volunteers have stood alongside NHS staff at Nightingale hospitals, volunteer ambulance crews are supporting 999 call-outs, thousands have been delivering medicines from pharmacies, driving patients to and from hospital or making phone calls to check on people isolating at home.

It is no exaggeration to say that volunteers are playing a critical role alongside health and care services proving vital care and helping communities cope with coronavirus, and will continue to do so in the coming months.

Across the country, thousands of charities and volunteers have swung into action to address the wider social and economic impacts of lockdown.

The speed at which mutual aid groups came together, and at which organisations responded to the challenging circumstances, is testament to not only those willing to step forward but also the strength and depth of civil society. Charities and community groups have enabled hundreds of thousands of people to support others through this crisis.

And of course, we should not forget the enormous contribution that volunteers are making today and every day, to an incredible array of causes and community efforts.

I was very pleased to see 230 organisations recognised with a Queens Award for Voluntary Service this year.

And I’d like to say thank you in particular for Tiger de Souza, volunteering director at the National Trust, for his work coordinating Volunteers’ Week activity in our absence this year.

Helping the helpers

All this is not, of course, to say that volunteering is a simple equation – that the scale of the problem is simply matched by the scale of the response. We know that supporting and sustaining volunteering is much more complex than that, and as Rachel at the Association of Volunteer Managers explains, many volunteer managers have been furloughed during this time and I know how frustrating they will have found that when they know how much they could add.

I would encourage you to read this excellent thread from Matt Hyde, chief executive of the Scouts, one of the largest volunteer-involving organisations. He is absolutely correct that volunteers can make a huge difference, but high-impact volunteer involvement requires skill, infrastructure and leadership, and much more needs to be done to ensure everyone is included.

We’ll be returning to a number of these observations in the coming weeks as we seek to influence the government’s approach to releasing the lockdown and begin to form more concrete plans for rebuilding and renewing our society and economy.

Rethinking the future

I’m hopeful that some things won’t be lost as we move on from the pandemic. That as we emerge from this, there is a much greater understanding and recognition of the role of volunteering from both policy-makers and the wider public. Not regarded as a nice-to-have optional extra but as something indispensable and valued.

Whatever else this crisis has brought us – the standstill has offered us an opportunity to reflect on our collective priorities for the future. No-one knows what that future holds, but I’m sure that volunteering will be central to it. So, let’s make sure we recognise the incredible contribution volunteers make now and will continue to in the future.

 

Investing in Volunteers is a development journey with a quality framework that demonstrates best practice in volunteer involvement and management.It can help you support and develop effective high impact, meaningful volunteer involvement. Find out more here.

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding is chief executive of NCVO.

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