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Chief Executive – May Blog

CHIEF EXECUTIVE BLOG – CHRIS ON COVID 19 AND THE CHANGING FACE OF VOLUNTEERING

In just six short weeks, such a huge amount has changed in how we live and view our lives.

I doubt any of us will emerge from this chapter without an altered perspective.

Sitting at the heart of the voluntary sector, my colleagues and I have already seen the indications of this at the very coalface of our work.

It took a mere few days of hearing about the crisis implications of the pandemic, for people the length and breadth of Suffolk to start picking up their phone and taking to the internet, eager to find and create ways in which they could play a pivotal role in their communities.

Whether they chose to sign up to the government’s call for help through GOODSAM, or connected by our county’s own Home But Not Alone initiative, it was clear that people wanted, and were ready, to volunteer.

You’ll know from so many of my recent posts, that the messaging around volunteering is something I feel really passionately about. And yet, never could I have dared predict such a significant shift in how people might suddenly start viewing the potential to directly serve and support lives in their streets, towns and villages.

Our latest data collation on volunteering since the start of Covid, indicates that far more people are ready and willing to help than there are the community tasks available to them.  

They’ve told us they would consider formal volunteering roles with existing charities, from befriending and driving, to utilising their professional skills, like PR, IT, finance, some have said they would consider a trustee role too.

There may indeed be a number of reasons for people wanting to ‘act now’, in the midst of a global pandemic, but certainly, among those, I would include:

  • That people can find roles which are perfectly achievable with time-limited lifestyles
  • That roles directly impact those living in their own neighbourhoods
  • That opportunities allow us to volunteer from the comfort of our own sofa (take phone support for the elderly, for example)
  • That no prolonged period of commitment is suggested for these current roles
  • That people have wanted to embrace roles which give them a sense of validation and purposeful living, amid a much changed daily structure

And, not to be underestimated

  • That, as we see when we stand on our doorsteps on a Thursday night to clap – we very much feel we’re ‘in this together’ in our bid to fight a virus and support the lives we value

But of course, while it’s great to think about the numbers of people who have ‘so far’ engaged in neighbourly activities, and have, perhaps for the first time, become aware of the huge mental health benefits of giving time to others, our greatest job now is to ensure that that wonderfully generous human spirit will continue to be channelled where it is needed.

Both during and beyond the coronavirus crisis, our voluntary sector in this county is vital in providing services and support.

As organisations look to move into a new era, possibly with more troubled service users, and often having witnessed huge loss of charitable income over the lockdown period, it will be volunteers who will help these hugely important structures pivot and thrive well into the future.

It would be a tragedy to think that when lockdown finishes, and when our working and behavioural patterns begin to return to some kind of normality, all this impressive and much-needed spirit of rolling up our sleeves to help one another, might be lost altogether.

So, my plea to you?

If you’ve never done so before, or have waivered on the edge of enquiring about the opportunities, please, make now the moment that you look to volunteer.

I’m so pleased to see that of those we’re seeing coming forward amid the pandemic, many of these are young people with a desire to make a difference. This youthful enthusiasm is welcome for our many organisations and projects, and will certainly prove essential to aid the modernising and agile perspective which will be required going forward.

If indeed you are now considering becoming a volunteer but haven’t yet identified what gaps exist in Suffolk for you to help, please, get in touch with my team or visit the website www.volunteersuffolk.org.uk

And to those who run organisations in the voluntary sector, I have a request of you too.

Please, take time to consider what roles you have today, but also those which you feel you will have several months from now. What will the future of your organisation look like? How can you make better use of a shift in social conscience about ‘giving time’? Could this be a transition of unexpected positivity?

I would love to hear your experiences of attracting volunteers, or taking up a role during the pandemic. Please email me at chris.abraham@communityactionsuffolk.org.uk