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Chris On Volunteers: Valued Then, And Just As Valuable Now

Chris Abraham

Just imagine for a moment that the army of volunteers who came forward in the height of the pandemic, had not in fact done so.

Imagine there had been no volunteers to ‘muck in’, to ‘pitch up’, and to take on the shopping trips, the house visits, the phone calling, prescription collecting, car park attendance and transportation tasks.

I’m taking an educated guess that we would have seen a far rougher ride across Suffolk than we did experience – with more people isolated and unattended, fewer vaccine centres running so efficiently, and many families without adequate food or wellbeing support.

So, if we valued volunteering back then, at the height of the storm, are we awoken to the realisation that volunteers are a critical resource to the greater good of our community on an everyday basis… or are we in danger of underestimating the ongoing need and contribution to our county as we know it?

Over recent weeks I’ve spoken with countless CEOs and volunteer managers within charities and organisations across the region, who tell me how proud they are of what all their volunteers achieved throughout the pandemic for the good of neighbours and communities, but on the flip-side, how anxious they are to recruit more volunteers or retain their current dedicated team of individuals.

Indeed, one poll of my network of CEOs confirmed that 100% were currently seeking to recruit, and that the vast majority are experiencing significant numbers of volunteers who are not yet returning.

There are of course, a multitude of reasons why people might not be heading straight back to volunteering.

Personal family circumstances may have changed, work commitments may have increased, they may have a lack of confidence in carrying out their volunteering responsibilities because of fears around Covid spread, or let’s be brutal, like many of our paid workforces – they may well have had ‘volunteer burnout’.

We do need to appreciate that for many, their volunteering commitment was significant not only in time, but also in emotional impact, and that perhaps it was inevitable not all volunteers would want to maintain the same responsibility as the world began to return to a life more normal.

But most likely, there will also be many who still could, and would, be more than happy to volunteer – if they continued to realise that opportunities are as high (and in some cases, higher) than they were even during the pandemic peak.

Many charities have seen huge spikes in demand upon them, meaning more requirement for hands-on help. Some have created roles which can be carried out from home (befriending calls, for example), others need trustees to help them navigate into a new post-pandemic era, and some are eagerly looking to the business community to see if companies might free up skilled staff who can contribute specific skills within a regular commitment of time.

You might wonder what exactly Community Action Suffolk is doing in order to help ensure that Suffolk doesn’t face a worrying shortfall in volunteers.

For starters, our Suffolk Community Restart initiative is actively helping groups to bring volunteers back safely – delivering training and providing a wealth of advice and support.

We support companies who are keen to run a volunteering option for their staff (also known as Employer Supported Volunteering – ESV), and we are just a short time away from launching a new programme, which will run in East Suffolk for 12 months and will explore volunteering as a pathway to sustained employment.

In the early days of October you’ll also see the CAS team making volunteering their focus as part of Suffolk Action Week, for which we’re hosting a number of roadshows around the county. Organisations and individuals will be able to attend to understand more about volunteering opportunities in towns and villages local to them.

What’s abundantly clear is that the value of volunteering cannot be understated – for the individual, and the wider community.   It is proven to benefit mental health, it has helped many people develop friendships and a sense of belonging and has given others the skills they needed to help them find work.

Given that, I would argue that it is a moral imperative that we value those who give their time, and in so doing, avoid the circumstances whereby employers of any kind might be tempted to ‘overuse’ volunteers, rather than recruit people into paid roles.
After all, if a job is of value, and if it can be paid for, then clearly it should be.

If this topic has struck a note with you, or you would like to find out more about our work in incorporating volunteering into your business, please do feel free to send me an email.

You can reach me at chris.abraham@communityactionsuffolk.org.uk