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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Covid-19 brings volunteering boom – Volunteers prevail in the face of adversity

This opinion piece is almost 2 years old

It’s exciting to feel the swell of a wave. Social trends have shown that moments of crisis or victory or any shared mass experiences bring people together like nothing else and prompt a huge surge of social action.

The Covid-19 pandemic has encompassed all of these moments, so it’s little wonder volunteering has seen such a boom at a grassroots level. 

A 1940 study by the Russell Sage Foundation found that what makes societies resilient during a crisis are high levels of faith in institutions, social trust, high levels of patriotism and optimism, and high levels of social integration. Volunteering can deliver on all of these.

Swells in volunteering have been seen throughout history. The war effort saw everybody pitch in for a national cause, fostering a sense of belonging, identity and moral purpose.

The 2012 London Olympics saw a reported 70,000 volunteers join forces to make this event a resounding success, leaving a tremendous legacy and feelings of togetherness. 

Interestingly, following some research in 2016 on the legacy of the London Olympics that centred on 28 volunteer centres in the city, it was found that there was a 31% increase in volunteering in the six months following the games, even increasing to 44% by the end of 2013. 

What’s more, with everyone contributing on average three hours of their time a week, the economic value of this was colossal.

More recently the Covid-19 pandemic has seen a new wave of local volunteers, as the nation answered the call to unite in a time of fear and uncertainty and look after one another.

Research by Legal and General found that two-thirds of those who have volunteered (67%) have been doing grocery shopping for neighbours, friends, and others. Across all those surveyed, more than three-quarters (78%) said they planned to continue helping those in need after the lockdown.

At Guide Dogs, however, many of our volunteering opportunities disappeared overnight. Vast number of our roles are public-facing and our breeding programme shut down for weeks following the start of the first lockdown. We had no events to man, no schools to speak at, it was undoubtably a strange time.

Restrictions made many of the traditional volunteering roles impossible, volunteers have been instrumental in adapting in the face of adversity. Reinventing new ways of getting the job done and embracing new technologies so activities could continue virtually.

With lockdown lifting, though, we can see the wave coming for us. The army of volunteers recruited during the pandemic will be incredibly valuable to all charities, large and small, once the pandemic is over. 

Guide Dog’s Volunteering Strategy plans to expand the number of volunteer roles from the 21,500 we currently have, to over 33,000 roles by 2023. These ambitious plans would mean that we could help more people with sight loss live the life they choose and harnessing the community spirit seen over the last 18 months will be a huge boost.

At present, our volunteers outnumber our staff at Guide Dogs by a ratio of 13 to 1. It cannot be overstated the impact they have on the work that we do and the services we can deliver. 

Volunteers have radically reinvented their ways of working bringing the charity through tough times with their extraordinary efforts. As Britain opens up, our volunteers continue to work with renewed energy, and we cannot wait to welcome more. 

Jolene Moran is Head of Voluntary Advisory Services at Guide Dogs



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