Jonathan Christie is Deputy UK Director of The Wood Foundation and comments on the community response to Covid-19 and how we develop current energy into sustained action.
“This Volunteers’ Week seems an opportune time to reflect on the best we have seen from our communities supporting one another through the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 70,000 signed up for volunteering opportunities through Ready Scotland within weeks of lockdown. Charities rallied, adapted, collaborated and brought communities together. That 70,000 figure is impressive but the true total of those able, willing and wanting to offer support will be far higher.
“As we move on from the ‘shock’ phase of this pandemic and begin to look forward, there is a need to act swiftly to harness the collective goodwill so there are clear opportunities for people to feel empowered to make a difference.
“There are lessons to be learned from London 2012. More than 70,000 people were mobilised to support this event and there was great hope in terms of lasting legacy. Four years later, less than half had continued any form of volunteering. A major contributing factor was the fact that only 50% had been contacted following the Games by a volunteering scheme. Targeted, consistent support and communication is vitally important, so people move forward from current events with civic duty as a lasting driver. Capitalising on this volunteering energy will hopefully be a priority in the coming weeks and months for charities and organising bodies, alongside the wider third and public sectors.
“A challenge to recognise is the profile of volunteers, particularly during Volunteer Weeks’ #PowerofYouth day. A huge swathe of the ‘volunteering workforce’ have taken a reluctant break and their traditional social action may be on hold for some time while social distancing and shielding conditions remain.
“As part of the discussions during the cross-party group on volunteering which I am a part of, we discussed the need to for a diverse demographic of advocates and volunteers, from those at the frontline of service delivery, to fundraisers and innovative supporters. We need an equally diverse offering of how, where and when volunteering can occur.
“The power and importance of volunteering is never lost on us. Through YPI, our largest programme of activity, our aim is to bring Scotland’s third sector to life for young people, providing an opportunity for them to play a significant role supporting their local communities.
“Since YPI was first introduced in Scotland in 2008, more than 200,000 young people have participated. With 70% of young people reporting that they care more about their community as a result of YPI and are motivated to do more, the programme has proven to be an incredible gateway to volunteering and youth social action.
“To empower #generationchange with opportunities to make a difference in a way that fits their context and uses their unique skills, insights and networks is something the third sector and its supporters must continue to progress. An enthusiasm to engage was demonstrated through Youth VIP, a project commissioned by the Scottish Government as part of the development of a new National Volunteering Framework and coordinated by Young Scot and Project Scotland. The group of young people developed a series of recommendations which the Scottish Government has since pledged to further explore. There is a collective responsibility from those organisations working within this space to ensure this work does not slide down the priority list.
“This week we are celebrating volunteering and sharing a massive ‘thank you’ to all those volunteers that share their time and talent in support of communities across Scotland. At a time when volunteering has such a high profile, there’s a real opportunity to capitalise on enthusiasm, innovation, and collaboration. Volunteering enhances our civil society and places community at the heart of our towns and cities.”