Written by Hilary Nugent
This week is Volunteers Week 2020: the annual celebration of the contribution that millions of people across the UK make through volunteering.
Over the last decade, before I joined Good Things Foundation, I worked as a volunteering manager for large national and small local charities, and saw how volunteering transforms lives and safeguards vital community services.
In any other year, at the beginning of June there would be activities taking place up and down the country to celebrate volunteering, recognising the wide ranging impact that volunteers have, as well as a chance to say thank you to individuals.
Over the last 10 years I have organised tea parties, written thank you postcards, filled hundreds of bags of sweets, poured endless cups of tea (and the odd bottle of beer) and hung thousands of yards of bunting; all to say thank you to the army of volunteers that I have had the privilege of working with.
Although, sadly, those activities can't take place this year, the need to say thank you to volunteers and recognise their impact has never been greater.
Many organisations in the Online Centres Network are either 100% volunteer-led or rely heavily on volunteers to deliver services, including their digital inclusion activities. You can read some of their amazing stories here.
Although they have had to physically close their doors, many of our community partners continue to be creative and think outside of the box when it comes to helping learners and their wider communities. For volunteers this has meant:
- Rapidly learning new digital skills themselves in order to support individuals
- Dealing with a range of new queries and requests for help, including personal finance, welfare and employment rights, and helping parents to support their children with homeschooling
- Facing challenging and emotional situations every day as our network partners continue to be one of the few sources of vital support for their local communities
- Adapting, and doing whatever they can to help - from phoning elderly learners for a chat, to delivering food parcels and medicine.
And it's not just the volunteers supporting our community partners who have been rising to the challenge. The sign up of over 750,000 individuals to the NHS Volunteer Responders app in under a week was the largest ever UK peacetime mobilisation of volunteers, and a reflection of a genuine desire in the population to get involved and help in their communities.
Over the last few weeks, we have been delighted by the offers of help that have been pouring in from both our existing funding partners and organisations that we have not worked with before.
We have had expert business and digital advice supporting us to pivot and develop new workstreams and ways to support our community network, as the effects of coronavirus become clearer.
Experienced charity fundraisers who have been furloughed from their day jobs have volunteered their time and are helping us raise funds for DevicesDotNow. This will enable us to purchase many more devices to get the most vulnerable in our society online.
We are also excited that so many BT and EE staff have responded to a request for help to provide digital and business support to our community network directly. We have been able to match individuals to partners to provide virtual support countrywide.
Virtual volunteering has emerged as a helpful response to the coronavirus crisis, and is a new way of working for us and we are keen to learn from it. We believe it has the potential to be developed in the longer term as a powerful model for providing employee supported volunteering.
Members of our community network will continue to offer remote support as restrictions are lifted, especially to vulnerable people, and virtual volunteering will become one of the many tools that they adopt to enable this to happen.
Whatever the shape of the world, as we start to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic and our partners in the community start to open their doors again, volunteers, virtual or otherwise, will continue to be at the heart of what they do.
A huge thank you from all of us at Good Things Foundation to all the volunteers out there tackling digital and social exclusion by providing people with the skills and confidence they need.