What should we value in our volunteers?
As Volunteers Week 2021 comes to an end, Volunteering Manager Hilary reflects on how the volunteering landscape has shifted over the past year.
This week is Volunteers’ Week 2021, an annual celebration of the contribution that millions of people across the UK make to charities and community organisations through volunteering.
During the last year I’ve been asked several times about the effect of the pandemic on volunteering, and whether there has been a significant change to the number of people volunteering.
Last March, many older volunteers who have historically been a rock for many voluntary organisations had to put their voluntary action on hold and shield at home. But that didn’t leave the UK short of volunteers, as proved by the 750,000+ people who signed up to the NHS’ call for volunteers in just four days in April 2020.
I still remember a conversation with a young woman whose visit to the surgery was the first time she had seen “real people” in over a year.
We’ve seen types of informal volunteering greatly increase in the past year, such as the amazing local mutual aid groups that sprung up around the country during the first few weeks of the pandemic. There have also been more people volunteering remotely than ever before.
So, in reality it’s difficult to pin down how the numbers of volunteers nationally has been impacted by the pandemic. But I also believe passionately that we get far too hooked into debates about numbers, when these are the sort of questions we should ask ourselves:
- Did those people who gave up their time find it rewarding?
- Did they make an impact in what they did?
- Have they learned anything new, or grown personally as a result of their volunteering?
Since January I have spent time volunteering at my local GP surgery, supporting the vaccine rollout.
Are the numbers of volunteers important? Yes, of course; we couldn’t provide reliable support to the surgery without enough volunteers to cover a rota. But in my view, what has been much more important has been the sense of belonging, friendship and self worth developed amongst those volunteers, some of whom were extremely isolated themselves during the year before becoming involved. And they do make a real difference.
I still remember a conversation with a young woman whose visit to the surgery was the first time she had seen “real people” in over a year. The calm welcoming support she got from the volunteers turned what had threatened to be an overwhelming day into an extremely positive experience.
We heard so many inspirational and humbling stories, and we’ve been glad to share a glimpse of those with you this week.
At work, I have spent the last couple of months delivering volunteering workshops, often alongside my colleague Jenny Phillips from Digital Communities Wales, to community partners from all over the UK. We have covered everything from how to support volunteers remotely, to what makes a good digital volunteer (empathy, patience, sense of humour – as well as being happy to “just google it if you don’t know” – are the top answers apparently!)
There were some great breakout discussions during these workshops, but none of these centred around the numbers. They focussed on attracting the right volunteers to have the greatest impact, and how to train and involve volunteers to make their experiences the best they could be.
Last month when we reached out to our community partners to ask them to share and celebrate their volunteering stories, we were overwhelmed by the responses. We heard so many inspirational and humbling stories, and we’ve been glad to share a glimpse of those with you this week.
All the stories people have shared fed into those key questions I posed above: they tell stories of the personal sense of achievement and reward in being a volunteer, the amazing impact volunteering can have, and how for so many volunteers, the act of volunteering shapes and develops their own skills too.
It has been a pleasure to share just some of their stories with you during this year’s Volunteers’ Week.
Hilary supports our community partners with all things volunteering and develops training materials and resources for our community partners to use.
Read our volunteer stories
“Volunteering as a mentor has been a very eye-opening experience”
Joanna, an SMR Analyst for Lloyds Banking Group, tells us about her experience volunteering as a mentor at Manchester City College
How Dilara went from learner to volunteer
This Volunteers Week we're sharing Dilara's journey from English My Way learner to valued Skills Enterprise volunteer