Volunteering in the ‘New Normal’ by Hazel Finney, Lead – Volunteering, Community Impact Bucks

Last updated 26 October 2020

As our sector begins to resume the delivery of activities and services suspended due to COVID-19, there are undoubtedly questions about what it means to involve volunteers in the ‘New Normal’. Here are some key areas to consider:

  1. Restarting our volunteering programme feels overwhelming. How do we approach this as an organisation?

Tobi Johnson, an expert and master trainer in volunteer engagement, offers practical tips and ideas in her recent blog.  She challenges us to consider three big planning questions to focus our thinking:

  • Which volunteers are essential to critical operations right now (if any?)
  • How will you welcome volunteers back to ensure they can volunteer safely and confidently?
  • When will you bring volunteers back, and in what phases?
  1. What is the latest government guidance about volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The latest government advice is as follows:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) volunteering

If you want to volunteer during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic you can do this:

  • from home, for example working on a telephone support helpline
  • outside your home, for example by delivering food and medicine
  • in a workplace, for example an office.

This guidance applies in England.

You need to follow the Local COVID Alert Level rules in the area.  But while you are volunteering you can:

  • meet in groups of any size from different households, indoors or outdoors
  • travel within and between different Local COVID Alert Level areas.

Volunteering from home

Anyone can volunteer from home.  This is the safest way to protect yourself and others during the winter.

Volunteering outside your home

You can also volunteer outside your home if:

If you are volunteering in a workplace, it should meet coronavirus safety standards.

If you’re clinically extremely vulnerable 

If you are clinically extremely vulnerable you should volunteer from home wherever possible.

If you cannot do so, you can still volunteer outside your home.

If formal shielding advice has been put in place where you live or volunteer, you’re advised not to volunteer outside your home.

If you have coronavirus symptoms

Do not volunteer outside your home if you have coronavirus symptoms or if you have tested positive for coronavirus.

You must self-isolate for at least 10 days from the date you started having symptoms or from the day you tested positive – whichever is the latest.

If you are self-isolating:

  • you cannot leave home (or the place where you are self-isolating) to volunteer
  • your volunteer organisation should not ask you to leave home (or the place where you are self-isolating).

Wearing face coverings while volunteering

You must wear a face covering by law in some public places unless you have a reasonable excuse for not wearing one. For example, if you have an illness, impairment or a disability.

Staff and volunteers in retail, hospitality and leisure settings must also wear a face covering.

You should also wear a face covering indoors if you will be in:

  • an enclosed public space
  • a place where you cannot stay 1 metre apart from other people
  • a place where you will come into contact with people you do not usually meet.
  1. How do I ensure that my organisation has COVID-19-specific measures in place so that people can volunteer safely?

Much of the advice and guidance for employees is applicable to volunteers. Have a look at our guidance on running your organisation during COVID-19 for more information.

Risk assessments should also be completed for all volunteer roles/activities, with individual risk assessments for everyone volunteering outside their home where possible; these are particularly important if volunteers are clinically extremely vulnerable. To help volunteers understand the decisions that your organisation makes, it is important to talk to all volunteers about specific risks: this should cover the role or activity, the physical and social environment, as well as their individual circumstances.

Before volunteering, volunteers should be given clear, concise, and relevant information about the safety measures you have put in place, and the opportunity to ask questions. 

  1. Some people may feel reluctant or nervous to go back out again even if the latest government guidance means that they can volunteer. How can my organisation address this?

This is an understandable reaction.  Where possible, try and phone volunteers to re-engage with them if this has not been possible in the last few months.  Find out how they are and if they feel ready to go back to volunteering, outlining everything that has been put in place to enable volunteering to be resumed safely whilst emphasising that there is no pressure to start volunteering again. Virtual Volunteering has really taken off over the past three months and will be an option for many organisations going forward.

Keep communicating regularly with all your volunteers so they feel up-to-date and connected with your organisation, for example could you send a short fortnightly email? As the Directory for Social Change reminds us in its recent blog: “Don’t just focus on the policies and procedures, take time to think about the people,”  advising organisations to “make sure you include plans for supporting and caring for your staff and volunteers, as well as your IT systems and office risk assessments.”

  1. Several people who supported us when the country went into lockdown in March are now returning to work and are no longer able to volunteer. What support is available to help us with volunteer recruitment?

Many people who volunteered during the crisis may not be able (or want to) continue to volunteer longer-term.  If time is an issue, you could look to design flexible, task-based micro-volunteering opportunities, rather than fully fledged roles.  Alternatively you could explore other volunteering activities within your organisation that may interest them.

Since March, more than 1,800 people have signed up to help our communities as volunteers with the Buckinghamshire Volunteer Matching Service, run by Community Impact Bucks in partnership with The Clare Foundation and Buckinghamshire Council.  There is now a pool of available volunteers – if you have a volunteer opportunity, please complete the volunteer request form.

If you are looking for volunteers with professional skills, or Trustees, you can register with our national partner Reach Volunteering.

Some final thoughts…

Lockdown has demonstrated that when people are united by a common crisis, extraordinary things can happen in a very short timeframe.  We have seen fast, effective volunteer recruitment and the development of flexible volunteer opportunities;  it is important to hold on to these new ways of working and the chance to do things differently.

For more support, have a look at our COVID-19 volunteer-related resources, guidance on service delivery and, if you need tailored advice, email volunteering@communityimpactbucks.org.uk

June 2020