Volunteering in a time of Coronavirus

18 March 2020

The Covid-19 epidemic has become much more real for many of us this week following the latest set of restrictions around our daily lives and the prospect of many of our loved ones either being infected and/or forced to isolate for weeks and months. 

Coronavirus Thumb 1Our primary concern should be our ‘collective’ health and wellbeing at this time. With a focus on physical health (and the measures needed to keep a virus at bay) it is doubly important that we also think about the mental health of ourselves and others. The prospect of “social distancing” but also an uncertain financial future, further plays into this anxiety. It puts an enormous additional burden on those that are already disadvantaged within our society. 

The prospect of a lack of social contact is particularly difficult for us, which reminds us that we are social animals first and foremost. Volunteering thrives around social connections, it’s a large part of the enjoyment that it brings. So as for other aspects of society, volunteering is also being challenged like never before.

Many of our volunteering organisations are considering how they flip from volunteering that relies largely on social connection and face-to-face to volunteering, to one that operates remotely and uses virtual technology (albeit this can include the phone and needn’t be state of the art). It’s good to see that those organisations that operate in this way are sharing their expert advice with others, see this from Befriending Networks.

Others are planning volunteering which will more directly support the frontline of this epidemic, and this will first involve those organisations and volunteers with first-hand experience of mobilising in an emergency. Stay tuned as we hope to publish any developments as this coordinated effort widens out.

There is an “informal” volunteering response now underway. Eden Project Communities have joined forces with leaders from different sectors to launch the Community Action Response and 5 things you can do to make a positive difference in your community.

Eden Project Communities 5 Steps

This informal exchange of time and help is further supported by platforms like Nextdoor https://nextdoor.co.uk/ which have been up and running for some time but have never been more important.

Covid Mutual Aid UK https://covidmutualaid.org/ have gone further still in providing resources and connecting people to their nearest local groups, willing volunteers and those in need.

These informal initiatives (and there are others) are admirable and reflect the strength of community spirit that exists across Scotland and the UK. They provide a focus for action (and many volunteers are looking at where they can help right now).

One cautioning note around this well intentioned informal volunteering. Before the outbreak more than 29% of us regularly (once or month or more frequently) engaged in neighbourliness and similar informal activities. More of us will be keen to look in on friends, family and neighbours over the next days, weeks and months. It's critical that we ensure at all times that both volunteers and those they help are safeguarded. When we throw social distancing (and a lack of face-to-face contact) in to the mix there are clear opportunities for scammers and others, seeking to exploit this situation. 

It’s one thing helping those that you know, it’s quite another helping or appearing to help those that you don’t. It is the very need for these safeguards that requires a local but more formal, organisation-led response. 

I’m also sure that this response is coming. 


George Thomson, CEO