Spontaneous volunteering during the Pandemic

Back in June last year I wrote a blog for Communities Prepared about my research into volunteers in disasters after being awarded a Churchill Fellowship.  My report has since been published in September and can be found here.

I have now been commissioned to undertake further research into the work of spontaneous volunteer groups across the United Kingdom by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust as part of their Covid-19 Action Fund which provides grants for Churchill Fellows to run projects combatting the effects of Covid-19 in all areas of society. 

The UK government definition categorises spontaneous volunteers as “individuals who are unaffiliated with existing official response organisations, yet, without extensive prep planning are motivated to provide unpaid support to the response and /or recovery to emergencies.”

Through disasters such as the Grenfell Tower Fire and many flooding incidents over the last decade, groups have been formed in the community by concerned individuals who want to help others in need. Through the pandemic, thousands of spontaneous volunteers have come forward to support their communities, forming Mutual Aid and COVID-19 support groups.

Often, they have faced barriers and issues that have prevented them working as effectively as they could. New Local’s report Communities vs. Coronavirus: The Rise of Mutual Aid examines some of these challenges, including “how best to structure themselves” and “managing their relationships with local government.”

In examples where the authorities work with volunteer groups, the combination of effort maximises the benefits to those in need.

My research and experience working with these spontaneous volunteer groups in Eastleigh, Hampshire (where I am the Resilience Manager), have demonstrated the impact of a joint effort. In examples where the authorities work with volunteer groups, the combination of effort maximises the benefits to those in need.

Here we worked with three spontaneous volunteer groups, which were formed in direct response to the pandemic. They have acted as the delivery arm of our local response centre, providing help and support to both those Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people who were shielding, and also to those who were having to self-isolate due to catching the virus or being a close contact. We have hundreds of volunteers doing shopping, collecting prescriptions, dog walking, befriending over the phone and doing regular checks on those in need of support. It has been and continues to be a fantastic effort by many members of the local community.

I am therefore calling to all spontaneous volunteer groups in the UK to ask for their help by completing a simple survey on behalf of their local group. This survey looks at how the groups were formed, their role and the work they have undertaken, how they are led, their interactions with the statutory authorities and considerations for their future post COVID-19.

I am conducing this survey through my work with Eastleigh Borough Council which ensures therefore that all data will be kept securely and used appropriately during the course of the research.

You can find the survey here on my blog: https://disastervolunteers.home.blog/

Alternatively, please email Melvin.hartley@eastleigh.gov.uk and I can send you a copy.

Melvin Hartley
Melvin Hartley is Safety & Resilience manager at Eastleigh Borough Council and Community Resilience lead for Hampshire and IOW Local Resilience Forum. Following a career with Bedfordshire Police and in community safety, he was part of the London Borough of Southwark’s management team for the 2012 Olympics response. 

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