Volunteers around the country who helped serve their local communities during the recent lockdown formed a crucial part of the national response to the coronavirus pandemic
Informal volunteering and ‘good neighbourliness’ have been key to providing support and serving communities during the COVID-19 pandemic – according to new research from the University of Hull.
From helping to collect shopping and medication for shielding residents, to befriending and transporting patients home who have been discharged by the NHS – thousands of volunteers have been mobilised across the UK – often through informal channels such as WhatsApp and Facebook.
The 18-month research project, titled: Mobilising Volunteers Effectively (MoVE), has brought together experts from the universities of Hull, Sheffield, and Leeds.
The initial findings published this month – from the first phase of the project which started in June – have shown the necessity to ‘free’ local communities to respond quickly to need in their area, empowering volunteers and taking a less bureaucratic approach.
At the start of the project – supported by £382,000 of funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19 – local authorities and voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations in England, Scotland and Wales, were interviewed and asked to reflect on key lessons from the national lockdown period and to help researchers identify the next phases of the research.
Professor Joe Cook and Dr Fiona Walkley from Hull University Business School are co-investigators on the project.
Professor Cook said: “During the national lockdown we witnessed a surge of people offering help by volunteering.
“By working with local authorities and the VCS, the new research helps to understand the important role played by volunteers and maximise learning as we head into a second wave.
“In particular, how can we harness the less structured, more informal approach to volunteering, embedded in good neighbourliness, reciprocity and mutuality?
“This flexibility was crucial to the speed and effectiveness of responses, and in many cases challenges the more conventional notions of volunteering.”
Dr Walkley added: “The research on enabling social action argues for an ecological perspective to understanding communities, which recognises the intrinsic value of networks, connections and infrastructure that underpins communities, rather than their measurable value.
“Areas that undertook a whole community approach, had spent years pre-COVID investing in community engagement models that built the trust within and between communities.
“These authorities had worked hard to actively shift decision-making and resources towards the local, which was critical to their response to Covid-19.”