How has volunteering been affected by the pandemic?

Carolyn Newman, Advisor in VAL's Voluntary Sector Support team, talks about some of the major challenges volunteer-involving organisations are facing during the lockdown.

During the last few months, as the country has gone into lockdown and we have all had to change the ways we live our lives, the volunteering landscape has also had to adapt the way volunteers support local organisations.

This month during Volunteers Week VAL delivered a Volunteering Network and Learn session via Zoom to Volunteer Involving Organisations in Leicestershire. Part of the agenda focused on the following questions around how organisations have been working with volunteers during the lockdown.

What challenges have you faced in recruiting and managing volunteers over the last few months?

One of the major problems faced by organisations was fast tracking of DBS checks for volunteers who came forward to help during the Covid Crisis especially for health and social care volunteering roles. Out of the organisations attending the event different experiences were reported. Some had to wait over a month for some and report at least one had been lost in the post. One organisation had been able to fast track their DBS as role included health and social care, but faced an added barrier as during the process staff had to be furloughed.

Organisations have found it extremely frustrating when they had ready and willing volunteers coming forward however they were tied up by relegations on DBS checks. Some organisations focussed on potential volunteers who already had a current DBS check to get round this problem. has up to date information on DBS checks.

How have communities and groups worked differently to involve volunteers during this period?

Lots of community groups have adapted quickly to involving volunteers and have become creative and are able to do things online to engage with the more socially isolated people, such as those who are disabled, those with mental health conditions, those in vulnerable age ranges and those shielding. However, there is a real fear that if everything goes online there will be vulnerable people who won’t be able to access the support that is out there during this difficult time.
As we move into the recovery phase there is a need to get back to face to face to delivery as soon as possible. On the other hand, this will need to be carefully considered to follow social distancing guidelines.

Although it has not been without its problems some organisations and volunteers struggled to access online services as they had limited technology available to them, either because they haven’t got the technical knowledge or haven’t got the internet or coverage wasn’t good and they had to rely on mobile phone limited data. One way to address this was to embrace new technology by using Zoom which enabled people to call-in from their phones (obviously, voice only).

There are definitely positive and negatives to online engagement. It’s a fine balance and it will be interesting to see how online engagement is utilised over the coming months as lockdown eases. Organisations are doing regular zoom quizzes, bingo, training sessions on how to cope during lockdown regarding mental health and relevant training to volunteering roles and general catching up with volunteers via other methods phone, messaging, Whatsapp.

One organisation has delivered volunteer training through Zoom and reported that some found it easier as they didn’t have to travel into Leicester so was more convenient. Although the organisation wasn’t fully sure they will get the outcome they want and feel they will eventually need to offer a one off face to face session once the lock down eases.

Although they are delivering a new befriending service during this time to offer emotional support they were not able to do the usual assessment calls. Volunteer Managers experienced an increased capacity of their work load as it had been down to them to shoulder the responsibility of allocating clients to befrienders which is challenging as their time has been more limited.

More jobs and work load increased during this time. Some volunteer tasks cannot pass on to volunteers as not in the office and it is taking longer to think of roles which volunteer can undertake remotely and safely.

How could needs and ways of working change in the recovery phase?

It is clear that organisations are keen to share ideas and experiences on how they join up and support each other during the recovery phase and going forward and VAL are keen to assist with the sharing of ideas at our regular Network Meetings on Zoom and eventually face to face.

During the current crisis many people volunteering for organisations have had to take a step back from the tasks they are involved in due to health reasons or because organisations have been closed during this period in this transition phase organisations will look a phased return to roles which are safe.

The key is to keep volunteer engagement going, some volunteers will be keen to try out a new role or deliver their existing role in a new way on the their phased return. Both require time, resources and in some cases training, to adjust at a pace the volunteer feels comfortable with.

Before face to face volunteering is restarted organisations must ensure the safety of the place they will be undertaking the task by carrying out risk assessments of the building to make sure current social distancing measures are in place.

How could we work together going forward?

The organisations who attend the recent network are keen to meet the demand of how many volunteers are coming forward at present. It would be great to build on this and hear thoughts and have further discussion about potential ideals of engagement.

New Volunteer Managers are in post and are wanting to make new connections with existing organisations who have a similar remit. This would enable them to share ideas and learn from each other, so moving forward it would be useful to build on this with peer to peer learning for all interested.

It would be a great way to hear thoughts on current topics and have further discussions. One way of engaging on a regular basis would be for VAL to facilitate this via our Leicester and Leicestershire Volunteering Network Forum.

Feedback from the event

What I picked up on a lot during the meeting is the current challenge organisations like yourself are facing to meet the demand of how many volunteers you are getting. It would be really interesting to hear your thoughts, or have a further discussion, about potential ideas for how young people could still get involved/give back without adding to this strain.

VAL support

There are lots of ways to support your local community and volunteering is adapting to allow people to continue to offer their time in creative ways, so please follow the updates on the VAL Volunteering website to see how you can help in the future.

You get can in touch via:
0116 257 5050

Carolyn Newman

Carolyn Newman is an Advisor in VAL's Voluntary Sector Support team. She helps individuals to find volunteering opportunities and provides advice and support for volunteer involving organisations. Find her on Twitter at @Carolynjn_VAL or contact