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Covid-19 volunteer response needs local experience and knowledge

Covid-19 volunteering efforts need to be better coordinated - relying on local experience and knowledge, according to an expert in volunteering from the University of East Anglia.

Dr Jurgen Grotz is Director of the Institute for Volunteering Research at the University of East Anglia.

He says that while the public response has been tremendous and fully in line with the best British volunteering traditions, there is a lack of collaboration between national and local approaches leading to people not knowing what they can do to help their communities.

His comments come ahead of a House of Lords debate this Thursday on ‘Challenges facing the charitable and voluntary sector, in terms of fundraising and organisation, during the COVID-19 pandemic’ and an international online event hosted by UEA researchers to discuss the volunteer responses to COVID-19.

He said: “Not only has the NHS Covid-19 volunteer scheme seen more than 750,000 sign-ups, but many more volunteers are already delivering help where needed through local mutual aid groups or through responding to local calls for volunteering help from volunteer involving organisations, from volunteer centres, local community infrastructure and from local authorities.

“At the same time, millions of volunteers are currently themselves directly and indirectly affected by COVID-19 and amongst them many can no longer volunteer. In some cases the organisations who involve them have had to stand them down or they are at increased risk of severe illness and are following the government’s more stringent social distancing measures.”

“One of the biggest challenges appears to be involving volunteers safely - exactly where, when and how they are needed.

“The situation is still evolving and a vital question is how to support all volunteering efforts effectively and safely. Building on lessons learned from previous disasters, we can draw on existing local experience and knowledge to help co-ordinate the national and local responses in the current crisis.”

“After the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire, the report from Muslim Aid, ‘Mind the Gap: A Review of the Voluntary Sector Response to the Grenfell Tragedy’, highlighted the important role the voluntary sector played responding to the disaster and the need for coordination with the local authority.

“In the wake of the disaster of hurricane Katrina a report by the USA’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) emphasised the importance of local coordination between government agencies and local communities, faith groups and voluntary organisations.

“The Covid-19 crisis has already highlighted both the tremendous strength that volunteering efforts bring but also the need for general safeguarding and for protecting volunteers. National umbrella bodies are collating this information and making it freely available, for example, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.”

At the same time as the Lords debate this Thursday, UEA’s Institute for Volunteering Research will also co-host a webinar with the UNESCO Chair in adult literacy and learning for social transformation at UEA, looking at Covid-19 volunteer responses in different countries.

The UEA UNESCO Chair is held by Prof Anna Robinson-Pant and sets out to develop understanding about how adult learning – particularly for women and young adults – can help address inequalities in the poorest communities of the world. This has included research and policy initiatives on volunteering and adult learning led by UNESCO Chair PhD scholar, Chris Millora.

This online discussion takes place at 1pm on Thursday, April 30, and will explore ongoing volunteer responses in Sierra Leone, Nepal and the UK, while also thinking about potential solutions to issues raised.

The webinar aims to provide a space for volunteers, volunteer organisations, policy-makers, academics and practitioners to share critical insights and learning which would hopefully help shape future actions in this incredible time.

For more information or to sign up, visit https://www.uea.ac.uk/medicine-health-sciences/ivr/latest.

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