Posted by Sarah Brown on 11 Aug '20
Save our volunteers! The hidden health threat of Covid 19
Today the news is full of the ¾ million people who have lost their jobs, which is dreadful.
But 19.4 million people volunteer (NCVO Civil Society Almanac 2020) and people aged 65-74 are the ones most likely to volunteer regularly. For many, it is an integral part of their life, giving it meaning, increasing their self-worth and providing crucial social contact.
Covid 19 has halted this; isolating lots of older people in their homes and many charities have not reopened their shops, and much community sport which also involves lots of volunteers has not resumed.
My concern is that due to fear of infection and going out, or just because they have got out of the routine many people will not return to their regular volunteering roles. The health impact of this could be worse than Covid 19. Instead of the protection which prompted the shielding and advice to people in the first place now, it has had unintended consequences.
Research has found that participation in voluntary services is significantly predictive of better mental and physical health, life satisfaction, self-esteem, happiness, lower depressive symptoms, psychological distress, and mortality and functional inability. And it has been shown that this is not because particularly healthy people chose to volunteer. Source: https://bit.ly/3kwaaH7
Stop or reduce volunteering and people will get ill.
What won't happen
But not only is there a direct impact on the volunteers. Many things only happen because of volunteers. In Doncaster, most libraries which are run by volunteers have not reopened. Generally, during the summer, they have always run summer reading schemes for children, they provide social contact and essential access to computers for the digitally excluded. I know that many people used them for their job search activity required by the DWP to be able to claim Job Seekers Allowance.
I am also concerned for the many volunteers that keep community sports running. Many groups have not yet been able to try to reopen, but how many volunteers having got out of the habit or worried about catching the virus will not return? The loss of people with coaching skills, time and proper clearances may finish some. Loss of community sports groups will not only impact physical activity, but involvement in sport also contributes to mental health.
A call to action
If you are involved in a group with volunteers, please make them feel loved, so they want to return. If you are a charity, I know your focus will be on survival and maintaining your mission, but how you impact your volunteers might give you a funding opportunity.
Please, please do what you can to stop more people feeling worthless with nothing to contribute. Help them overcome their fear or lethargy so that they can regain the buzz that volunteering gives. If you want some ideas about how people can even volunteer when self-isolating then look at the blog on Christmas spirit.
Can you feel the Christmas spirit all year? includes how to volunteer from home