Guest blog: How volunteering caused ripples in 2020

Over the last month we’ve been asking people to #MissoutToHelpOut by skipping their favourite shows to lend a hand in their communities. We’ve also been celebrating the amazing people who give up a bit of their time to help others.

In this special guest blog George Thomson, CEO of Volunteer Scotland, reflects on the incredible part played by these local volunteers in 2020, and looks to the future of volunteering beyond the pandemic.

Headshot of George Thomson of Volunteer Scotland smiling
George Thomson of Volunteer Scotland

The volunteers’ response to COVID-19

My starting point for writing this blog was an interesting question put to me in the context of Covid-19 Recovery: “What’s the future shape of volunteering?”.

The phenomenon of around 300,000 of our citizens, each and every day, giving their time to all forms of voluntary giving was a rich source of inspiration to work with!

Volunteering during COVID-19 has included highly practical and essential activities around our communities’ needs, such as looking out for isolated individuals, doing the shopping, helping with forms and tutoring, walking the dog and giving lifts. Alongside this, there has been the wonderful explosive growth of mutual aid groups working with their local knowledge and trusted relationships to move quickly and organize things like food and support to those shielding.

There was, of course, the charities, Local Authorities and Volunteer Centres all adapting to the crisis and doing their utmost. Volunteer Scotland, along with our partners the British Red Cross, jointly received 60,000 people from all over the country in the Scottish Government’s Scotland Cares appeal for volunteers to help bolster the local responses and we saw a lot of furloughed employees want to express their solidarity and offer their help as part of this.

Challenging the language around volunteering

The media including BBC and STV did a great job in sharing the stories about what was happening and encouraging everyone. Though only one gripe from me: the default description of volunteering by the media as “Army of Volunteers”, and using phrases like: “Step Forward”, “Hands Up”, “Unsung Heroes” and so on. In thinking about the shape of volunteering, this regimental picture is ‘square’… Lines and lines of uniformed volunteers at the ready to follow orders.

Coming from Aberdeen the local phrase ‘Hing on a minty’ came to mind. The actual shape of volunteering that I was observing was a multitude of circles, like the ones you see in a pond whilst it’s raining. Like a Guerrilla network- working with local knowledge and intelligence, supported by the local population, spontaneous and fast. Unbounded by the normal conventions and having to manage risks by adapting to the changing circumstances.

The future shape of volunteering

The shape of volunteering now and in the future, I see as community circles. It’s about having connections within our communities that are founded on self organising, inclusivity and based on the human strengths that citizens bring to meet the needs that are important to them. These compliment the formal volunteering roles, working with good communications and support from the Local Authorities and Volunteer Centres.

How pandemic helpers have reshaped volunteering

During the peak of the crisis, Volunteer Scotland created a weekly Radio V Good Morning Volunteers! podcast, and over the 12 episodes we recorded the stories of many volunteers. Listen for yourself here.

The episodes tell us something profound about the plain, simple and human compassion and friendships that folk experienced in their very different volunteering contexts: where individuals see the potential and value in others and make simple asks of help. These personal asks of us by someone we know and trust are the basic building block, or rather ‘rain drop’ for more ripples in the circles of good will and kinship.

Let it pour!

You can find out more about the work of Volunteer Scotland on their website.

Help us celebrate the people in your community who go the extra mile by sharing their story on social media using the #MissOutToHelpOut hashtag. Or find other stories and opportunities to help out by visiting the Miss Out to Help Out website.

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