The background for my response to this part of the question is in question 1b and focuses on the use of volunteers in our society.
There have been many studies carried out that support the proposition that most successful public initiatives are as a result of grass roots initiatives rather than government instigated policies and programmes. As the current volunteering mindset has its beginnings in a desire by the public to help both their own communities and other broader parts of society, the current climate presents an excellent opportunity to continue to grow this aspect of good citizenship.
I think a system whereby volunteers who are currently working in roles to assist the NHS to deliver specific services (such as transporting people to vaccination centres for example) should be created. This could be something as simple as creating a Community Support Coordinator for each town or part of a city. This person would be responsible for making contact with people who are currently volunteering and asking them if they would like to continue volunteering in some capacity once the task they originally volunteered for has been completed. In the example of volunteers driving people to vaccination appointments, these volunteers could be asked if they would like to continue doing other volunteer driving such as Meals on Wheels or transporting elderly or disabled people to day centres which have specific activities for them.
I think the key to the success of a volunteer programme is to keep it simple. I am suggesting focussing on current volunteers continuing to work in some capacity or other is a good way to start as they are already minded to volunteer. In addition, the best promotion of anything is through word of mouth. I would hope that exiting volunteers continue to carry out volunteer work and tell their family and friends about what they are doing, how much they enjoy it and how worthwhile their work is, which in turn creates interest from others.
For this to be successful, the following features will need to be present:
1. Contact with existing volunteers needs to be by way of a conversation, not a text message or email. This will enable the Community Support Coordinator to tease out whether the current volunteer would like to continue to do some sort of volunteering work and what they are able to do/where their interest lies
2. Volunteering needs to be made as easy as possible for the volunteer with red tape removed as much as possible. If checks such as a DBS needs to be carried out, this should be paid for by the local government authority (or indeed costs waived for volunteers) and volunteers need to be sent links to the relevant online sites where information is inputted to make it easy to gain their DBS
3. The Community Support Coordinator needs to be someone who is able to ‘join up the dots’ and who is personable. This role could easily become a tick box exercise so it is vital that the person who holds this position is passionate about helping their communities, is proactive and who can think outside the box. Please don’t give the recruitment of these positions to the HR department of a public sector organisation!
4. As well as building on existing volunteers, the Community Support Coordinator needs to join up with organisations such as Lions Clubs, Scout and Girl Guides (start them young!) as these organisations tend to consist of people who are already community minded.
5. The media needs to be involved to ensure as much exposure for volunteering activities as possible – perhaps the BBC could become more involved as they have with providing online lessons for children during the pandemic.
6. Involving a senior member of the Royal family in a nationwide focus on volunteering would also be a positive thing to do if possible – perhaps the Prince’s Trust would be a good place to start.
7. I think politicians need to keep a low profile in any scheme such as this as people may be inclined not to get involved if they feel a particular political party is promoting it if they are not supporters of that political party. This is why I am suggesting that the NHS’s current volunteering scheme be the foundation on which to build other volunteering programmes as people are generally supportive of the NHS.
In summary, volunteers have such a valuable contribution to make to their communities and promoting volunteering is a win, win situation – the person volunteering enjoys their work, the person receiving the service from the volunteer benefits, it is likely that Local Authorities can potentially save some money through using volunteers and society generally is better because people are interacting with each other.
The pandemic has shown all of us the importance of human contact and a well-organised volunteering programme can help facilitate positive human interaction.