The NHS hit its Covid volunteering target in 24 hours. The scheme was paused after 5 days, on 29 March, because 750,000 volunteers had already been recruited. People were inspired by the heroism of those working in medical and low-paid service jobs; they were moved by the privations experienced by the immobile and vulnerable; they were spurred to action because other meaningful work, pursuits or activity disappeared overnight. They wanted to feel useful, and be useful.
By mid-April, only 20,000 tasks had been assigned in the NHS system, or one task between 37.5 volunteers. There was no national volunteering movement. This was a missed opportunity. It is in the past, and it is uncertain whether Covid-safe volunteering on a mass scale would have been practicable. But now we are better prepared, we should not allow this energy and enthusiasm to be wasted a second time.
Covid is an apolitical disaster that affects everyone, while striking hardest at some of the most vulnerable and precarious in society. As such, it is precisely the sort of crisis that people with spare time, resources or energy are most moved to alleviate. The swell of interest in volunteering as part of the vaccine effort proves that people are currently still prepared to give.
We know that the economic effects of the virus, at the very least, will be with us for years to come. More likely, we will continue to feel the social, community, educational and mental health effects for a long time too. A national movement of peer-to-peer giving, helping and caring could combat these. Done right, this could create a Virtuous Circle in which those who have lost work or meaning can be reimbursed for contributing and regain their sense of purpose by helping others.