Time for change? Opportunities and challenges for community volunteering

by Twine

1st June 2020

This year Volunteers Week is more relevant than ever. COVID-19 pandemic has placed a great strain on the nation, affecting the personal and professional lives of millions. The way out of the crisis is uncertain, and the road ahead unclear. Yet despite these difficulties, we have all witnessed the strength of community spirit across the country which offers a glimmer of hope amid the gloom. One in five people have volunteered since the lockdown begun. By one estimate, an astonishing 10 million people are volunteering during the crisis, whether this is with a Mutual Aid group, the NHS, a local charity or community business.

At Power to Change we have seen how community businesses have been key to the response across the country. We believe they will play a key role in the recovery too, but they need your support. Our latest research shows that, before the crisis, there were about 208,000 volunteers across 9,000 community business, generating up to £246 million in GVA. Many of these have remained on the frontline during the crisis, joined by new volunteers, whilst others will have had to pause their volunteering due to lockdown restrictions. That is why we need to celebrate existing volunteers, build on their hard work, and bring in a new wave of volunteers to expand the movement.

Before the crisis, we knew most volunteers for community businesses are older and female. Using log data from Twine, our analysis shows that 52% of volunteers using the app are aged 45 years or older. In addition, 52% are female. The age profile of volunteers is in keeping with patterns observed elsewhere. Older people, who are more likely to work part-time or be retired, typically have more time for voluntary work. NCVO data shows participation levels in recent volunteering are highest among older people (aged 65 and over (45%)). We do not yet know how COVID-19 will have affected this.

A recent survey looking at the response to COVID-19 suggests millennials – typically defined as those born between 1980 - 2000 – were the least likely age group to volunteer, but that when they did, they gave up the most time: an average of 3.5 hours a week on grocery shopping, and 4.4 hours if volunteering in other ways. We believe similar patterns are playing out amongst community businesses, though not for all. The Plunkett Foundation have noted the heightened risk to elderly volunteers who – having to source supplies outside of regular supply chains that deliver poorly at the moment – may be at risk. Thus some community businesses will have lost key volunteers while demand for their services increased.

Age and gender profile of community business volunteers, logged via Twine (n=367)

18 and under

19-24 years

25-34 years

35-44 years

45-54 years

55-64 years

65+ years

Total

Female

6%

22%

11%

11%

22%

17%

12%

52%

Male

8%

24%

4%

10%

18%

14%

20%

48%

Total

7%

23%

8%

11%

20%

16%

16%

100%

We also know that the community business sector not only needs a more diverse volunteer base, but would benefit from the influx of new skills and ideas this would bring. Of course, during the present crisis, the emphasis has been on getting the basics right. For example a recent survey found that two-thirds of people who have volunteered have been doing grocery shopping for neighbours, friends and others, while a quarter have collected and delivered medicines or prescriptions. Others are phoning people who may struggle with loneliness or other issues.

While we do not yet have specific COVID-19 data for community businesses, we know the most common activities amongst those that use Twine. These will need to continue, expand and develop post-crisis. The table below shows time-intensive activities include undertaking outdoor and practical work, providing catering (many community businesses operate cafes), and providing office support. Another popular category is ‘Other’, which reflects the diversity of activities delivered by community businesses. These findings are commensurate with those of NCVO. They found volunteers in voluntary and community organisations typically support and deliver events, administration, raising money and getting others involved. These tasks are likely to remain important to community businesses, though the COVID-19 pandemic has meant like many third sector organisations, support is required with more basic tasks too, such as packing food parcels.

Activity

Volunteers (%) (n=436)

Hours logged (%) (n=6,797)

Outdoor and practical work

35%

48%

Other

30%

21%

Cafe/Catering

6%

8%

Office support

24%

7%

Support and Care for vulnerable community members

9%

5%

Helping with raising funds (shop, events...)

14%

4%

Committee work, AGM

14%

3%

Community outreach and communications

14%

2%

Professional pro bono work (Legal, IT, Research)

3%

1%

Training/Teaching

5%

0%

Shop/Sales

1%

0%

In the future it is likely that community businesses will continue to face a double-edged challenge - how to keep supporting their communities and delivering on high demand for their services, at the same time as experiencing constrained and potentially dwindling resources. There remains a question mark over whether many older volunteers will return, whilst the crisis has also exposed the need for community businesses to draw on new skills, particularly regarding digital delivery and financial management. At Power to Change we are exploring how to best support this, and using this upswell in community action to broaden and diversify the community business market. So for this years’ Volunteers week, we applaud the incredible work of community business volunteers, and implore others to get involved to nurture and grow their great work post-crisis.

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