What has happened to volunteering during lock down? What we mean by the term volunteering is “an activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or individuals or groups other than (or in addition to) close relatives”. (Compact Volunteering England, 2005)  In October 2010 AgeUK published  Older People as Volunteers Evidence Review they stated that nearly 4.9 million people aged 65 and over in England (58 per cent of that age group) take part in volunteering or civic engagement. Research identifies a great many ways in which individuals derive benefit from volunteering as an older adult. Most reported benefits are around physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, such as improved self-reported health, improved cognition, general mental health, increased life satisfaction, higher levels of social support and interaction, and improvements in the ability to cope with one’ own mental health. https://www.ageuk.org.uk/Documents/EN-GB/For-professionals/Research/OlderPeopleAsVolunteers.pdf?epslanguage=en-GB?dtrk=true

Yet during lock down research by the Centre for Ageing Better found that 67% of 50-70 year olds had not volunteered and of those 33% who had volunteered only 9% had done this formally. https://www.ageing-better.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-07/experience-of-people-approaching-later-life-lockdown.pdf

Whilst the two age groups compared are different it still highlights a major decline during lockdown and a significant loss of capacity of older volunteers because of Covid-19. Many charities and voluntary organisations have stopped or reduced activities for health and safety reasons. As one Charity Chief Executive stated: “Our charity shops were closed down and although we can reopen we are very concerned about keeping our older volunteers safe”.

Yet if lockdown has taught us anything it has made us all realise that we are all hard-wired, as social beings, to connect with each other. Despite this apparent fall in activity, volunteering has continued to thrive as people find new means of connecting and giving their time and skills. Our experience of providing training to voluntary group members (Parish Councillors and Charity Trustees) during the lockdown has been that the only sure way to stay connected is to reach out to others through virtual space particularly for older volunteers. Training is key for older volunteers as older people over 55 made up 78% of those who have never been online, and people over 75 more than half. We found that enabling volunteers to use online meeting technology was a major game changer and was the greatest communication behaviour change to volunteering behaviour

“When lockdown changed everyone’s working patterns, training was paramount in making sure all our Trustees could work online with confidence. After assessment, Christina created individual plans, so that all trustees could be online ready for our first planned meeting. This has allowed us to hold all meetings online, efficiently, and effectively. The help and support in bringing everybody up to the necessary ability levels, within a restricted time frame made a huge difference” Chair of Charity

“Having training, help, advice and support was instrumental in enabling the Parish Council to start holding meetings using Zoom at an early stage.”  Clerk of a Parish Council