We're living in unprecedented times and it's easy to feel overwhelmed - but, despite the constant stream of worrying news and growing pressure on services, now is a great time for us collectively to take positive action to help our communities.
If you’ve been wondering what you can do to help the most vulnerable in society, and how you can use your professional expertise and skills, our guide to UK volunteer opportunities might help.
1. Volunteer your time and skills
A great way to contribute your time right now is to harness your enthusiasm, passion and expertise, and volunteer with established organisations who have connections with local services in your area.
Charities and organisations looking for support include:
- The National Care Force seeks volunteers to cover rota gaps and fetch food for people in self-isolation.
- The British Red Cross are signing up volunteers ready to step in to help distribute food and supplies.
- NHS Professionals are seeking a broad range of experts to support with essential patient care.
Local volunteering organisations
- FareShare and the Trussell Trust need volunteers and drivers to handle food donations.
- Deedmob is an online tool which helps you source local opportunities to lend a hand to vulnerable people.
- Reach pairs volunteers with 3+ years' professional experience with charities looking for help.
- World Harmony Orchestra arranges performances by musicians for those isolating in London.
- Bankuet allows those who can’t donate food to foodbanks to give cash instead.
National voluntary databases
2. Join local groups on social media
'Mutual aid' Facebook and WhatsApp groups are full of local people of all ages volunteering to support vulnerable people near them.
The kinds of activities members are currently getting involved in include:
- Offering dog walking services
- Collecting prescriptions for older people
- Delivering food direct to those who can’t get to the shops
- Acting as a befriender for those who just want a chat
If you have professional skills to share - perhaps you are a medic, teacher, social worker or therapist - then joining your local group is a great way to share these skills with others.
Don’t be afraid to speak up and offer your expertise, for example, if you’re a teacher, you can share useful tips and resources for home schooling.
How do I join?
Check out Mutual Aid and join your nearest Facebook group
Most groups will have tips for beginners in the description
Find or ask for the WhatsApp link for the group of people closest to you
Introduce yourself – then get involved with opportunities being shared
What if there aren’t any groups near me?
Leaflets are often the best way to tell people about the help you’re offering – it's a task that can be split up and it allows you to avoid human contact.
The Mutual Aid site also includes templates and advice on what to write.
How do I make sure I’m not doing harm?
As with any activity involving volunteers and the public – and particularly where human contact needs to be avoided – safeguarding is so important.
Campaign group The National Food Service have put together coronavirus-tailored guides on everything from risk assessments to food hygiene.
You should also ask your local council if they want voluntary groups to register with them.
How else can I use social media for good?
3. Let's combat fake news together
Fake news can cost lives. It’s as simple as that. We have a huge role to play in both our use of social media and helping others access truthful information.
Further useful resources include:
- Add the NHS (+44 7860 064422) or WHO (+41 79 893 18 92) as a contact on WhatsApp. Send a message and they’ll reply with links to trustworthy info.
- SignHealth has created British Sign Language videos to help Deaf users either working in charities or receiving support.
- Leading health researchers have set up a site for those showing symptoms of coronavirus to self-report to develop a better understanding.
- Doctors of the World have created advice for patients in over 30 languages, based on up-to-date NHS guidelines.
4. Follow your local council's updates
Your local council is the best source of official advice on local services – from information on school closures and bin collections to volunteer opportunities.
5. Support your nearest foodbank
Stockpiling is bad news for everyone - but particularly so for foodbanks, which find essential items are no longer available. In some areas, donations are down 80%.
If you’re not self-isolating and not in an at-risk group, why not consider volunteering? The Trussell Trust – which runs the UK’s largest network of foodbanks – is actively looking for volunteers.
FareShare, another foodbank network is also looking for volunteers, while Beauty Banks is a campaign to crowdfund basic hygiene essentials.
6. Shop locally
Now’s the time to remember the existence of our independent shops. Many local grocers are still fully stocked with items you might have found missing.
As well as providing vital financial support to these businesses, it also reduces the number of customers in each shop and allows people to keep their distance.
For those businesses not allowing customers through their doors, support them in other ways – such as using their take-away service or by buying gift cards.
Crowdfunding platform Crowdfunder is now free to small businesses. Through its Pay It Forward campaign, it is also offering free digital training.
7. Help homeless populations
The crisis is a concern for homeless people, who have obvious difficulties isolating.
Recent closures of homeless shelters – as well as fewer people around to provide food and money – mean rough sleepers in the UK face a challenge.
In England and Wales, you can report the location of rough sleepers to the charity StreetLink. They’ll pass the details on to the local council so they can offer them support – and hopefully accommodation.
Developments around COVID-19 are moving quickly, and more public and third sector organisations are offering volunteering support at this difficult time.
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