How to volunteer in a socially-distanced world

More people than ever are keen to muck in and help their communities. There's no shortage of ways to get involved even during the pandemic

National Volunteers’ Week may have passed but that doesn’t mean Britain’s selfless spirit has gone with it. As many as 10 million adults volunteered during lockdown, according to research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research – that’s one in five over-18s, and the economic equivalent of £350m a week. And nearly 80 per cent said they’ll keep doing their bit with lockdown measures eased. Brits have been digging into their pockets for the common good, too, with more than £1bn spent paying for products and services the buyers knew they wouldn’t be able to use like cleaners and gardeners.

But volunteering might not seem like such a straightforward concept at a time when the nation is following social distancing measures to get the spread of Covid-19 down. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Here are some tips to get you going if you’re keen to invest some of your time into helping people less fortunate.

Log on from home

Virtual volunteering is the perfect way to keep yourself and others safe while contributing some of your time – particularly if you end up self-isolating. If you’re fluent in more than one language, you might decide to get involved with Translators Without Borders to help non-profit organisations make vital information as accessible for as many people as possible.

Alternatively, you can get involved with The Mix, an online support service for under-25s that might have nowhere else to turn. Whether you have a particular skill or expertise that makes you a great source of information for young people, you already have counselling training, or you have time to volunteer as a chat moderator, you could help youngsters navigate everything from taking care of their mental health to finding secure housing.

Who ever said you can’t make real humanitarian change from the couch? Through Amnesty International’s Decoders initiative, volunteers spend just a few minutes on their phones or computers helping flag human rights violations. Sifting through large databanks of social media messages, images, documents and satellite data, those already involved have helped identify remote villages in Sudan at risk of attacks, digitised information from oil spill investigation reports in Nigeria, and tracked the misogyny faced by women on Twitter in the UK and US.

All you need to get involved is an internet connection and a curious mind, and you can volunteer as much or as little time as you like.

Provide vital community support from a safe distance

When the pandemic gripped the UK, mutual aid groups popped up in their dozens across the country. Neighbours came together to help out the most vulnerable and isolated people in their communities. Those efforts are still crucial even as lockdown measures ease for some of us.

GoodGym, founded by Big Issue Changemaker Ivo Gormley, was already operating as a hugely successful volunteer-while-keeping-fit organisation – with members getting a jog in on their way to and from helping those in their local areas who needed help or company. They stepped it up when Covid-19 hit, and they’re on the lookout for anyone who can provide deliveries for vulnerable people as well as carrying out basic home tasks for those recently discharged from hospital.

Volunteering with charities to support older people like with Age UK normally involves an extensive training process, but after the crisis caused a surge in demand from isolated residents they put together some tips for more informal volunteering. Helping get shopping and medication to those shielding is vital work that will continue to be necessary in the months to come. They put together a simple training video for anyone keen to do some neighbourly volunteering and get help to those who need it immediately, and even made available a postcard you can use to safely get your information to neighbours.

Keep it simple

Loneliness was identified as a growing health concern among the UK population well before Covid-19 was on the scene.

The good news is that you can do your bit to tackle this from home even if you can’t always rely on computer or internet access.

Advocacy Focus in the North West launched their Pen-demic Pals scheme, a befriending service for vulnerable people and looked-after children that spread messages of hope to the people who need it most. This is done by volunteers who send letters and cards to let them know they’re not alone.

And charities across the country recommend giving your elderly neighbours a call every now and then to check in and have a chat – it’s what many who are shielding miss most right now.