Voluntary action and Covid-19 – new research will explore lessons learnt and recommendations for UK recovery

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Delivery guy with protective mask and gloves delivering groceries during lockdown and pandemic.

Experts from across academia and the voluntary sector are to carry out a major research project into the role of voluntary action in the Covid-19 pandemic – exploring the challenges, what worked well and making recommendations to inform planning for future crises.

The research team, which includes Professor of Social Statistics at the University of Stirling, Alasdair Rutherford, will compare the volunteering response in each of the UK’s four nations, sharing positive examples with the aim of shaping future policy and supporting the UK’s economic and social recovery.

The project, entitled Mobilising Voluntary Action in the four UK jurisdictions: Learning from today, prepared for tomorrow, is a partnership between six UK universities and representatives from a variety of voluntary organisations, including the four key voluntary sector infrastructure bodies for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Rapid response

Almost £420,000 has been awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), following a rapid response call for projects which contribute to our understanding of, and response to, the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts.

Over the next 12 months, Professor Rutherford will work alongside the project’s principal investigator, Irene Hardill, Professor of Public Policy at Northumbria University; Jurgen Grotz, of University of East Anglia; Eddy Hogg, of University of Kent; Ewen Speed, of University of Essex and Rhys Dafydd Jones, of Aberystwyth University.

Representatives from England’s National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), Volunteer Scotland, Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA), and Northern Ireland’s Volunteer Now will work alongside the academics, providing insight into volunteering trends and experiences across the whole of the UK.

Alasdair Rutherford, Professor of Social Statistics at the University of Stirling said: "Volunteering is such an important part of our communities, particularly in Scotland's rural areas. Over the past few months we have seen volunteers play a crucial role in responding to the challenges of lockdown across Scotland, providing a lifeline to those who are vulnerable or isolated.

“Studying voluntary action across the four nations will help us learn from these efforts, to support volunteers and voluntary organisations, both during the current crisis and into the future as we start our recovery."

Professor Hardill of Northumbria University, said: “During the pandemic we have seen voluntary action step in and step up as the first response to immediate need. The sector has rapidly improvised new relationships between voluntary action and the state, forging a new ‘partnership of necessity’.

“We know we face an uncertain future but the delivery of social welfare, with the state working in partnership with the voluntary sector, is critical for us pulling through as a country.”

Preparedness plans

The first stage of the project will involve examining how prepared each of the four nations was before the pandemic hit, and what role voluntary action, organisations and volunteers played in these preparedness plans.

The team will then examine the impact Covid-19 has had on volunteers and volunteering, from face to face activities having to be paused, projects delivered in new ways, to new forms of voluntary action emerging, for example through mobilising voluntary action via online platforms and community self-help.

Once the evidence has been gathered it will be analysed, with the results presented in a series of government briefings across the four nations.

Recommendations will be made on the role volunteering and voluntary organisations could play in the UK’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, with the final report expected to inform future policy development.