The spirit of volunteering

Tuesday 07 April 2020
From food delivery to supporting the police, meet the volunteers that are stepping up.
neon type letters on a wall spelling thank you

One of the organisations that needs more support in the UK is the NHS. Not only do they rely upon doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to care for patients, but they rely on cleaning staff, administrative support, and manufacturers of PPE. It’s an incredibly complex system, with nuances in every level, and an extremely worthwhile cause to support.

Take Andrew Muir Wood for instance, who realised that one way he could help was to work out the logistics of pairing up tired and hungry healthcare staff to restaurants struggling with a sudden loss of customers.

“Just under two weeks ago, a group of friends were talking about how their friends and family members in the NHS weren’t eating properly,” says Andrew Muir Wood, one of the co-founders of Meals for the NHS. “The general feeling amongst all of us was that we want to help but we don't really know how. We came across an idea from California where people were sending meals [to hospital staff] and we thought: can we do this in the UK? We wanted to start with making sure that we understood the demand. So we started by talking to medical staff in London, and then one of the founding team members put their own money in to send 50 meals into a hospital in North London – and it went down pretty well!”

The thought process for Andrew and his friends is clear: they identified a problem, saw how they could feasibly help, and started small. They do, however, hope to scale up and help hospital workers all over the UK.

“Now, we’ve sent out over 14,000 meals to 25 hospitals, and we’re expanding outside of London city by city. Operationally, the weird positive about these times right now is that because so many people have been furloughed and are looking to volunteer, the human resource pool is so deep. We already have some incredible talent that we’d never be able to afford who are helping us to professionalise every aspect.”

While not all of us are able to build a start-up during the Covid-19 crisis, there are ways we can pitch in to the nation’s efforts.

Encourage (safe) volunteering

One such company pitching in is Penguin. Writing on LinkedIn, they said that during the crisis, “everything is different – including how we volunteer. That’s why we’ve made some radical changes to our volunteering policy. We’re giving colleagues more flexibility, so they can volunteer during work time, up to 3 hours a week and however they choose – whether that’s responding to the government’s call for NHS Volunteer Responders, virtual volunteering with a charity, or picking up groceries for a vulnerable neighbour.”

Websites like Time to Spare and NCVO are able to match you up to local charities, and NHS England can help you identify where you can do something small but meaningful, like do a neighbour’s shopping or walk their dog if they’re unable or afraid to leave the house. We do want to stress that you must always adhere to the government’s health and safety guidelines while doing so.

Adapt your working practices

Another company helping volunteering efforts is LinkedIn itself: job postings for volunteers are now fee-free, so organisations don’t have to worry about footing the cost of the advertisement to get more hands on deck.

“Local heroes, including doctors, nurses and medical staff, first-responders, supermarket and warehouse workers, and delivery drivers, are going above and beyond to provide essential services. It’s clear, however, that more help is needed,” writes Jon Addison, EMEA enterprise sales and talent solutions at LinkedIn. “To continue playing our part in the fight against COVID-19, LinkedIn is offering free hiring resources to critical industries that need to fill the most urgent roles as quickly as possible.”

So who are the faces of the volunteers helping to fill in the gaps left behind by the sudden surge in demand for public services or community needs? And how are they identifying and adapting their skills to their new volunteer position? We spoke to them to find out.

Look at your own skillset

“For the last two years I've been self employed,” says Kevin Saunders, a furloughed self-employed security systems adviser. “Part of the reason for this was so I had time to do more volunteering. With my set of skills, I’m more suited to being out in a police car than helping to stock shelves in a supermarket, so I stepped up straight away and I've been doing shifts with the Constabulary as well as running a search and rescue team in Hampshire.”

Whether your skills are practical or knowledge-based, chances are they would be appreciated by those needing support or assistance. You never know - you may even end up learning an entirely new skill!

For more leadership guidance during the Covid-19 pandemic, see our Leading Through Uncertainty hub.

If you have some more time on your hands, why not sign up to CMI’s mentoring service and help someone who may be struggling?

Image: Unsplash