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Volunteers’ Week 2020

Young people in red Shelter t-shirts cheer and wave flags
Sarah Latto
Written by Sarah Latto

As a manager of volunteering, I plan for and look forward to Volunteers’ Week on an annual basis. It is a constant fixture, and each year it reaffirms why I love my job so much. This year, where everything has changed and nothing is normal, I’m more thankful than ever for this opportunity to thank volunteers and acknowledge their fantastic contribution. It also provides me with a chance to reflect on the way that volunteers have responded to the current situation, and what this tells us about the future of volunteering in Shelter Scotland.

In the last financial year, over 200 volunteers supported our work at Shelter Scotland and contributed nearly 10,000 hours of passion, enthusiasm and determination. This phenomenal contribution allowed us to directly help nearly 3000 more people, as well as providing funds and research to help countless more. For this we thank each and every one of you.

On the 14th March I had to send a heart-breaking email to the 130 volunteers who regularly supported our work advising that they would likely not be able to volunteer for the foreseeable future. This decision was not taken lightly and reflected the fact that so many of our volunteers are either office based or support us at events which have now been cancelled. All of our staff are working from home, and I’ve been working hard in recent weeks to make it possible for some of our volunteers to do the same.

Despite the temporary reduction in volunteering that we have seen at Shelter Scotland – an experience we share with many volunteer involving organisations – the profile and role of volunteers in Scotland has grown exponentially in recent months. People in local communities have risen to the challenge across the country, ensuring that nobody is left behind in the rush to contain this indiscriminate virus. Several Shelter Scotland volunteers have also been very active in their local communities, and are sharing their experiences and insight with us to help us develop our own response.

There is no doubt that coronavirus has changed volunteering behaviours. Participation is less organisation-led and more people-led. An increasing number of people are organising themselves locally to provide emergency support and to campaign for change. At Shelter Scotland we think this shift is positive, and reflects our strategic priority to build a movement for change. It is only through community-led participation that lasting and meaningful progress can be made.

Our Community Organisers at Shelter Scotland have been supporting local activism by providing resources on organising and campaigning safely in the current circumstances through our new Housing Rights Defender Facebook groups in Glasgow and Edinburgh. In addition, our Time for Change workers in each of our Community Hubs are empowering people with lived experience of homelessness or bad housing to influence decisions which affect them and identify meaningful solutions. To find out more about either of these initiatives or get involved, you can email getinvolved@shelter.org.uk.

Whilst more informal, people-led approaches are taking the fore right now, Shelter Scotland will still need the support of volunteers on a regular basis to support our services and campaign to defend the right to a safe, secure and affordable home. Together with my colleagues, I have been busy exploring volunteer roles that can be completed from home and respond directly to the effects of this ongoing crisis. Some of our Online Chat volunteers are already providing web-based advice and our Hub Support volunteers have been compiling a map-based directory of local services for our frontline advisors from home.

Volunteering is changing, but we are well-placed to adapt to these new circumstances. We may still be figuring out what the ‘new normal’ looks like, but we are clear that volunteers will continue to play a key role.