As it is National Volunteers' Week in the UK, we have an opportunity to recognise one of the few positive effects of the pandemic – the community spirit we’ve seen not only in this country but across the world. But as we come through the worst of the COVID-19 health impacts, will we keep on looking out for our neighbours and vulnerable community members in the same way?
Similar to the rest of Europe, it is estimated that the UK’s volunteer army doubled during the pandemic. With each individual contributing an average of three hours of their time, the work of this volunteer army is estimated to have an equivalent economic value of more than £350m a week.
The COVID-19 pandemic has helped more people realise how important and impactful small acts of kindness can be. Something as simple as posting a letter or picking up fresh bread or milk can make an important difference. Just the offer of assistance to a neighbour can make them feel cared about and less isolated, even before you do anything practical to help.
Hopefully what more of us are seeing is that volunteering not only helps others but also helps those who volunteer. Giving our time and energy can create a sense of usefulness and increase our self-worth. It connects us with people we might otherwise never meet. Human beings are naturally social creatures and in an age where loneliness is so prevalent volunteering can be a positive way to make friends through a common cause or interest.
It can also help our mental wellbeing. Research shows that volunteering can reduce anxiety, stress and depression while increasing self-esteem and confidence. There can also be physical benefits depending on the type of activity undertaken, but in the very least the act of moving and engaging in a worthwhile cause will have an overall positive effect on mind and body.
There are many other possible benefits, such as learning new skills, advancing your career by gaining experience in a new field, and simply having fun. Helping others can be enjoyable and rewarding.
In the absence of a pandemic how do we hang on to this spirit? I hope people will be motivated to continue to volunteer, and in turn encourage others to join them. The likelihood that many people will not return to daily commuting to a place of work may help create more time for volunteering. Businesses can also play a role by facilitating volunteer opportunities for employees. I’m proud to work for a company that is helping in communities around the world and offering its people the chance to do good through volunteer opportunities.
After the pandemic there will still be people in need. Let’s make sure that one of the good legacies of COVID-19 is our continuing support for each other.