The ‘new normal’ for National Volunteers’ Week 

National Volunteering Week has become as much of an annual mainstay of my year as Christmas and Yorkshire Day. I had become used to the three months of planning, the themes developed, the ever-changing venue arrangements and the anticipation of a busy and packed week, and up to 2019 had assumed this ritual would continue for years to come. 2020 has shook that assumption to the core and made all of us engaged in volunteer management projects reassess the true importance of volunteers, this is not a bad thing. 

Whilst I would be the first to say the National Volunteering week activities in years past did celebrate the contribution of the volunteers, individually and collectively, with some passion I would also now admit recent events have made me reassess whether handing out certificates and tokens of appreciation in set-piece events to valued volunteers is really enough.  What the last few months has taught me is that reaching out beyond our comfort zones is where the ‘new normal’ is going to settle. 

 Now those same civic-minded people are at the front line of the community-based fight against COVID-19. It is no exaggeration to say the sheer scale of people’s commitment is greater than has been seen in peacetime for over half a century, this both humbles volunteer managers and focuses our thinking going forward. There can’t be, and there won’t be, a return to pre COVID-19 levels of appreciation of volunteers, we now must think differently in how we show our thanks. 

Circumstances have forced the 2020 National Volunteers’ Week to be digitally and virtually centred. Within a variety of project contributions, we will see a lot of testimony of the vital role volunteers have played in responding to the current situationFor example, where I reside, over one thousand volunteers have helped ensure food is delivered, medication provided, vulnerable people supported, those at highest risk shielded. Community resilience strengthened well beyond the weekly clap for these heroes (paid or otherwise). We should cherish the testimonies we accrue through this week; they are from a unique people who are part of a special response. 

Hopefully, in 2021 we will have sufficient control of this situation so that open door events may be possible, we are after-all nothing if not a people-centric sector. But in terms of future National Volunteering Week approaches so much more will be needed if we are to truly reflect the enormity of what volunteers are doing for us through this periodThe history of volunteer management tells us the future will involve new approaches, feeding inspirational ideas from across the sector that will enhance our future annual celebrations. One thing is for sure, the importance of National Volunteers’ Week going forward will mean it is now much more significant, it is reminder for years to come of the scale of commitment we will continue to gratefully receive.  

This post is part of our Volunteers’ Week blog series written by Michael Green. Michael is Volunteer Projects Manager at Groundwork London and a Kingston resident. 

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