Volunteering response to COVID-19 under spotlight in new study

  • Date

    Tue 3 Nov 20

People working in a food bank

The volunteering response to the COVID-19 pandemic across the UK is the focus of a new research project involving University of Essex researchers.

The project will involve academics working with the voluntary sector to 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.

Almost £420,000 has been awarded for the project 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.

Led by Irene Hardill, Professor of Public Policy at Northumbria University, the project will also involve Dr Ewen Speed from Essex, along with colleagues from the universities of East Anglia, Kent, Stirling; and Aberystwyth.

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.

Professor Hardill 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.”

Dr Speed, from Essex’s School of Health and Social Care, added: “This project presents a unique opportunity to assess differences across the UK in how the different governments were able to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

“My role will involve assessing the different policy frames across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and how this impacted upon the types of response that these different areas were able to mobilise."

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.

Recommendations will then be made on the role volunteering and voluntary organisations could play in the UK’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, with the results presented in a series of government briefings across the four nations.