'Confusing' public health guidance during pandemic put strain on volunteer management, report finds

The report reveals a 'mixed, but more often negative' experience among voluntary organisations to the government’s policy response to volunteering during the pandemic

A volunteer at a Salvation Army soup kitchen in west London (Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Inconsistent and confusing public health guidance for frontline organisations put additional strain on those managing and co-ordinating volunteers during the coronavirus pandemic, a new report has found. 

Volunteering in England During Covid-19: The Policy Response and its Impact, published today by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, looks at the experiences of volunteers and organisations and how they were affected by government policy decisions on volunteering in England during the outbreak. 

The report says that perceptions relating to public health guidance among organisations that managed volunteers during the pandemic were broadly negative.

“Criticisms included that messaging was inconsistent, which created confusion,” the report says. 

“The impact for organisations ‘on the ground’ was that it put a strain on their ability to manage and co-ordinate volunteers,” it says. 

“Examples of issues relevant to volunteering not being addressed from the outset included safeguarding and handling money.”

It says that the pandemic and government’s policy response was found to expose and amplify inequalities in volunteering that already existed before March 2020. 

It also found there was a perception that local volunteering infrastructure in some areas was overlooked or underused. 

But the report concludes that the government’s call to action to volunteer was beneficial in raising the profile of volunteering and was cited as helping to bring volunteering into the public gaze. 

The report recommends that long-term planning and better communication and collaboration between government and the voluntary sector are vital to enable effective volunteering in future emergencies. 

It calls for a strategic direction for volunteering in England and a greater representation of volunteering to the government to ensure proper consideration of its role in future. 

Catherine Goodall, report co-author and senior policy and influencing adviser at the NCVO, said: “The nature, scale and urgency of the pandemic meant that policymaking happened at pace, often with limited or inconsistent emerging evidence. 

“Our findings reveal a mixed, but more often negative, experience among voluntary organisations and others to the government’s policy response to volunteering in England during the pandemic.

But there are vital lessons and successes we can learn from the volunteering response to the pandemic which will be vital as we prepare for and respond to future emergencies.”

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