As the vaccination programme rolls out and restrictions lift, where do we go from here (other than to a beer garden)?
Well, it’s clear to me that there’s a golden opportunity to bank the gains of the past year, as well as regain what we’ve lost.
No more is this true than building on the upsurge of volunteers. We saw the very best of our country as people came together to give time to support their communities – and 4.6 million people volunteered for the first time in the pandemic.
Whether it was the Scout leaders who delivered 1.2 million hours of Zoom meetings or members of the “Jabs Army” that turned out in droves to support the vaccination programme, their commitment, resilience and kindness made all the difference.
Through the amazing efforts of the NHS, pharmaceutical companies and – lest we forget – the voluntary sector (hat-tip to St John Ambulance, the RVS and British Red Cross) the vaccination programme means we are winning the war against Covid-19.
We now need to make sure our country comes together and supports those who have been hardest-hit.
We can do that by building on the past year: not seeing it as a one-off, but championing the amazing work that people are doing across the country, unlocking the full power of civil society and volunteering.
This is our moment to be evangelists for volunteering. It is our moment to demonstrate that giving your time is good for our country, it’s good for our communities and it is good for individuals – for building skills, wellbeing, and being a part of something bigger.
According to the NCVO’s Time Well Spent survey, 77 per cent of volunteers said it improved their mental wellbeing.
Given that four out of 10 people said they felt lonely during the pandemic, it’s worth noting then that 68 per cent of Scout volunteers say volunteering makes them feel less isolated, too.
A couple of years ago I visited one of 1,260 Scout sections (Cub packs and Scout troops) we had opened in an area of deprivation since 2016. I spoke to a mum, unemployed, with three children, who had become a Scout volunteer.
I said it must be great volunteering for your kids. She said: “I’m not doing it for them. I’m doing this for me.”
She spoke of the confidence and the skills she had gained. She recognised that volunteering is good for you.
When I joined as chief executive of the Scouts, I also decided to become a volunteer. I was told it was just an hour a week. Not quite – but I’m still volunteering eight years on.
I wanted to understand what volunteers were experiencing, because I’ve always believed that in leadership you need to keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.
Over time, not only was volunteering reminding me of why we do what we do, but I realised that at the end of every Scout meeting night, I felt better.
Volunteering is the public service equivalent of going to the gym. We know that public health authorities recommend eating your five a day, so why would they not also recommend volunteering for an hour a week, given the overwhelming evidence of its benefits?
This week at Scouts, we are launching our major recruitment campaign #GoodForYou.
One hundred thousand fewer young people were able to take part in Scouts due the pandemic. However, as restrictions ease, the good news is they are coming back in big numbers.
After enduring the most unbelievably challenging year, young people need organisations like Scouts for their own wellbeing, to reconnect with friends and learn skills for life.
But for that to happen, with 70,000 young people on our waiting lists, we need more volunteers.
Young people have not been given the credit they deserve for the sacrifices they’ve made to keep older generations safe. Now it is our turn, as a society, to pay them back.
With our #GoodForYoucampaign, we’ll be sharing how volunteering for Scouts is not just good for young people, but good for volunteers, too.
There are brighter days ahead. As volunteers and as voluntary organisations, we can shape the world we want to see – where we all give time to make our communities stronger for everyone.
Matt Hyde is chief executive of the Scouts