Since we last updated this website the world has changed in ways that would have been hard to comprehend just a few months ago. Over the past six weeks the landscape of the third sector has shifted significantly in order to respond to the coronavirus crisis in a very immediate way. But people and organisations are now having to prepare for what looks to be a long haul over the next 12-18 months or more.
The realisation is dawning that we are going to have to learn how to function as a society and create a ‘new normal’, whilst suppressing transmission of COVID-19 and reducing demand on our essential services as much as possible. In this longer-than-usual news story we are sharing some important updates about what we’ve been doing to support local volunteer-involving-organisations and assist with the resilience response across Midlothian.
Local resilience response
Every local authority area has a nominated resilience worker and/or group to coordinate the local response to the coronavirus crisis. Resilience meetings typically include representation from the local authority, the health and social care partnership, the third sector interface (Volunteer Midlothian and Midlothian Voluntary Action) and third or community sector organisations. The main role of resilience groups is to ensure that the local response is well coordinated, effective and that vulnerable groups get the support they need to stay safe and well. Volunteer input is a really important part of this work. In Midlothian, the frontline response in communities is being driven forward by anchor organisations including community councils and development trusts, with support from Midlothian Council. Various other local groups have also sprung up in an effort to ensure that everyone can get shopping, prescriptions and other essential deliveries, plus dog walking where necessary. A key challenge for community groups has been to find a way of formalising the various different volunteer roles they are overseeing, so that both volunteers and service users are safe and well supported. To help with this process we initially developed a set of volunteering guidelines to support local community organisations in the first few weeks of the crisis. We then released a more comprehensive pack consisting of volunteering risk assessment templates, role descriptions and volunteering agreements.
**PLEASE NOTE THAT THE READY SCOTLAND CAMPAIGN HAS NOW BEEN PAUSED BY THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT. YOU CAN READ THEIR PRESS RELEASE ABOUT IT HERE**
We have been amazed at the groundswell of support from local people wanting help out in their communities. The Scotland Cares campaign was launched at the beginning of April, with would-be volunteers encouraged to register for three different types of roles, either through the Red Cross, the NHS or in their own local community. Two weeks after the launch we were sent the details of over 500 people in a spreadsheet, who we subsequently surveyed in order to find out more about what they might be able to offer as volunteers. It has been fantastic to see people offering their time in such numbers to help out in whatever way they can. We are currently working through the responses to try and match groups of volunteers with suitable opportunities. We are also keeping in touch with those who registered to provide relevant updates and training opportunities while people wait to be contacted by local organisations. You may be interested to know that NHS Lothian had over 600 people apply for roles over the course of a few days in mid-March. From this initial response 300 people went on to volunteer, mainly as ward helpers. NHS Lothian has recently recruited a second cohort of volunteers who hope to give their time in hospital and other community settings for the duration of the epidemic. Phenomenal! Well done to all those involved – we are SO GRATEFUL to everyone who has offered to volunteer thus far.
Development of volunteer roles
Normally at Volunteer Midlothian we provide direct face-to-face support to around 20 people a month to help them get started in volunteering roles. This figure doesn’t include contact with people via our website, special projects, or at events, meetings and recruitment fairs. We usually have around 160 opportunities on offer for people to choose from. Of course, not every opportunity is suitable for every volunteer, but we are normally able to find a role that suits the person and vice versa. Imagine, then, having over 500 people wanting to volunteer in the space of three weeks! As a result of this unprecedented increase in numbers, organisations in Midlothian have been having to think and act quickly in order to create new roles in response to the needs being identified in local communities. It takes time to develop volunteering activities properly and safely, but six weeks on we are seeing new roles beginning to emerge. In addition to resilience work in local communities, other activities are now coming to the fore, particularly those involving telephone or online support that could broadly be described as ‘befriending’. Other more diverse roles will likely emerge, for example provision of group based support via Zoom, online counselling, or more widespread virtual play sessions for children and families during periods of strict lockdown. We may also at some point see the emergence of in-person volunteering activities at a safe distance outdoors, for example distanced gardening. Potential volunteers will be able to search for COVID-19 related roles via our website search function once they become more widely available. Do get in touch if you’ve got ideas for how to involve volunteers, or if there are roles that you’d like to advertise in the coming weeks and months.
Midlothian TSI activities
As part of the Third Sector Interface (TSI) we play an important part in supporting the development of best practice related to volunteering across the third sector in Midlothian. In recent weeks we have been helping our partner organisations in various ways, two of which we want to share with you now in case you want to sign up or get involved. First and foremost are our regular TSI bulletins containing sector-specific info and advice, official guidance about COVID-19, links to useful new resources and notification of funding opportunities. If you want to be included on the bulletin mailing list please email Lesley. We have also been holding weekly ‘Coronavirus Connect’ online drop-in sessions that are open to any member of staff from the third sector in Midlothian. Sessions consist of information sharing, discussion about best practice and peer support between colleagues. Feedback has been really positive so far, with improved awareness of local resilience activity among participants and increased connectedness across organisations. Invitations to the drop-in session are sent out each week. If you’d like to get involved, email Miriam for further information.
That’s all for now, so thanks for reading. We’ve shared a lot more information than we usually would in this news story but we wanted to give you a really thorough update because such a lot has happened over the last few weeks. Stay safe and well folks!