2020 Volunteering - Reflections and looking forward
17/12/2020 (Staff Post - Alice McBride )
2020 is coming to a close and it feels like a very different time from my first Engage Christmas last year.
This year has been tough: for those who have lost someone, for those whose own mental or physical health have suffered, for those who have been in and out of furlough, for those who have lost work, for our young people, for new families, for our older communities, for everyone.
Not everyone has been affected in the same way but this has touched everyone in some way.
Like everyone else I am glad to see the back of 2020, but, and this still feels strange to write, there have been positives from this year.
Back in March and April we saw the biggest surge in volunteering interest in years. Through our local efforts and the national Scotland Cares campaigns over 1000 people in Renfrewshire came forward to offer their support. Our partners and organisation were overwhelmed, torn between wanting to maintain services and take up the offers and needing to proceed as cautiously as possible for fear of spreading the virus.
Mutual aid groups, neighbourhood groups and support groups sprung up overnight looking for support and trying to ensure those at risk in the community could stay safe.
We continue to see the efforts of a number of these groups grow. Across Renfrewshire we have seen communities come together with renewed fervour and commitment, pockets of the local authority area that had been disconnected or missing that spark of connection are now planning to take their work in to what will likely be as tough a year.
The development of our volunteer blog has been a positive in itself. It grew from some of the wonderful stories shared during Volunteers Week in June and it has been a brilliant way to gather unique stories from across our membership. Volunteering is different for everyone. Everyone has their own expectations going in, their own goals and their own skills and experience to bring to their role so to be able to gather some of that insight has been really inspirational.
Another wonderful positive for me was working with volunteer managers throughout the period and seeing just how open they were to adapting, to taking their meetings online, to keeping their volunteer groups connected even if they couldn’t meet in person.
Even though I only joined the organisation in November of 2019 I knew there would be no resting on laurels in Renfrewshire. Even so it was still heart-warming to see volunteer managers so eager to learn new skills, taking the ‘down-time’ from their normal work with volunteers to continue training and testing out new ideas. They may not have been able to physically be with someone but they worked hard to ensure people were supported.
Volunteering is largely a sociable activity. Yes there were opportunities to volunteer from home before 2020 but the majority of volunteers would still say they feel part of a team, either of fellow volunteers or of staff that they support. To be torn from that so suddenly was a shock to many of the volunteer groups but they certainly rallied.
There were new walking groups set up, online activity sessions scheduled in weekly but sometimes nightly, curbside catch-ups executed and much more across Renfrewshire.
We obviously do not know what 2021 will hold. For us at Engage it is our 10 year anniversary as Renfrewshire’s TSI in April but our own plans for a celebration are currently tentative, who knows if we’ll be able to come together with cake and streamers even by then. We do know that we will continue to support our members in every way we can so that we can continue to promote the incredible work being done across Renfrewshire.