Volunteering with the National Emergencies Trust and a virtual ‘hands on’ experience
By Charlie Ruddle
This week is National Volunteer Week and so a great chance to write a few words about the remarkable performance of the charity sector and to tell you about my experience of volunteering in a pandemic. I had spent almost all of the first lockdown working on essays and my degree, I was looking for opportunities to find work and volunteer to help those struggling. The National Emergencies Trust kindly gave me the opportunity to join their experienced team to assist with communications-related tasks.
10 million UK adults have been volunteering in their community during the Coronavirus crisis , and hopefully those numbers will stay roughly the same during our recovery as well. This remarkable statistic is part of a climate that could not have been much harder for charities in terms of fundraising and helping their beneficiaries. The inability for charities to fundraise as normal and having to cover costs to provide Covid-secure support has been tough.
I started volunteering at the National Emergencies Trust in November and quickly saw the heroic efforts put in to fundraise and then distribute what was raised to those that needed it most. After graduating in Politics and International Relations in August, in the middle of a pandemic, I decided I wanted to volunteer. I joined the communications department and I was first introduced to the team on the weekly all-team call. I could see how the cohesive nature and sense of responsibility that flowed through the team helped push the Trust to overcome the barriers presented by COVID-19. That sense of purpose still inspires me as I work today.
The National Emergencies Trust’s Coronavirus Appeal raised £98 million, which has supported more than 13,000 projects across the UK. Of course, being able to be a part of an organisation that helps so many is the dream of any volunteer, and being a part of the communications team I was lucky enough to see and talk to the array of causes which were supported. Much of this was part of the Trust’s #NETCharityChamps campaign that celebrated the heroic work that charities have been doing, I often find myself scrolling through the case studies we have on the website on a Sunday! Peter Lewis from the Chartered Institute of Fundraising  highlighted the adaptability of volunteers and charitable fundraising, and seeing this spontaneity is one of the best parts of the role.
Unlike a large number of volunteers, the role I have with the Trust is entirely desk-based, which provided a strange contrast with other members of my family who were helping deliver items to vulnerable people. Even with the amazing support of the team (a special shout out to Louise Vaughan!) working completely from home provided lots of challenges. I’m sure many other volunteers found it difficult starting or continuing their role at home or in an intense, Covid-secure, environment. Having done other voluntary work, one of the key aspects which so many of us thrive on is the sense of teamwork and pooling resources for a greater good. This became much harder with the many practical difficulties that volunteers, and the whole working world, had to persevere with.
In terms of looking towards the future of volunteering, one would hope to see a return to volunteering in person, however, research from the Charities Aid Foundation suggests otherwise. A survey of small charities in February, showed that when asked which pandemic-related challenges will persist once lockdown has been eased, 50% predicted that the reduced ability to work face-to-face will remain a challenge. Although, in many cases, infrastructure for virtual fundraising is now in place where it was not before, this is still a significant worry for the sector and may only be compounded by the economic effects from COVID-19 that we have yet to see. In fact, the top worry with 58% of those charities, was a loss of income sources.  Working as a volunteer and seeing these challenges being overcome with a cocktail of imagination and determination to provide the support people so desperately need is a credit to charities everywhere.
One hope is that the Coronavirus pandemic has re-emphasised the importance of charities on our social structure. Of course, everyone understood the importance of the work that charities did before the pandemic and the safety net that they provided. But their importance has grown even more during this crisis, and the net has become wider and a whole lot thicker. Moving through our long-term economic recovery this is not likely to change. I am hopeful, and quietly confident that the one in five adults in the UK that have volunteered their time since 23rd March 2020 will continue to do so. Early years’ learning, domestic abuse, mental health and financial problems have all been impacted. I am sure the array of community-led organisations that have been born out of the Coronavirus period will continue their support as far as these issues are concerned.
So, on National Volunteer Week this one is for the volunteers. When talking to the charities and other volunteers as part of the Trust’s #NETCharityChamps campaign I felt this sense of solidarity more than ever. As Baroness Tina Stowell from The Charity Commission said: “the truth is whether large or small, staffed by professionals or volunteers, global or local in focus, all charities are united” . But what does the future hold for volunteering? Of course, many will continue to worry about the health risks of COVID-19 and it is important to keep this in consideration. But if the multiple lockdowns have proved anything, it is that the spirit of volunteering is well and truly alive will continue to be nothing short of vital.
 Covid-19: What it means for giving, Charities Aid Foundation, 2021, (online), available at https://www.cafonline.org/about-us/research/coronavirus-and-charitable-giving
 UK volunteering soars during coronavirus crisis, 2020, (online), available at https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/may/26/uk-volunteering-coronavirus-crisis-community-lockdown
 A NEW STRATEGY, 2021, (online), available at https://www.ncvo.org.uk/our-strategy
 Building Charity fit for a post Covid-19 world, 2020, (online), available at https://charitycommission.blog.gov.uk/2020/06/17/building-charity-fit-for-a-post-covid-19-world/
 Peter Lewis: ‘The speech the Prime Minister should have made’, 2020, (online), available at https://ciof.org.uk/events-and-training/resources/peter-lewis-the-speech-the-prime-minister-should-h