How To Care for Warm Welcome Volunteers

May 2023
Immy Robinson
Volunteers have been crucial to Warm Welcome. Volunteers were also crucial to COVID. What can we learn in Warm Welcome from the work that has been done to understand volunteering and the pandemic? 
The Relationships Project is a partner of the Warm Welcome Campaign. In this blog piece, their team shares insights and learnings they gained during COVID to help Warm Welcome spaces explore questions around sustaining, fulfilling and growing their base of volunteers.

In the early stages of the COVID 19 pandemic, we witnessed an outpouring of community support. Mutual aid and other hyperlocal groups stepped up to shop for shielders, pick up prescriptions, and boost morale. Some of these groups existed long before the pandemic began, others sprung up in response. Across the board, we saw that where community relationships were already strong, the response was swifter and more effective.

At the end of September 2020, YouGov took a snapshot of the Covid volunteering effort for us.. They found:

  • 8.95 million people (17% of UK population) got involved in some sort of community activity
  • 39% had done little or no volunteering before the pandemic 
  • 70% plan to continue doing the same amount or more once the pandemic is over (that’s 6.27 million)
Reflection Questions:
  • Has the volunteer response to the Cost of Living Crisis been as vibrant as the Covid response in your local community?
  • Have those who got involved in the mutual aid response also been involved in Warm Spaces?

Active Neighbour Personas

Of course, numbers can only tell you so much. At the end of 2020 we did a deep dive into the motivations, needs and energy of those who have cared together through lockdown, burrowing into the stories that lie beneath the statistics. Through this research emerged a set of ‘personas’ - clusterings of behaviours, experiences, motivations and needs. 

The persona groups that we present are not meant to be restrictive categories or exclusive boxes in which people are confined, but instead are intended to be indicative typologies which highlight different flavours, commonalities and themes. Some people will identify with more than one persona, others will move between groups at different points in time as their circumstances shift and change. 

The 5 Active Neighbour personas that emerged through our research are: 

For more, take a look at the Active Neighbours Field Guide

Reflection Questions:
  • Which of these groups have been most active in the Warm Spaces response to the Cost of Living Crisis? Who’s still in hibernation? 

Volunteers’ Motivation 

Ministers called those who got involved in the Covid response a “volunteer army” but few described themselves as volunteers and they certainly did not see themselves as an army ready to be redeployed. Most weren’t mobilised by an organisation, instead they were willing citizens making an individual commitment and self-organised through horizontal, rather than hierarchical, relationships. This was change in a different currency: organic, relational, much more “Me Too” than “Neighbourhood Watch”. 

Reflection Questions:
  • How did the mobilisation of volunteers for Warm Spaces compare to the mutual aid response? What was similar about how they organised? What was different?

Hibernating well 

As the most acute phases of Covid abated, we discussed the need for volunteers to ‘hibernate well’, consolidating new connective tissue to enable a swift and effective response to future crises. For this to happen, volunteers need to feel their contribution has been needed, recognised and valued. Taking time to celebrate and thank all those who have stepped up must therefore be a priority. 

    Reflection Questions:
  • How can you ensure that the contributions of Warm Spaces volunteers are recognised and celebrated? And what else is needed to help them to ‘hibernate well’?

Find out more
  • Our Active Neighbours Field Guide delves into the motivations and needs of each of the Covid volunteer persona groups, and sketches out pathways forward for nurturing the commitment going forward. 
  • Our friends at Be Someone For Someone in Australia have created a quiz to help you identify which ‘type’ of volunteer you are.
  • For more insight and learning about the social response to the Covid pandemic, take a look at The Relationships Observatory

These lessons throw up a number of key questions for people involved in Warm Welcome. As we think about our strategy for next year, we will be reflecting on these as well as our own data and polling that shows that 35% of adults in the UK would consider volunteering at a Warm Space.

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