Corporate volunteering – A conversation on the “new normal”

It has been over 3 months since ELBA, its member companies and community partners had to show an incredibly fast community response when lockdown regulations were first implemented. Despite the sudden changes in our lifestyles and work routines, a great sense of community spirit drove many of us to engage in the remote volunteering opportunities that ELBA launched only days after lockdown was first announced on the 23rd of March. Volunteers got engaged in CV reviews and mentoring for local students, carried out mock telephone interviews with job seekers, wrote letters to older people lonely and isolated, fundraised money for foodbanks and other food services, and shared various business skills like marketing and IT with local charities. ELBA wants to thank all who volunteered their time for the great response and engagement; despite physically not being able to volunteer and come together, this period has been marked by togetherness, support, and community.  

We are now looking at what the post-COVID recovery priorities will be, and how volunteering will look in this changing and unpredictable  environment. We want to find an approach in which we can safely support the east London community. The safety of volunteers is always our foremost concern so remote volunteering will stay in place for the foreseeable future – with the success and positive impact of these volunteering opportunities many will be incorporated and form a permanent part of ELBA’s offer in a post-COVID-19 world.

As lockdown is now easing off and people are allowed to meet in groups of up to 6, as well as restaurants, shops, indoor spaces etc. opening with social distance measures in place, things may feel like they are going back to “normal”. Unfortunately, “normal” is not back on the agenda for many of our community partners. Having worked round the clock during lockdown to keep the east London community going, the funds and donations our community partners have access to are limited whilst tasks that require in-person volunteer support are plenty as they have not been picked up for months. This has left many of our community partners with increasing and changing commitments while they have limited resources available.   

It’s early days but we are starting to recognise that there is an important need to mobilise teams of volunteers to take on practical volunteering opportunities again – within the parameters set and deemed safe. These teams of volunteers are essential for maintaining community places and spaces, many of which have seen increased usage during lockdown –  like the outdoor spaces, parks and food banks. Volunteers are also needed to help community partners adapt to new guidelines, especially grassroot organisations and those who work with children, who have to alter play equipment and learning areas.

ELBA is carefully considering the implications of a return to in-person volunteering and understands that these events will look very different. Numbers of volunteers volunteering at one time will be greatly reduced, volunteers may be limited to local events close to home to reduce public transport usage, community partners will need supporting with risk assessments and guidance and volunteer guidelines will need to be updated. ELBA is taking all of these considerations into account and would also like to work collaboratively with corporate partners and community partners to make sure in-person volunteering can return as safely as possible. While many people talk of a return to “normal,” if we don’t act quickly, there won’t be a normal to return to for community partners who have already been affected badly by COVID-19 and its consequences.

Despite the great challenges we are facing, ELBA is optimistic as together we have already shown our capabilities to be adaptable and proactive. We ask our members and community partners to continue taking part in the conversation on being proactive in how to best organise corporate volunteering during times of lockdown easing. We are all in this together and together, we can build a stronger community.

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Written by Amadiora Emechete, Project Manager on the Challenge:ELBA team

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