In 2019 Plunkett reported that 6,000-7,000 people were volunteering in community shops alone. New research from Power to Change suggest there are 206,500 volunteers engaged in community businesses in England. It is impossible to overstate their importance, and never more so, now, as armies of volunteers, old and new, have ensured community businesses remain at the beating heart of their communities. And it is essential in the coming months that this new energy, spirit and enthusiasm is harnessed as the focus of community businesses turns from crisis to recovery.
Rising to the challenge
Rather than seeing volunteer numbers dwindle when the lockdown required the most at-risk to self-isolate, a surge of new people have come forward willing to give time and energy to provide vital services. When community pubs were forced to close their doors, many were swiftly reopening as shops, or offering takeaway and delivery services. Community shops have had legions of volunteers out delivering prescriptions, food and other key supplies to those most in need. Others have had teams of volunteer wardens keeping in contact with the most vulnerable people in their streets making sure they have the supplies they need, or have setup telephone helplines to keep people at risk of isolation in touch with their local community business.
And then there have been those community groups that were at the very early stages of establishing themselves when Covid-19 hit, who have managed to stock their shelves and recruit extra hands in order to open new ‘emergency’ shops amid the crisis. None of this would have been possible without the enthusiasm and energy of volunteers.
The agility and flexibility shown by community businesses and the volunteers behind them fills me with confidence that once this crisis is over we will see a further surge of volunteering as the recovery process gets underway. The resilience and long-time survival rates of community businesses is in part due to the turnover of people involved in running them and the new ideas they inject into the business. So this new surge of volunteering is certainly something to be welcomed and the skills and experiences of those new volunteers should be harnessed for the longer benefit of the business and ultimately, the community.