Volunteering has definitely been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Wonthaggi SES Controller Jarrod Hargreaves

 

National Volunteer Week May 17-23: VOLUNTEERS provide essential support to community organisations and the overall wellbeing of Australia, especially in regional areas, remote from the array of services big cities provide.

But the reality is, that there has been a 20 per cent decline in the number of volunteer hours contributed between 2014 and 2019, a rate of decline that has only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And according to Volunteering Australia, those numbers aren’t rebounding.

As a result, they’ve made a submission to the Federal Budget, seeking support for a reinvigoration action plan.

“Volunteering is essential to the nation’s recovery and its ongoing wellbeing. Volunteers play vital roles in disability, health, welfare and aged care services, sports and the arts, environmental protection, and disaster resilience, response, and recovery.

“Volunteering supports the mental health of volunteers and builds social cohesion and community resilience which will be much needed in the coming years.”

But the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on volunteering. Overall, two in three volunteers (65.9 per cent) stopped volunteering during COVID-19, amounting to an estimated loss of 12.2 million hours per week of volunteer work.

The capacity to recruit new volunteers, adapt volunteer programs and absorb higher operating costs (due to COVID-19 safe workplace requirements) is constraining recovery.

“Volunteering was facing challenges prior to COVID-19,” said Volunteering Australia.

“Volunteering participation has been declining over time. The formal volunteering rate declined from 36% in 2010 to 29% in 2019, with the decline most evident for women. Volunteers contributed nearly 600 million hours to the community in 2019; a 20% decrease since 2014.”

This year was the hardest year ever to find volunteers, said Stony Creek FNC President Mark LePage.

Those numbers certainly ring true for Wonthaggi SES Controller Jarrod Hargreaves who acknowledged more difficulty recruiting new members or getting active members to turn out during COVID and post-lockdown.

“Yes those numbers would be pretty realistic and it’s not just us. Everyone has been having trouble attracting volunteers in recent years, only increasing during the pandemic.

“We’re also finding that more people needing time away for various reasons.

“We’ve actually changed the way we do recruitment. We used to just take anyone who walked in the door and got them started but we have an annual intake of trainees now, so that we can support them better as a group with training and also because it’s less disruptive to the group.

“But I’ve got to say our recruitment efforts have been a lot less successful in recent times than we’d like.”

Wonthaggi SES is down to about eight active volunteers at the moment, people who turnout regularly to emergency response calls and training, while there would be an additional eight available at irregular times.

“We’d like to get that up to 12 or 15 active members, especially those available to turnout to calls during the day, recognising problems with work commitments.”

Disasters don’t only come around at night.

One of the biggest services local SES branches perform is turning out for storm damage but they also attend road accidents and other emergency events to provide accident equipment and lighting.

It’s an important role that many people don’t see unless they come across one of their distinctive orange trucks at an accident or emergency.

And as important as emergency services are, it’s not just at the CFA and SES where recruitment has been made more difficult by the pandemic.

At the Stony Creek Football Netball Club, president Mark LePage said the club had more difficulty attracting volunteers in 2020-21 than any previous year.

“Traditionally we’ve never struggled for people willing to do the various jobs around the club, but as a result of the pandemic, we’ve been well down on numbers,” Mr LePage said recently.

“It’s certainly had an impact and it’s not just us.”

Mr LePage said despite not being able to run its usual fundraising functions in the past year, club finances were good but getting volunteer numbers back up had been the biggest challenge.

 

Volunteering Australia Budget Submission recommendations:

  1. A Reinvigorating Volunteering Action Plan. The plan would enable volunteers to reengage safely, support the adaptation of volunteer programs, and facilitate the recruitment of new volunteers to ensure services and programs can continue.
  2. A National Strategy on Volunteering. Investment in developing a strategic and whole of government approach to volunteering will address the decline in volunteering and enable key government-funded services to be sustainable.
  3. A National Youth Volunteering Initiative. At a time when paid jobs are scarce, this initiative could mitigate against poor mental health outcomes for young unemployed people and support pathways to paid employment.
  4. A nationally co-ordinated approach to volunteer engagement in emergencies. As the frequency and scale of emergencies in Australia increases, a nationally co-ordinated approach will help to mobilise volunteers rapidly, safely, and effectively.
  5. Investment in the Aged Care volunteer workforce. Sector Support and Development funding within the Commonwealth Home Support Program should be extended nationally, and investment allocated to fund the Aged Care Royal Commission’s volunteering recommendations.