Maintaining volunteering efforts during COVID-19
How volunteers have provided vital services across Wrexham and Flintshire.
In this blog, our Audit Leads, Gwilym Bury and David Wilson, share how volunteers across Wrexham and Flintshire have provided vital services to communities throughout the course of the COVID19 pandemic.
Association of Voluntary Organisations (AVOW), Wrexham
The Association of Voluntary Organisations in Wrexham (AVOW) has worked closely with Wrexham County Borough Council to tackle the impact of COVID19. The Chief Officer of AVOW has been vice chair of the local Regional Community Resilience sub-group since before COVID19 “lockdown” and is a member of the Council’s Emergency Management & Response Team (EMRT). This brings an added perspective to decision making around the local COVID19 response and much needed extra capacity. AVOW has produced and circulated a weekly bulletin to around 1,500 readers both within the Council and local community and it has coordinated the work of local volunteers.
One of AVOW’s strengths is their knowledge of community networks. They understand the needs of different communities within Wrexham and can use their positive relationships with community leaders to explain the rationale for some of the actions to tackle COVID19 and thereby increase take up and compliance with measures introduced.
Since the start of the COVID19 pandemic, the number of volunteer recruits has increased considerably, and they have been able to support many people shielding and others who needed the support of a foodbank or practical help. As people start returning to work, the challenge for AVOW is to retain as much volunteer support as possible and continue to play a key role in working with the Council to support local communities.
AVOW, like most organisations, have embraced the increased use of technology to maintain safe distancing. They have facilitated a “virtual celebration tea” event and many virtual meetings with local groups. However, use of virtual technology has also been challenging for some who have been unable to access virtual technology platforms. As the pandemic continues to ebb and flow, AVOW will need to consider the positive aspects of virtual business and how it can capitalise on this going forward.
Regional Community Cohesion Service (RCC)
Wrexham council works in partnership with Denbighshire and Flintshire councils to deliver a Regional Community Cohesion Service (RCC) for North East Wales. The service supports around 40 community groups and third sector organisations that in turn actively support minority communities in Wrexham.
Since March 2020, RCC has continued to support communities although as with most services, the focus has adapted to address the challenges posed by COVID19. In total around £20,000 has been awarded in grants to support specific schemes such as:
- provision of food parcels, personal protective equipment and online support;
- translated information packs;
- summer holiday socially distanced activities;
- support in relation to domestic violence and substance misuse during Covid-19;
- post Covid-19 volunteering and community engagement opportunities; and
- supporting the local Traveller Community during Covid-19 with remote education support.
The RCC is not sitting back on its laurels. It has a seat on the Wales Council for Voluntary Action Emergency Covid-19 funds panel and is working with AVOW and key partners to identify and secure larger and more sustainable funds to support minority communities and individuals with projected characteristics.
Flintshire Local Voluntary Council (FLVC)
Before the pandemic, Flintshire County Council did not have a recognised Council wide volunteers’ network; each Council service was responsible for recruiting and managing its own volunteers potentially leading to duplication and gaps in the volunteer provision.
In response to the pandemic, the Council’s Social Services (via the local Flintshire Local Voluntary Council (FLVC)) initially recruited over 70 volunteers. The demand for volunteers started low, but as the pandemic has developed and services re-opened, there has been an increasing demand for support from volunteers.
Key principles of the approach are:
- The Council works closely with the Flintshire Local Voluntary Council (FLVC). Using the Welsh Government Volunteering Wales website, the FLVC recruited over 200 volunteers for Flintshire County Council (including the 70+ for Social Services). FLVC signposts volunteers to appropriate community groups and matches skills, experiences, and interests;
- Before the pandemic, the FLVC already had access to a directory of validated community organisations (i.e. those organisations that were constituted; had appropriate training and policies in place; and completed DBS checks on volunteers). The directory showed what community organisations operated in what locality and listed the services they offered. FLVC offer support to the network of groups in the directory including training and accessing grants.
- Social Services are developing a strategy to look at the options for volunteers as the Council moves forward. This includes longer term options, such as using volunteering as a steppingstone into employment.
- In the medium term, the Council is concerned that there will be certain areas where needs like mental health support will have increased. Deploying volunteers to support individuals and families; complete well-being visits; and to support parks, facilities and countryside services could all bring benefit. The Volunteering Group Recovery Plan is exploring the potential to develop a future network of Council volunteers.
The FLCV provides the Council with a number of benefits:
- A co-ordinated approach was already in place, so clear processes existed for anyone offering their help and anyone who needed help;
- There was a mechanism in place to support the newly forming community groups;
- Identification at an early stage of unmet needs within the community and capacity issues within community groups.
- Joined up approach to ensuring assessment of eligibility for services i.e. Welsh Government Food parcels and consistent messages given to the public
- Well-established processes were in place so the response to help vulnerable people was immediate, as was the recruitment of new volunteers;
- The Council did not have to create new processes or additional resources to validate any community organisations;
- The Council was assured the FLVC was signposting volunteers to validated groups; and
- The FLVC was already supporting existing community groups.
About the Authors:
Dave Wilson is an Audit Lead with responsibility for the local government performance audit programme of work at Denbighshire and Wrexham councils. Before moving to Audit Wales he worked for councils in North West England, the Audit Commission and a private sector audit firm.
Gwilym Bury is an Audit Lead with responsibility for the local government performance audit programme of work at Flintshire and Conwy councils. Before moving to Audit Wales he worked in the civil service, local government, and housing associations in London and Wales.