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Coronavirus and volunteering: how can I help in the UK?

I want to help. Where can I find about about volunteering?

There are plenty of ways to get involved. Many local charities will be keen to attract new volunteers – especially as older stalwarts are forced to stay at home. Or there are national schemes, such as NHS volunteer responders. Some bigger charities, such as the Trussell Trust food bank network, have set up their own online schemes to match volunteers with food banks in their area. Local volunteer centres and organisations such as Volunteering Matters and Do-it can link you up with charities close to where you live. Reach Volunteering will match people with specialist professional skills, such IT expertise, to charities who need their help.

How do I volunteer for the NHS?

The health service in England has put out a call for volunteer responders to help medical staff with tasks such as: delivering medicines from pharmacies; driving patients to appointments; bringing them home from hospital; and making regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home. More than 500,000 people have already signed up. More details are on the NHS England website.

I’ve got work and family duties, but keen to get involved. How can I help?

Keeping an eye out for neighbours and family members is the simplest way to help people who are vulnerable, lonely, self-isolating or busy key workers. Help could mean anything from running errands to the shops to providing a friendly voice of reassurance and support. Covid-19 Mutual Aid was set up to co-ordinate “good neighbour” initiatives and has lists of local groups in your area, together with details of how to help people safely.

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Am I allowed to volunteer under the ‘stay at homerules?

Yes. According to Shaun Delaney of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, exceptions to the guidance include people needing to travel to provide care to others. “In other words, people can go out to volunteer if they are providing help to vulnerable people or if their volunteering cannot be done from home.” If you are deemed high risk – you are aged over 70 or have underlying health issues – there are volunteering opportunities that you can do by phone or computer from home.

Is volunteering safe?

Be sensible and vigilant. If you are helping out neighbours, please remember physical distancing rules: try to communicate by phone or text; don’t enter people’s houses and always stay at least two metres away. Look after yourself, don’t go on an errand for a neighbour if you are ill or self-isolating. Wash your hands regularly.

What if volunteering involves face-to-face contact?

There are inescapable health risks from face-to-face volunteering and no guarantees that you will have adequate personal protective equipment. For this reason many voluntary projects, such as community kitchens and day centres, have shut down services. However, others are adapting to try to minimise the risks of infection through physical contact or close proximity. Some face-to-face befriending services, for example, have been replaced by phone or online alternatives.

Will donating money to charities help?

Yes. Charities both small and large have been devastated by the sudden drop in voluntary income caused by the cancellation or postponement of fundraising gatherings, ranging from fetes and coffee mornings to the London marathon. Those with high street retail outlets have also been hit by shop closures. UK charities estimate they will lose over £4bn over the next few weeks. Without cash, thousands of charities, including hospices, health and social care, and cancer support charities will be forced to reduce services, or in some cases even close down.

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Where should I donate to help the coronavirus support effort?

The immediate focus is on charities that can provide emergency frontline support to vulnerable people affected by the social impact of coronavirus, including food banks and care organisations helping older, isolated and disabled people and their families. There are more than 14 million people living on the breadline in the UK, and they will be badly hit by the economic crisis caused by Covid-19. Other organisations that need help include those providing welfare advice and emotional and respite support.

How can I ensure my money is getting to the frontline?

One of the safest ways of giving is to donate to the National Emergencies Trust. This charity is co-ordinating the UK coronavirus disaster voluntary relief effort, providing a single online portal for donations from individuals and companies. The money will be rapidly distributed in the form of small grants to recognised local charities via 46 established regional community foundations covering the whole of the UK. The NET coronavirus appeal raised over £12m in its first week.


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