Adapting Charity Services during Coronavirus – An Interview with Royal Voluntary Service

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Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been refreshing to hear from different charities and community groups about how they have adapted their services to continue to support their beneficiaries, volunteers and staff members.

One charity who is doing a fantastic job is Royal Voluntary Service. Prior to COVID-19, Royal Voluntary Service ran hundreds of activities, clubs and groups – but following the implementation of social distancing measures they had to improvise and so created a Virtual Village Hall which welcomes people from all over the UK. As well as this, they set up the NHS Responders Programme to ensure the NHS can continue caring for their patients.

We interviewed Stacey Smalley, Regional Fundraising Manager for Royal Voluntary Service to learn more about the Virtual Village Hall & the NHS Responders Programme, the biggest challenges facing charities right now and her advice for managing volunteers as well as recruiting volunteers.

Can you tell me about Royal Voluntary Service and the work they do?

“In every corner of Britain, Royal Voluntary Service mobilises volunteers to support those in need, in hospital and in the community. Through the gift of voluntary service, our volunteers provide much-needed support for over-stretched public services and for people as they age. Our volunteers work at scale in the NHS, freeing up NHS staff to dedicate more time to patient care, and within communities to give practical help and support to people as they age.

Our volunteers help in all sorts of ways; they provide practical help and companionship, deliver books to those who love reading, but can’t get to their local library and drive people that can’t get out and about to GP or hospital appointments, shopping trips and to local social events and activities.

They run clubs and groups in local communities where older people can socialise, take part in interesting activities and enjoy something to eat and drink.

They provide exercise classes, activities and companionship for older people in hospital and support them with their return home.

They run hospital welcome desks and Hospital Shops, Cafés and Trolley Services.”

How did you personally get into charity fundraising – and what do you enjoy most about it?

“I have worked in charity fundraising for over 14 years and during this time my passion for volunteers grew.  I joined Royal Voluntary Service in 2019 to help raise money for the amazing work our volunteers do in hospitals and the community.

I enjoy the variety of people you meet working for charity, people from all corners of Britain, companies, local groups, individuals all with a desire to help others either by donating money, taking on a personal challenge or volunteering their time.”

What is the NHS Responders programme and how does the Royal Voluntary Service support it?

“NHS Volunteer Responders was set up to support the NHS and the care sector during the Covid-19 outbreak.  An ‘army’ of hundreds of thousands of volunteers have stepped up to support vulnerable people in England who are at most risk from the virus.  These volunteers are matched via the GoodSAM app with members of their community who need support to stay well at home.

Royal Voluntary Service is delivering the program, ID checking, recruiting and supporting the volunteers who sign up.  To ensure the NHS can continue caring for their patients.”

Have you had to adapt any of your services since COVID-19? Have you seen success with any new initiatives?

“Prior to Covid-19 Royal Voluntary Service ran hundreds of activity & lunch clubs, hospital café’s and shops and home library services.  In addition to this we offered companionship and practical help with shopping and transport to essential appointments.

During the outbreak of Covid-19 we adapted all our services and changed our offering to safe and well-being calls to all our clients and many of our older volunteers.  These calls are to check in with them and ask if they need any help with shopping, prescriptions and also transport to essential oncology appointments.

Lockdown conditions are particularly tough for older people and those living alone and we wanted to offer something practical to relieve the sense of isolation and boredom that many people are experiencing. So, we created Virtual Village Hall. Visitors to the Virtual Village Hall will find lots of activities that they might already enjoy doing as well as a wide range of new things to try. Activities have been designed to do at home and require very little space or equipment.  This is has been a huge success welcoming people from all over the UK to take part in baking, arts, exercise, dance and technical tips (digital cameras and using Zoom!).”

How do you see the rest of 2020 shaping up? What measures are you putting into place?

“This has been a hugely challenging time for everyone, for us as a charity we have seen a massive decline in income due to all large events being cancelled, events like the London Marathon, Tough Mudder and many more all across the country.

As we move into the next phase of the Coronavirus pandemic, from the immediate acute crisis, Royal Voluntary Service is needed more than ever before as lockdown eases for some of the population.  We have launched our Emergency Appeal aiming to raise £5million to enable us to continue to provide a lifeline to tens of thousands of older and vulnerable people and meet new emerging challenges, now and in the months to come.

As more of the NHS Responder volunteers return to work the people they were supporting will still need our help, so we need to make sure we are there for them going forward.”

What are the biggest challenges to Royal Voluntary Service, and charities in general, since COVID-19?

“We are in the same situation as many companies, it is the decline in income from events and traditional fundraising.  On top of this many people who would normally donate to charity are finding themselves in financially tough times so are less able to give to charity, so this will continue for quite a while.”

What would you say to anyone interested in volunteering but not knowing where to start?

“Just go for it! I started volunteering at 15, helping at a local hospital tea shop.  I really enjoyed the experience meeting new people, the satisfaction I got helping people, making them smile at a stressful time visiting hospital.

I have volunteered ever since, helping marshal charity walks, setting up Santa Jog events, delivering food parcels – it is all hugely rewarding, you have so much fun.

Volunteering is more than delivering a task without payment. It’s about giving the gift of your time, talent and skills.  Every year, our volunteers provide 500,000 working days of support to the NHS and diverse communities across Britain – and everyone’s volunteering journey will be different.  We know that our volunteers do their best work when they’re making the most of their unique talents. That’s why we’re here to help you find the role that suits you and your skills best.

Visit our website for opportunities (there are limited roles at the moment due to social distancing but more roles will be added as and when it is safe to do so).”

Do you have any advice for other charities reading this, in terms of managing volunteers during COVID-19?

“There are so many organisations in Britain that rely on their volunteers and they have absolutely shined through this challenging time.

Our volunteers are the most valuable asset we have and we want to ensure they are safe, well and still helping those in need.

I think it’s so important to keep in contact with our volunteers, updates on the work the charity is doing, explaining the changes we have had to make and how they can continue to help with this. 

We hope to meet up with our new volunteers as soon as it is safe to do so, and welcome them to our team.”

For more information on volunteering, read our guide on How to volunteer during coronavirus

About BHIB Charities Insurance

BHIB Charities Insurance specialise in providing tailored cover for community groups, clubs, societies, voluntary organisations and hobby or special interest groups. We offer more than just insurance and we are passionate about supporting local communities.

To find out how we can help your charity or not-for-profit organisation, email us on or call 0330 013 0036 to speak to our friendly, expert team.

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