Forward’s approach to volunteering has changed significantly over the past year, in response to the considerable challenges the pandemic has presented for our service delivery. Volunteering has always been a key part of our service offer, giving service users the opportunity to develop skills, build confidence and progress towards new, sustainable and productive careers. For example, we encourage people who’ve completed treatment to become peer mentors – they’re given accredited training to enable them to support those who are earlier in their recovery journeys and co-deliver programmes and interventions alongside frontline staff. Many progress to full-time paid work at Forward or other service providers. It was therefore important, both to the fulfilment of our mission and the delivery of our services, to ensure our volunteering programme continued to operate.
Volunteering has always been a key part of our service offer, giving service users the opportunity to develop skills, build confidence and progress towards new, sustainable and productive careers.
Our initial task was to ensure existing volunteers were supported effectively, in the face of the practical challenges of lockdown as well as its impact on volunteers’ wellbeing. The second was to slow down recruitment of new volunteers while finding new ways they could engage in our services. In addressing these challenges, we’ve not only been able to continue providing meaningful and rewarding volunteering opportunities, but volunteers have also made a significant contribution to our new and adapted service offerings.
For example, volunteers now play a key role in our digital and remote service delivery. Peer support networks and groups are central to our substance misuse services, and the lockdown forced us to innovate rapidly to ensure they continued through digital channels. Volunteers led new peer support groups via Zoom, and helped to engage service users using the Kaizala messaging app. They were also recruited and trained to deliver our new online chat service alongside permanent staff, which was developed to provide advice and support to people concerned about their drug and alcohol use and related issues during the lockdown.
volunteers now play a key role in our digital and remote service delivery
Interestingly, some of the barriers to volunteering that might be expected did not materialise. For example, many people who want to volunteer with us tend to be most interested in opportunities that involve face-to-face contact. For obvious reasons, these became unavailable during lockdown, but this didn’t alter our volunteers’ interest or commitment – we actually saw an increase in demand for volunteering, including from people in employment.
The pandemic also presented an opportunity to review, improve and diversify our volunteering opportunities, as well as induction and engagement processes. We now have a greater range of volunteer roles, including new mentors for our employment service clients and young offenders, befrienders and volunteers involved in adapting training materials for digital delivery. We’ve also improved our training and induction offer – we now provide training using a more varied range of media, including e-learning, Zoom and online workbooks, giving volunteers more options. In addition, volunteers report feeling more connected to each other, and have built relationships with staff and other volunteers they wouldn’t usually have encountered in face-to-face settings – these positive changes are here to stay.
The pandemic has really brought home the importance of volunteers in everything we do.
The pandemic has really brought home the importance of volunteers in everything we do. I’ve been struck not only by the unfailing demand from people wanting give up their time to support us but their immense commitment and passion. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year but, thanks to our volunteers and the changes we’ve had to implement, it’s also been a fantastic time for volunteering. It’s enabled us to move forward and demonstrate our ability to respond rapidly and adapt.
This article was originally published in DDN magazine.
my experience volunteering with Forward has taught me how to apply the things I’m learning in universityLucy F, Forward volunteer Read Lucy’s story