Emerging from the coronavirus pandemic: bringing volunteers back safely

April 8, 2021 Tags: , , , , , ,

Do we need to ask volunteers whether they’re pregnant or shielding?

If we use facilities at the same time as another group, how do we make sure shared areas such as toilets are clean?

With coronavirus restrictions beginning to ease across England, it’s understandable that people running voluntary groups have questions about restarting community activities and – most importantly – keeping volunteers safe from the risk of Covid-19.

On Monday 29 March we held an online small-group session to talk through worries and share ideas. It was led by Emma Woolf, chair of Birmingham Community Matters and the Friends of Cotteridge Park group, and Rob Jones, who runs Moseley-based Misfits Music.

Emma and Rob have vast experience in managing volunteers both pre-pandemic and during those spells in 2020 when restrictions were sufficiently eased for community activity to take place.

Together we explored three main areas of ‘stress’ surrounding the return of volunteering. Namely:

  • Emotional – dealing with our own worries about feeling responsible for other people, as well as reassuring volunteers who may be nervous
  • Practical – making physical adjustments to the area we’re using, such as one-way systems and places for hand sanitising
  • Paperwork – updating our policies to ensure (and record) that we have considered our duty of care to volunteers in light of Covid-19

We talked about dividing tasks into two sections:

  • What do we need to do before volunteers return?
  • What do we have to do when they come back?

For attendees who expressed particular areas of concern, we were able to match them with other attendees who had overcome similar challenges (such as working with children unable to social distance, or writing a focused risk assessment). This is where BCM’s peer-to-peer learning model comes into play, reflecting in our belief and motto that ‘Everyone has something to learn and everyone has something to teach’.

In light of that, here are some great ideas shared during the session. We’d also love to hear from you if you have further suggestions, questions, experiences or resources – feel free to comment below.

  • Keep sight of the fact that you can only do what is reasonably possible to keep people safe. Volunteers also have responsibility for their personal health and safety. Your pre-activity communications offer a good opportunity to remind people of basic Covid-19 precautions, such as keeping a two-metre distance, wearing a face covering indoors, washing hands, and staying at home and isolating if you have any symptoms. At this point you could also remind people that their attendance at your group or activity assumes they are aware of the risks of coronavirus and, if they have additional health risks, it is up to them to decide whether they are comfortable in resuming volunteering activities.
  • Consider sending out a short survey to volunteers beforehand to gauge how they’re feeling about returning, and to discover practical things you may need to consider for individuals or the whole group.
  • Update your health & safety and volunteering policies for your use, then condense the Covid safety measures into a handy list for volunteers, so they’re user-friendly and non-intimidating.
  • Think about other things you need to consider about opening a venue that has been closed for a while – such as ensuring you run taps and flush loos to prevent a build-up of harmful legionella bacteria.
  • Depending on what your group does, it may be helpful to physically ‘plot out’ your venue to visualise where people will be and how they will social distance. Go in beforehand with a tape measure and masking tape for the floor!

> Download our slides from the ‘Bringing volunteers back safely session’.

Here are some further resources shared during the session and afterwards that may be useful to you:

Example documents from the Friends of Cotteridge Park:
> Covid-19 safe operating policy
> Covid-19 risk assessment
> Track and trace form template

Resources from St Francis Youth & Community Centre in Bournville:
> Risk assessment template
> Individual risk assessment template

> Covid-19 Safer Community Centres pamphlet produced by IF-DO, acre (Action with Communities in Rural England) and Clarion Futures – kindly shared during the session by Kate Gordon

> Covid-19 parish risk assessment template from the Church of England – shared by St Francis Youth and Community Centre

> Summary of an indoor rehearsal risk assessment – shared by Rob Jones of Misfits Music.

Other useful links (with thanks to St Francis Youth and Community Centre for many of these!): 

Working safely during coronavirus

New information to help village halls reopen

Covid-19: guidance for the safe use of multi-purpose community facilities
Covid-19: cleaning of non-healthcare settings outside the home
Create a coronavirus NHS QR code for your venue

Health and Safety Executive
Making your workplace Covid-secure during the coronavirus pandemic

Local Government Association
Avoid potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease by checking water before reopening

NHS Employers
Supporting staff health and safety

And here’s a great video about re-opening safely made by the manager at Marston Green Parish Hall in Solihull.

Thank you to our attendees, and to Emma and Rob for leading such a reassuring and positive session. BCM plans to hold a similar small-group sessions every six weeks or so, as coronavirus lockdown measures are eased further. If you’re interested in joining us, email info@birminghamcommunitymatters.org.uk with details of your Birmingham project or group.

Below: an overview of the roadmap out of lockdown in England, courtesy of Printweek. (Here’s the government roadmap summary in case the image is difficult to view.)

 We’ve got more events coming up for you and your Birmingham-based community or voluntary group: view our event listings