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Learning from the Pandemic

EPDF and EPUB available Open Access under CC-BY licence.

The COVID-19 pandemic transformed the landscape of voluntary action. Some volunteering projects had to be paused, while others were delivered in different ways, but across all four UK nations large numbers of people began volunteering for the first time.

This book provides an overview of the constraints and opportunities of mobilising voluntary action across the four UK jurisdictions during the pandemic. Sector experts and academics examine the divergent voluntary action policy frameworks adopted, the state and non-state supported volunteer responses, the changes in the profile of volunteers and the plans to sustain their involvement.

This book addresses the urgent policy and practice need for evidence-based considerations to support the recovery from the pandemic and to prepare for future emergencies.

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Chapter One outlines the research approach adopted: the methods we used, the theoretical lens that informed our analysis, and the interdisciplinary and collaborative ways in which we worked. Methodologically, the same approach was used for data collection and analysis across the four jurisdictions undertaken by teams based in each country. In each country we examined pandemic policy documents, published research on the impact of the pandemic on voluntary action, commissioned national surveys and undertook elite interviews.

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This chapter will explore the implications of the pandemic in terms of constructing respective voluntary action policies across the four jurisdictions. It will do this by focusing on the prevailing policy context within each of the four jurisdictions. This will provide a within-case analysis. The chapter will then move to offer a comparative analysis of how these prevailing policy contexts structured the jurisdictional responses and how these were enabled or constrained by the prevailing orthodoxy.

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In this chapter we will summarise the key messages of the book, including a more fluid understanding of voluntary action, as an embodied practice and as a spectrum of participation (Eden Communities Report, 2021). The Eden Communities Report builds on the work of Mike Woolvin (Smith et al, 2010; Woolvin and Hardill, 2013), which we will develop further. With organisational finances and staff under severe strain, delivering blended services, forging new partnerships, voluntary action has changed but it remains very much ‘who we are’ and ‘what we do’, however with an urgent need for a new roadmap for a sustainable future, including the policy decisions needed to support recovery following the pandemic. The chapter will close by concluding that voluntary action has the potential to become richer and more responsive to the societal challenges ahead.

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Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has had extraordinary effects on the voluntary sector across the four nations of the UK. The advent of the pandemic was preceded by a renegotiation of social policy, and this has played out differently in the four UK nations, which is reflected in variations in relations between the state and the voluntary sector. In this chapter, we draw on the findings of an ESRC-funded project co-produced by a UK-wide team of academics and practitioners. During the pandemic, the work of some volunteer-involving organisations had to be paused, the delivery of some projects reconfigured and new groups and organisations have been established to alleviate the economic and social consequences of the crisis. The chapter focuses on the challenges facing the voluntary sector across the four nations as they move to recovery and reflects on the policy adjustments that would strengthen voluntary sector responses.

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