When the announcement was first made for NZ to move immediately into Level 3, Volunteering Otago had already behind operating behind closed doors for a week, and we had been proactively planning for supporting our volunteers and members in a very different way. We thought we had this all figured out, and that by the end of rāhui, we could start to go back to normal, even if we thought that normal wouldn’t actually start again for 18 months afterwards.
One thing that is abundantly clear however, is that there is no going back to normal. I’ve made the joke that “all those meetings really could have been an email” numerous times. No one forsaw the rise and widespread use of Zoom, especially when Messenger, Whatsapp and Skype had been at front and centre of video chats for years already. What we did realise, very rapdily, that we were being taught that our work could operate from home, and it could be done well even with the competing demands of home and family placed upon us. With funding for the volunteer sector going ahead looking shaky at best, our best guess is that this model during rāhui will become the new normal – even if we are allowed to return to our offices in three weeks time.
There has been planning galore for Level 3. At Volunteering Otago, we have been looking ahead 100% of the time, developing strategies, template and resources that can support volunteer involving organisations. We’re proud to present our Volunteering Under the Alert Bubbles, so that people and volunteer organisations know the basics of what is expected of them at the different alert levels. These have been recognised by volunteer centres as far away as Northern Ireland, so they’ve already travelled a fair bit across the world!
Everything that we do travels – but of course, we’re mostly focused on the Otago and Southland regions. We’re supporting the community in so many ways, from phone and online support, through to meal and grocery deliveries. This kind of volunteering is both what we normally do and what we don’t. S.O.S. volunteers, or spontaneous volunteers, only crop up in the community when there is an emergency and how to support and coordinate spontaneous volunteers is incredibly complex as there usually aren’t many systems in place to vet and place volunteers in a short timeframe. Volunteering Otago made the early decision to have all our S.O.S. volunteers sign up without registering with the Volunteering Otago database. Our intent is that volunteers who sign up during this time have the ability to do so easily and without worrying about how that information may be held in the future.
While spontaneous volunteers are so important during our Level 4 rāhui, these volunteers will be the backbone of the volunteer support system as we descend down the alert levels. People over the age of 70 won’t be able to volunteer until we’ve exited the alert system completely, which for a lot of volunteer organisations, represents a rather large amount of their volunteer workforce. We’re extremely lucky in Dunedin in that volunteers are generally equally split between retirees, employed and students, but the same is not true for Clutha, Invercargill or Waitaki. If volunteers are needed in the long term, we encourage volunteer involving organisations and community groups to get in touch. With over 1500 volunteers who have signed up during Level 4, and over 5000 already on our database in Dunedin, we will be able to support organisations as much as we can.
The ripple effect of this pandemic and how we’ve responded to it as a community will continue to spread well beyond the end of the alert levels. For our sector, there will be no going back to normal, and the needs of our programmes look set to increase. We’re keen for collaboration – whether that be support or whether that be coordination – whatever your needs are, we’ll be here. Volunteering Otago is primed and ready, and our ripple is ready to extend into yours.
Take care out there!