In the midst of National Volunteers’ Week (1st to 7th June 2020), Angling Trust National Volunteers Manager, Karen Sarkar reflects on the vital contribution volunteers make and explores what the future might look like.
“Incredibly, now in its 36th year, National Volunteers’ Week has not just been about celebrating the fantastic contribution volunteers make (in economic terms, a whopping 23.9bn in the UK annually based on the most recent figures!), but raising awareness of the diversity and opportunities available. Indeed, you wonder where angling would be without its many thousands of volunteers.
A huge thank you to angling’s army of volunteers!
Even though the nature of NVW may have changed during the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus crisis, what is unchanged is the fundamental importance of saying ‘thank you.’ So I wish to start this article with a huge thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who support the work of the Angling Trust.
Many of these unsung heroes will be receiving Volunteer Excellence Awards for going that extra mile, but we should also pay tribute to all the committee members, coaches, stewards, work parties and armies of dedicated unpaid helpers who give up their valuable free time to support the sport they feel so passionately about. Indeed, the survival of clubs, fisheries and without a doubt angling itself relies on the tireless dedication of those who just want to give something back to the sport they love.
Covid-19 and Britain’s incredible community response
For me, during these seemingly endless weeks of shared adversity as this terrible crisis unfolded, it has been truly heart-warming to see in abundance the goodwill and compassion that is an inherent in human nature. Whether it is the incredible mobilisation of 750 thousand people to the NHS Responder Scheme, the spontaneity of the Mutual Aid groups or individuals checking on a vulnerable neighbour, a spotlight was shone on the true essence of volunteering.
Maybe it really isn’t necessary to label these altruistic acts as ‘volunteering,’ which in fact doesn’t have an official definition, but view it within the broader and arguably more relevant context of ‘social action’ which is about people coming together to help improve their lives and solve the problems that are important in their communities. Regardless of how we choose to put others before ourselves by running errands, donating to charity or via a more regular formal role, we are all making a difference. I am put in mind of a recent quote “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
Counting our blessings and valuing volunteers
Being a firm believer in focussing on the positives in any negative situation, perhaps enforced isolation has not only made us value more those things previously taken for granted, such as our personal liberty and contact with loved ones? Times of crisis can certainly make us more grateful for others and take stock of what we value most.
I also hope that we have developed a greater awareness of the therapeutic and environmental value of our ever-diminishing green spaces as well as the importance of taking time out for our mental and physical wellbeing, things that have always been appreciated by anglers as an intrinsic part of our sport. I hope that we will move into a world where a cleaner environment will be valued, more room will be made for nature and ordinary people continue to demonstrate the collective power of small, unselfish gestures as we emerge from isolation.
Volunteering will undoubtedly endure many challenges arising from the decreased capacity of charities big and small, that have already been hit by declining funds and facing a reduced appetite from the public to donate spare time because of financial insecurity. However, to counter this volunteering will, I am certain, continue to be a valuable step in providing an opportunity to gain valuable skills and experience for the workplace in addition to a long list of confidence boosting benefits.
Building a safe, successful future for angling’s volunteers
Now that the recommencement of the sport we love has been achieved by the fantastic effort of the #whenwefishagain campaign and we return to a new reality, we must continue to ensure that this indispensable army of unpaid helpers are not just retained, but protected.
To avoid situations which could be financially harmful, we must continue to ensure that the correct policies and procedures are in place, by having Volunteer Agreements, Role Descriptions, and clear guidelines about things like claiming expenses and standards of behaviour. However, for all organisations who rely on volunteers it will not just be about getting the workforce up and running again and the redeployment of existing volunteers whose roles may have changed, but the emphasis will be about doing it safely. The areas of safeguarding, insurance and risk assessment are already impacted and existing volunteers will need reassurance to support their return to the workforce.
Many more volunteering roles may need to be undertaken remotely, requiring a different approach to how volunteers are managed – something I am personally familiar with during my 6 years supporting the hugely successful Voluntary Bailiff Service. The need for clubs and fisheries to become digitally aware in order to adapt to operating remotely cannot be over emphasised in the future.
With 7 out of 10 clubs needing more volunteers before the pandemic, making your club as welcoming as possible to diverse groups has never been more vital. In the future angling will most definitely no longer be able to depend on the ageing demographic it has relied on for so long, not least because so many will be classed as vulnerable to the virus.
Finally, when we have all of the correct procedures in place it is equally important to provide as positive an experience for volunteers by continuing to demonstrate that they are valued by keeping them informed and connected via regular communication and involvement – now more than ever before.
Thank you for reading this article and to all our brilliant volunteers for all that they do. Below is a list of resources currently available which I hope will provide some valuable help and information.”
National Volunteers Manager, Angling Trust
Useful links and further resources
- The Volunteering Best Practice Guide, produced in partnership with the Environment Agency, is a valuable starting point for clubs and fisheries to begin thinking about making the most of volunteers now and into the future. The Best Practice Guide contains lots of helpful resources and templates, including information on those all-important policies and procedures and can be downloaded via this link: www.anglingtrust.net/VolunteerGuide
- For essential guidance on resuming fishing safely, please visit the Angling Trust Covid 19 Hub.
- Sport England’s Club Matters site is a valuable general source of support for all sports clubs: www.sportenglandclubmatters.com
- The NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations), is also worth a visit as many of its member only resources are currently available to the public: www.ncvo.org.uk/practical-support/information/coronavirus