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Being COVID-safe: An Important Challenge for Volunteers and Volunteering-involving Organisations

By November 16, 2021 No Comments

As Victoria rapidly heads towards the 90% vaccination milestone, volunteers and volunteers involving organisations (VIOs) are grappling with important challenges as they navigate the winding path to recovery by meeting the needs of their communities while protecting one another in the process.

Volunteering Victoria recognises the goodwill shown by the volunteering sector when it comes to implementing COVID safe practices. From local sport clubs to op shops and community transport programs, the desire to adhere to the Victorian Government rules and protocols is undeniable. What is currently less clear is if volunteers and VIOs have the required resources to implement and sustain such major changes.

A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald on the return of community cricket clearly demonstrates the added pressure and headaches for volunteers and VIOs aiming to turn their desire to comply into a reality. The guidance provided can vary greatly depending on the settings. Volunteers are asked to police the rules and divergent interpretations have the potential to generate a high level of confusion. As can be seen in this recent announcement from a Melbourne canoe club, the uncertainty surrounding the rules and protocols can even lead to the cancellation of activities.

Beyond the sport sector, so many VIOs face similar difficulties. To help answer questions and dilemmas, Volunteering Victoria extends an invitation to attend our upcoming webinar on Wednesday, 24 November 2021, from 10 to 11am. Executives from the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing will address questions and concerns pertaining to the vaccine mandate and the COVID roadmap.

To register for the webinar or submit a question, please click on the links below:

Beyond the immediate – The Case for a Volunteer COVID Recovery Fund

Beyond addressing the more immediate needs of programs and activities, Volunteering Victoria is advocating for the Victorian Government to secure a Volunteer COVID Recovery Fund to allow VIOs to manage COVID safe practices in the longer term.

Consultation with the sector has identified key areas where VIOs require funding and support to manage the extra measures required to ensure the safety of volunteers and service users in the context of COVID-19. The viability of volunteering programs and activities of a great number of VIOs is currently at risk and this financial support could make a real the difference across the sector through:

  • The provision of COVID safe training to returning volunteers;
  • The development and implementation of COVID-related volunteering policy and procedures;
  • The recruitment of contract/temporary staff to support the return of volunteers and adherence to COVID safe protocols;
  • The implementation of specific post COVID-19 re-engagement activities for volunteers;
  • The development of engagement and promotion measures to encourage, support and increase participation in volunteering.

Community Transport – A Case Study

The community transport sector offers a stark example of the extra burden COVID safe practices impose on organisations. Community transport programs provide crucial community services that rely on volunteer drivers and community organisers. This already under-resourced sector has had their services stretched during the COVID-19 pandemic as they attempt to provide increased support to communities with fewer volunteers.

Marnie O’Loughlin of the Eastern Volunteers Community Transport program stresses that “Covid has changed the common profile of a Volunteer Driver as they are often over 55 years old and concerned about volunteering activities that offer high possible exposure to COVID-19. With fewer volunteers, restrictions on how we deliver services in a COVID safe way and increased cleaning requirements, we are not able to return to the same level of service delivery to the community. This means vulnerable members of the community are missing out on essential services”.

Such limitations and risks are not only impacting community transport organisations across Victoria but find echo throughout the whole volunteering sector.

VIOs need the deliberate financial support of the State Government over the next 12 months to re-engage volunteers and ensure volunteer programs are COVID safe, and Volunteering Victoria will continue to strongly advocate for this outcome.