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Volunteers' week 2021: A time to say thanks to all volunteers during the pandemic

To mark the launch of Volunteers’ Week 2021, 1-7 June, a government minister and charities around the UK are encouraging everyone to use it as ‘a time to say thanks’ to all those volunteering during the coronavirus pandemic.

A time to say thanks after a difficult year

The theme of this year’s Volunteers’ Week is ‘A time to say thanks’. The aim of the week is to encourage recognition of the efforts of people from all walks of life around the UK who took the time to volunteer and make a huge difference to their communities during an exceptionally difficult year. Without the efforts of these volunteers up and down the country during the pandemic – delivering everything from emergency food to vaccines – we would not be in our current position where we are able to slowly emerge from lockdown.

Volunteers’ Week is an annual campaign, now entering its 37th year, which sees charities, voluntary groups, social organisations, and volunteers themselves come together to recognise the incredible impact that volunteering has in UK communities. This year hundreds of events, both online and in-person, will take place to celebrate the huge range of ways in which volunteers give their time.

Each day of Volunteers’ Week 2021 focuses on a different theme to ensure recognition of the roles different types of volunteering have played in communities across the UK in the last 12 months. This will include youth volunteering (2 June), employer supported and skilled volunteering (3 June), and environmental and conservation volunteering (5 June). The week will also highlight the stories of volunteers through their own ‘Volunteer Voices’ (4 June) and encourage everyone to celebrate the impact of volunteers in their own community through The Big Lunch (6 June).

The impact of the pandemic on volunteering

Volunteering has been one of the positive stories of the past year, with people signing up to support our NHS or joining local neighbourhood groups to help those shielding. Recent research found 12.4 million people volunteering during the pandemic, with 4.6 million of them doing so for the first time. Over 3000 mutual aid groups have been created and an estimated 3 million people took part in one.

Increases in volunteering were also notable among younger and working-age groups, and people identifying as ethnic minorities were also more likely to start volunteering during the first national lockdown. The ‘Isolation Economy’ brought on by the pandemic is estimated to have been worth £357 million a week during the first lockdown.

The pandemic also saw the rise of digital volunteering. Before the pandemic, only 6% of people volunteered exclusively online. With over 80% of UK adults not leaving home during the first lockdown, people needed new ways to engage in volunteering. A recent survey showed 92% of voluntary organisations stated that they had moved services online in the past year as a result of the pandemic and 39% had increased the number of volunteer roles being carried out remotely.

Minister for Civil Society and Youth, Baroness Barran, said:
“Over the past very difficult year, I have been heartened to see volunteers step up to help their communities cope with unprecedented hardships.
“We have seen the value of a connected society and the vast range of opportunities to get involved. From the NHS Volunteer Responders to numerous local initiatives, volunteers have ensured that families had access to food and supplies, as well as contributing to the success story that is the British vaccination programme.
“This Volunteers’ Week, I’d like to thank the volunteers across the country, and encourage everyone to get involved in the events this week to celebrate those who helped us in our time of need.”

Sarah Vibert, interim chief executive at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), which coordinates Volunteers’ Week in England, said:
“Volunteers’ Week is an important chance for everyone to recognise all of those who have delivered vital work as volunteers over the past challenging 12 months. There are so many people to thank, from the huge number of first-time volunteers in communities around the country, to all those who usually volunteer but have not been able to because of the pandemic.
“Volunteers are always working at the heart of every UK community. It is hard to overstate the incredible impact they have made during an incredibly difficult year. The pandemic has rightly raised the profile of volunteering and more people than ever are aware of the immense contribution being made every single day by the amazing volunteers across the country. We must ensure this recognition continues. That is why this 37th annual Volunteers’ Week is an important time to say: thank you volunteers!”

Natashia Davies, National Senior Programme Lead for Volunteering at NHS Health Education England, said:
“Volunteers’ Week is our chance to say thank you after an incredibly difficult year. Hundreds of thousands of people have stepped forward to support our NHS through voluntary action. This Volunteers’ Week we will showcase some of the amazing things these volunteers have supported us to do during the pandemic, and say to our regular volunteers who have had to take some time out temporarily to stay safe - we can’t wait to have you back!”

Dave Cliffe, Vaccination Programme Lead for Voluntary Action Leicester, stated:
“Volunteers’ Week is our chance to say thank you after an incredibly difficult year. Hundreds of thousands of people have stepped forward to support our NHS through voluntary action. This Volunteers’ Week we will showcase some of the amazing things these volunteers have supported us to do during the pandemic, and say to our regular volunteers who have had to take some time out temporarily to stay safe - we can’t wait to have you back!”

Catherine Johnstone, CBE, Chief Executive at Royal Voluntary Service said:
“It truly has been a year like no other. I’m incredibly proud of what we have achieved as a sector, including the mobilisation of millions of volunteers up and down the country, both nationally and locally. Volunteers have played an integral part in seeing our communities through the worst of the pandemic and Volunteers’ Week is the perfect opportunity for us to show our heartfelt gratitude for that. Momentum is also building for a further moment in early July, to honour the work of volunteers, and I look forward to continuing to celebrate their contribution. In the past year volunteers have made history and it is imperative that they are recognised and celebrated for this, as they continue to be a huge asset to the nation’s covid-19 recovery as we move forward.”

Denise Hayward, chief executive at Volunteer Now, which coordinates Volunteers’ Week in Northern Ireland, commented:
“Volunteers Week 2021 is a great opportunity to say ‘Thank You’ to all of those existing and new volunteers who have supported the covid response throughout the year. We also want to thank all of those volunteers who are patiently waiting to get back to their face-to-face roles and those who have stopped and started throughout the year in line with the government guidance. As we move through the recovery plan, I hope that we will all be able to safely, embrace volunteering within the new environment to continue to support people and the causes we care about.”

Alan Stevenson, interim CEO at Volunteer Scotland, which coordinates Volunteers’ Week in Scotland, said:
“Volunteers’ Week is a time to thank all of the volunteers in the UK, for the support and services they provide each year. The pandemic has changed volunteering with many more of us helping others within our local neighbourhood than ever before, so taking the time to recognise and thank them for this critical contribution and connection to the most vulnerable in our society is essential. In the last year, countless volunteering programmes have paused, we hope not closed, so this year it is especially important to also recognise those who have been unable to volunteer, or volunteer as regularly, or those who may be anxious about resuming. Let’s celebrate them and look forward to their full return."

Ruth Marks, chief executive at Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA), which coordinates Volunteers’ Week in Wales, commented:
“Volunteering always makes a difference – whether it is to a person, a family, the community or the world. If you were able to volunteer during the pandemic you will have made the world of difference.If you were not able to volunteer last year - you will be welcomed back with open arms. Thank you to everyone who commits their time and energy as a volunteer.”

Volunteers’ Week 2021 is taking place during the #MonthOfCommunity. Running throughout June, the #MonthOfCommunity brings together some great organisations with a range of events including Volunteers’ Week, The Big Lunch and Small Charity Week, and culminates in Thank You Day on 4 July. This collaborative month aims to encourage everyone to think about and join in with the wide variety of positive activities and initiatives happening in local communities across the UK.


Notes to editors.

  • For media enquiries related to Volunteers' Week please contact Sean O’Brien
  • About Volunteers’ Week: Volunteers' Week is a long-standing, national event in the voluntary sector, established in 1984 and now in its 37th year. It is supported and celebrated by small grassroots organisations as well as larger, household-name charities, who together run hundreds of events across the UK. These events showcase and celebrate volunteers and the contribution volunteering makes in our communities. The theme for this year’s Volunteers’ Week is ‘A time to say thanks’ – marking the incredible contribution of volunteers during the coronavirus pandemic. Volunteers’ Week is led in partnership by NCVO, WCVA, Volunteer Scotland, and Volunteer Now. To find out more visit and follow #VolunteersWeek.
  • UK volunteering facts:
    • Read NCVO’s latest research on volunteering during the pandemic.
    • In 2018/19, 19.4 million (36%) people volunteered through a group at least once a year and over 11.9 million (22%) of people did so at least once a month.
    • The most common reason overall for volunteering is wanting to improve things or help people (42%).
    • In 2019/20, there were around 163,000 voluntary organisations in the UK, most of which rely on volunteers.
    • In 2017/18, the voluntary sector contributed £18.2bn to the UK economy. This is equivalent to about 0.9% of GDP.
    • 67% of volunteers give their time to charities and community groups, but many others also volunteer in the public and private sectors.
  • About NCVO: The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) is the largest membership organisation for the voluntary sector in England. With over 16,000 members, NCVO represents all types of organisations, from large ‘household name’ charities to small voluntary and community groups involved at the local level. We are also the lead body for volunteering in England.
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