Pandemic volunteering helps us stay positive

Published Tuesday 23 February 2021 at 14:48

People in Blackburn with Darwen are 90% more likely to volunteer when compared with people from other areas of England, and this is helping them to stay positive about the future.

Research released today from Belong – The Cohesion and Integration Network and the University of Kent has found that areas like Blackburn with Darwen that have invested in social integration programmes are twice as likely to have residents who volunteer to help others during the pandemic.

The ‘Beyond Us & Them’ study of over 15,000 people across the UK has examined factors affecting social cohesion, including how people connect, trust and value those from different backgrounds.

The study’s report, ‘Community, Connection and Cohesion during COVID-19‘, looks at both the experiences of people living in six local authority areas investing in social integration, and the experiences of people across the UK who have been volunteering during the pandemic.

Compared to people living in other parts of the UK, residents of areas investing in social integration programmes felt a higher sense of neighbourliness and were twice as likely to get involved in their community through volunteering.

Blackburn with Darwen is blessed with huge numbers of residents who give their time freely to support others – and those numbers have swelled during the Coronavirus pandemic.

One such resident is 55 year old Neil Colquhoun who lives in Blackburn.

Neil started volunteering last March after seeing an appeal for Telephone Befrienders to support people who were feeling isolated as a result of the first lockdown.

Neil said:

Watching the news as the pandemic hit in the UK, I felt helpless. I knew I needed to step up and do something to support people thorough this horrible time.

Since March I’ve made weekly phone calls to a man called Dennis who was shielding at home and found it very isolating. I have felt better through the pandemic knowing that I’m doing something to help.

Earlier this year, Neil applied to be a volunteer marshal at local vaccination centres. He does one or two shifts a week, juggling volunteering with his work as a Student Safeguarding & Welfare Officer.

Neil added:

I wanted to be a part of the vaccination roll-out as, for me, it’s the light at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic.

I also want to be able to look back on this period and know that I tried to make a difference.

Volunteering is a win-win – someone benefits from a volunteer’s time, and the volunteer gets so much out of it too.

Jo Broadwood, CEO of Belong – The Cohesion and Integration Network, said:

While we’re only halfway through this major research project, the results so far are striking – investing in social cohesion brings really considerable returns, both for individuals and their communities. Being able to stay resilient, maintain community connection and prevent tensions means these communities will emerge from the pandemic more able to rebuild and recover.

Building further on these findings, Belong is getting ready to publish a policy paper that sets out a series of recommendations for local and national government on the conditions needed to allow social cohesion to flourish.

Expected in March, the report references a number of Our Community, Our Future social integration projects managed through Blackburn with Darwen Council.

Coun Mohammed Khan, Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council and Chair of the Our Community, Our Future board:

We have an excellent track record in leading programmes that bring people of different ages, backgrounds and cultures together. This is vital to help us build a stronger borough where everyone feels that they belong.

To have a number of our social integration projects included in Belong’s national policy paper is very pleasing. Working with a wide range of local partners, last year the Our Community, Our Future social integration programme involved over 5,000 people and 230 groups in this important work.

It’s fantastic to know that this work is sowing the seeds for a more optimistic future for them, and for our borough as a whole.

Read the full ‘Community, Connection & Cohesion during COVID-19: Beyond Us and Them Report’ report from Belong – The Cohesion & Integration Network and the University of Kent.

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