The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped NSW residents from participating in community work, a new report has found.

The Centre for Volunteering and the NSW Department of Communities and Justice this week published their findings after surveying over 1,100 volunteers and 1,000 volunteer organisations.

The report found over 4.9 million residents of the state volunteered for a collective 1.5 billion hours in 2020, with the sum of their labour being valued at $127 billion. It’s unclear why the volunteer workforce has continued to grow through such a difficult year however it is clear the way people volunteer has adapted.

“One of the things we did see is that people did reduce their formal volunteering, so volunteering with organisations, but seemed to pick up more informal volunteering, around the community,” said the author of the report Paul Muller, the managing director at the Australian Institute of Project Management.

“I suspect that when we do have lockdowns volunteering drops off in a big way, but it snaps back pretty hard. People when they do come out, are quite keen to engage and give in the community.”

The report surveyed participants on their efforts across 2019 and 2020, finding both the number of volunteers and hours contributed had increased despite the pandemic.

The report found online and at home volunteering made up a third of volunteer work in NSW, an amount that unsurprisingly increased in 2020, this includes work such as online lobbying or admin, childcare, domestic work, and emotional support. Demonstrating the shift in how people are volunteering their time throughout lockdowns and public health orders.

For tens of thousands of people in NSW right now the brutal reality of no money to buy basics to feed themselves or their families is devastating.

Though volunteers may be finding other ways to help within their community, the pandemic has brought plenty of new challenges for volunteer organisations in NSW, many organisations have had their operations affected or completely halted.

The pandemic has also created a greater need for volunteers, as unemployment rates surged last year and are yet to return to normal levels, many Australians found themselves in positions of hardship they had not been previously.

John Robertson, the NSW and ACT chief executive of Foodbank, Australia’s largest food relief organisation told Central News: “For tens of thousands of people in NSW right now the brutal reality of no money to buy basics to feed themselves or their families is devastating.”

Foodbank saw the number of Australians experiencing food insecurity double in 2020, with a third of these people having never experienced it before. Since the start of Sydney’s most recent lockdown on June 26 the demand for food hampers across the greater Sydney area has increased 250 per cent.

The lack of a social component may however be a hurdle for volunteer organisations, the report lists social connection as one of the top reasons for participating in volunteer work. Word of mouth and open days are among the leading methods for recruiting new volunteers and personal connection the most important for retaining them.

When asked about what volunteer organisations need the most support with Mr Muller emphasises the important work skilled volunteer managers do for these organisations

“We know that they really want support with volunteer management,” he said, “that’s the key skill, getting the most out of your volunteers. They’re the ones who create meaningful experiences for volunteers.”

Main picture by Sam Beebe/Flickr