We’re living in unprecedented times and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
But despite the constant stream of worrying news about the coronavirus pandemic, now is a great time for us to make positive moves to help locally.
If you’ve been wondering what you can do to help, we’ve got answers. Here’s our guide on how to be an active citizen now it matters more than ever.
First, stay safe when supporting others.
Here’s a few things to remember:
- Let family and friends know what you’re doing
- Support others by phone or video calls where possible
- Stay at least two metres – three steps – away from those you’re helping
- Offer to run errands for people but stay outside their homes
- Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds
- Don’t take on too much – be careful not to let people down
- Let local services know if you’re working with someone with serious issues
Volunteering to help is a great thing to do right now.
But there are ways to do it safely that protect both you and the vulnerable people you might be working with. Make sure you follow NHS advice.
1. Volunteer with trusted organisations
A great way to contribute your time right now is to work with established organisations who already have connections with local services in your area.
Here’s a list of charities and organisations currently looking for support:
- The British Red Cross are hiring in preparation for local emergencies
- NHS trusts in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are also taking people on
- Age UK are looking for befrienders to stop older people feeling lonely
- FareShare and Trussell Trust need volunteers and drivers to handle donations
- Covid Call links you up with people in isolation to provide support or a chat
- Crisis Text Line runs a free 24/7 confidential support by text. Join them now
- Be My Eyes connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers
- Reach pairs volunteers with 3+ years professional experience with charities
- World Harmony Orchestra arranges musical performances for those isolating
- Bankuet allows those who can’t donate food to foodbanks to give cash
If you’re struggling to find anything suitable, look the following databases of voluntary opportunities and organisations:
2. Join local groups on social media
Heard of ‘Mutual Aid’? These Facebook and WhatsApp groups are full of local people of all ages volunteering to support vulnerable people near them.
The kinds of activities members are currently getting involved in include:
- Offering dog walking services
- Collecting prescriptions for older people
- Delivering food direct to those who can’t get to the shops
- Acting as a befriender for those who just want a chat
How do I join?
- Check out Mutual Aid and join your nearest Facebook group
- Most groups will have tips for beginners in the description
- Find or ask for the WhatsApp link for the group of people closest to you
- Introduce yourself – then get involved with opportunities being shared
What if there aren’t any groups near me?
Leaflets are often the best way to tell people about the help you’re offering – it's a task that can be split up and it allows you to avoid human contact.
Here are some templates and advice on what to write.
How do I make sure I’m not doing harm?
As with any activity involving volunteers and the public – and particularly where human contact needs to be avoided – safeguarding is so important.
Campaign group The National Food Service have put together coronavirus-tailored guides on everything from risk assessments to food hygiene.
Ask your local council if they want voluntary groups to register with them. Wandsworth Council, for example, has forms to register to help.
3. Play your part in combatting fake news
Fake news can cost lives. It’s as simple as that. We have a huge role to play in both our use of social media and helping others access truthful information.
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine also has a free online course (3 weeks, 4 hours per week) on coronavirus and its implications globally
Some other resources to signpost people to:
- Add the NHS (+44 7860 064422) or WHO (+41 79 893 18 92) as a contact on WhatsApp. Send a message and they’ll reply with links to trustworthy info
- SignHealth has created British Sign Language videos to help deaf users either working in charities or receiving support
- Leading health researchers have set up a site for those showing symptoms of coronavirus to self-report to develop a better understanding
- A series of infographics in a range of African languages have been designed by the Slum and Rural Health Initiative Network
- Doctors of the World have created advice for patients in 20 languages
4. Follow your local council's updates
Your local council is the best source of official advice on local services – from information on school closures and bin collections to volunteer opportunities.
We’ve saved you the work by putting advice from every UK council in one place. Begin by finding yours:
5. Support your nearest foodbank
Stockpiling is bad news for everyone. But particularly for foodbanks, which find essential items are no longer available. In some areas, donations are down 80%.
If you’re not self-isolating and not in an at-risk group, why not consider volunteering? The Trussell Trust – which runs the UK’s largest network of foodbanks – is actively looking for volunteers.
6. Shop locally
Now’s the time to remember the existence of our independent shops. Many local grocers are still fully stocked with items you might have found missing.
As well as providing vital financial support to these businesses, it also reduces the number of customers in each shop and allows people to keep their distance.
For those businesses not allowing customers through their doors, support them in other ways – such as using their take-away service or by buying gift cards.
Here’s some we’re looking out for this month:
- Peckham's Palestinian kitchen What The Fattoush? have put their delicious food on Deliveroo so you can still eat well while locked inside at home
- Bristol and London-based refugee cooking company Migrateful are stopping classes for two weeks, but they’re encouraging gift card sales
- Mobile farm shop The Sussex Peasant is sending its pop-up produce van to various locations across Brighton and Hove to support local farmers
- London Mayor-funded programme Kitchen Social, which works with community groups to provide free healthy meals for children and families
7. Help the homeless
The crisis is a concern for the homeless, who have obvious difficulties isolating.
On 27 March, the government announced all rough sleepers in England are to be housed in hostels and night shelters within two days.
Recent closures of homeless shelters – as well as fewer people around to provide food and money – mean rough sleepers in the UK face a challenge.
In England and Wales, you can report the location of rough sleepers to the charity StreetLink. They’ll pass the details on to the local council so they can offer them support – and hopefully accommodation.
We’re starting a national network of UK alumni – and we need your help.
Our National Youth Engagement Networks have already been set up in six countries. Now it’s coming to the UK, and we’re looking for volunteers.
We'll upskill you with tools to set up your own community action groups, signpost you to opportunities and give you access to a likeminded network.
We're recruiting a core group of young people to decide what the UK network will look like and to take part in an online interactive workshop next week.
And in the coming weeks we’ll be in touch with more ways to stay involved – including webinars and online activism training sessions. Keep up to date with all the latest news and opportunities by subscribing to the ICS newsletter.