22 May 2020

Fears volunteers may not return after COVID-19 lockdown

| Dominic Giannini
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Vicky Darling

Volunteering ACT CEO Vicky Darling says many community organisations could not function without volunteers. Photo: ACT Volunteering.

Environmental volunteers and citizen scientists are getting back into the field across the ACT after COVID-19 restrictions forced them to stop work in February.

The announcement has come just days after an ANU study revealed that two-thirds of Australian volunteers had stopped working since February because of COVID-19, resulting in the loss of 12.2 million volunteer hours per week.

In Canberra, more than 70 per cent of organisations in the Canberra region with volunteers have stood down volunteers over the last two months, a

CEO of Volunteering ACT Vicky Darling said volunteers play an integral role within the community.

“They could not run their programs without volunteers,” she said.

“I only have anecdotal evidence but in the community sector in particular, for every paid staff member there are probably three volunteers.”

Thousands of volunteers from ParkCare, Waterwatch, catchment groups and other citizen scientists will head back into the ACT’s national parks to help the recovery effort after the summer’s bushfires and work on understanding the wider long-term impacts.

Hands-on volunteers help by planting trees and plants, recording local wildlife, removing weeds, collecting seeds and monitoring the water quality in streams. Some other community environmental groups also contribute by organising activities, writing newsletters and providing financial administration assistance.

However, some volunteers in the over-70 age bracket may never return because of the danger of COVID-19 after being asked to stay home by the government.

“There is a risk that the number of volunteers over-70 will not return to their pre-coronavirus levels,” Ms Darling said.

If numbers do not return to the pre-coronavirus levels, many of Australia’s essential services will be heavily impacted, one of the researchers behind the analysis of the survey, Professor Nicholas Biddle, said.

“Whether it is delivering meals to people in need, or assisting those in our society who are economically, physically or emotionally vulnerable, volunteers are important and valued members of the Australian community,” Professor Biddle said.

“The decline in volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic will potentially reduce the amount and quality of services that many Australians rely upon.

“If the level of volunteering in Australia continues to decline substantially and does not pick up as physical distancing restrictions are eased, then there are likely to be large flow-on effects for Australians that rely on volunteers.”

Volunteering during COVID-19

A third of organisations in sectors like mental health and crisis services have experienced an increase in demand. Photo: Volunteering ACT.

Minister for the Environment and Heritage Mick Gentleman has thanked the volunteers for their efforts to help protect and monitor the ACT’s most important natural assets.

“It is National Volunteers Week and I am pleased these volunteers can continue their important service to the community. I recognise and thank them for their dedication and hard work,” he said.

“Canberra has the highest rate of volunteering in the nation with 36.7 per cent of adults and 57 per cent of young people volunteering in the region.

For more information on volunteering positions in the ACT and how to volunteer safely during the pandemic, visit Volunteering ACT.

To get involved with the Government’s volunteering programs, visit Environment ACT.

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