Community businesses facing volunteer shortage in Covid-19 crisis

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Volunteers contributed up to an estimated 18 million hours of time and £250 million of services to England’s community businesses last year, according to a new report by independent trust Power to Change.
2 Jun, 2020

The Assessing the Value of Volunteers in Community Business report reveals the true scale and benefits of volunteering in a community business. It also found there is a looming volunteer crisis, with a quarter of England’s community businesses struggling to recruit enough volunteers to carry out their vital services in 2019 – a situation that may have worsened since the Covid-19 lockdown.

Many community businesses have been the backbone of local support services during the Covid-19 crisis, coordinating food and prescription deliveries, and continuing to crucial provide debt, family and wellbeing advice services. If the situation isn’t addressed, it could see many unable to carry on services for local people and maintain financial sustainability during and beyond the coronavirus crisis.

“Most community managed libraries have had to close for now but we know when they reopen, some volunteers may be reluctant or unable to come back. Volunteers are the lifeline of CMLs, a lot are older, some vulnerable and understandably may not want to take that risk.” said David Smith, Chair of the Community Managed Libraries National Peer Network. “We would encourage new volunteers to get involved and support community businesses around the country.”

The new research – released to coincide with Volunteers’ Week (1 ­– 7 June) – highlights how important it is to have a healthy volunteer base for a community business to be successful.

Power to Change is now urging those who have been inspired to volunteer during the pandemic to consider getting involved in local community business to help tackle the pandemic in their local area.

Hundreds of thousands of Brits signed up to the NHS response scheme in the early weeks of the coronavirus crisis, to provide transport, phone support and other help for people in their local area. Although 600,000 people registered on the scheme, figures show the majority of those volunteers have not been called upon a month later.

Power to Change CEO, Vidhya Alakeson, said: “Our new research underlines the important economic and social value of volunteering and as the Covid-19 crisis puts increasing strain on communities – and particularly vulnerable people – we need more for volunteers who can help community businesses continue their vital work.

“The Crisis has led to an outpouring of community feeling and volunteering, and we need to ensure this passion and energy is channeled to where it is needed most. I would urge anyone who has been inspired to volunteer at this time to visit our website, find your local community business, and get involved in volunteering.”

The key findings from Assessing the Value of Volunteers in Community Business, include:

  • There were an estimated 208,000 volunteers working in 9,000 community businesses across England in 2019
  • Volunteers in community businesses in England contributed up to an estimated 18 million hours of time and £250 million of services in 2019
  • Volunteering is a significant boost for well-being – people volunteering in community businesses reported feeling healthier, less isolated and more confident as a result


Community businesses are defined as businesses that are accountable to their local community and that use their profits to deliver positive local impact. Throughout the coronavirus crisis, such businesses have played an essential role in supporting their communities in different places across the country, often serving as a lifeline for those most in need.

Opportunities across the sector are hugely varied – from filling veg boxes to staffing community shops; being a trustee to signposting people to vital advice; driving community transport to organizing community activities– there are a range of ways people can get involved with a community businesses and provide help on a local level.

Anyone considering local volunteer opportunities is encouraged to use the Community Business Map to find out about community businesses in their local area.


About Power to Change

Power to Change is the independent trust that supports community businesses in England.

Community businesses are locally rooted, community-led, trade for community benefit and make life better for local people. The sector owns assets worth £890m, and comprises 9,000 community businesses across England who employ 33,600 people. (Source: Community Business Market 2019)

From pubs to libraries; shops to bakeries; swimming pools to solar farms; community businesses are creating great products and services, providing employment and training and transforming lives. Power to Change received its endowment from the National Lottery Community Fund in 2015. @peoplesbiz

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About The National Lottery Community Fund

We are the largest community funder in the UK – we’re proud to award money raised by National Lottery players to communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Since June 2004, we have made over 200,000 grants and awarded over £9 billion to projects that have benefited millions of people.

We are passionate about funding great ideas that matter to communities and make a difference to people’s lives. At the heart of everything we do is the belief that when people are in the lead, communities thrive. Thanks to the support of National Lottery players, our funding is open to everyone. We’re privileged to be able to work with the smallest of local groups right up to UK-wide charities, enabling people and communities to bring their ambitions to life.