Jolene Moran: How Guide Dogs is making the most of the Covid volunteering boom

04 Jun 2021 Voices

Jolene Moran, head of voluntary advisory services at Guide Dogs, reflects on the history of volunteering and the opportunities ahead for her charity

It's exciting to feel the swell of a wave.

Social trends have shown that moments of crisis or victory, or any shared mass experiences, bring people together like nothing else, and prompt a huge surge of social action.

The Covid-19 pandemic has encompassed all of these moments, so it's little wonder volunteering has seen such a boom at a grassroots level.

A 1940 study by the Russell Sage Foundation found that what makes societies resilient during a crisis are high levels of faith in institutions, social trust, high levels of patriotism and optimism, and high levels of social integration. Volunteering can deliver on all of these. 

Volunteering in history

Swells in volunteering have been seen throughout history. The war effort saw everybody pitch in for a national cause, fostering a sense of belonging, identity and moral purpose.

The 2012 London Olympics saw a reported 70,000 volunteers join forces to make this event a resounding success, leaving a tremendous legacy and feelings of togetherness.

Research into the legacy of the London Olympics, conducted by the University of Kent in 2016 and centred on 28 volunteer centres in the city, found that there was a 31% increase in volunteering in the six months following the games, even increasing to 44% by the end of 2013.

What's more, with everyone contributing on average three hours of their time a week, the economic value of this was colossal.

The Covid effect

More recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen a new wave of local volunteers, as the nation answered the call to unite in a time of fear and uncertainty, and look after one another.

Research by Legal and General found that two-thirds of those who have volunteered (67%) have been doing grocery shopping for neighbours, friends, and others. 

Across all those surveyed, more than three-quarters (78%) said they planned to continue helping those in need after the lockdown.

Changes at Guide Dogs

At Guide Dogs, however, many of our volunteering opportunities disappeared overnight. Vast number of our roles are public-facing and our breeding programme shut down for weeks following the start of the first lockdown.

We had no events to man, no schools to speak at. it was undoubtably a strange time.

Restrictions made many of the traditional volunteering roles impossible – so volunteers have been instrumental in adapting in the face of adversity. They found new ways of getting the job done, embracing new technologies so activities could continue virtually.

With lockdown lifting, though, we can see the wave coming for us. The army of volunteers recruited during the pandemic will be incredibly valuable to all charities, large and small, once the pandemic is over.


Guide Dog's Volunteering Strategy plans to expand the number of volunteer roles from the 21,500 we currently have to over 33,000 roles by 2023.

These ambitious plans would mean that we could help more people with sight loss live the life they choose, while harnessing the community spirit seen over the last 18 months will be a huge boost.

At present, our volunteers outnumber our staff at Guide Dogs by a ratio of 13 to 1. 

The impact they have on the work that we do and the services we deliver cannot be overstated.

Volunteers have radically reinvented their ways of working bringing the charity through tough times with their extraordinary efforts. As Britain opens up, our volunteers continue to work with renewed energy, and we cannot wait to welcome more.

How to increase the number of volunteers

To help us achieve this goal, we're doing everything we can – in a safe and responsible way – to reignite the thriving volunteer community and inspire others to get involved. 

This month we kicked off dog training at our regional centres, and are gradually increasing our activities over the coming weeks and months.

In terms of building awareness of Guide Dogs volunteer opportunities, we recently launched our new ‘Flash the Pup’ TV advert. This not only aims to say a big thank you to our current volunteers, but hopefully inspire new recruits to help raise and train a puppy like Flash.

With over 100 different volunteering opportunities, there's a volunteer role for everyone. Whether you can spare lots of time, a little time or something in-between, each one plays an important part in our charity.

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