Almost £400,000 of funding has been secured by a trio of universities to research the impact of volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The project, which brings together experts from the University of Hull, Sheffield and Leeds, will examine how volunteers can best be deployed to serve communities and support vulnerable people.
COVID-19 has seen a surge of people volunteer their time in response to the virus. The £382,000 of new funding, provided by UK Research & Innovation, hopes to help build on this success.
Professor Joe Cook and Dr Fiona Walkley are co-investigators on the project from Hull University Business School.
Dr Walkley said: “The research will look at how volunteers have been mobilised to meet the needs both nationally and at local level, including strategies used by local authorities and their charity partners, and the emergence of micro volunteering initiatives in communities.
“It will create a UK-wide picture of the mobilisation of volunteers, how needs have been accommodated, and the gaps and stress points in the system.”
Prof Cook said: “Working with local authorities, the project will integrate learnings on what has worked well and why and how this can be used to inform scale, replication and optimisation of volunteering to aid COVID-19 responses across the UK.”
The 18-month research project, titled ‘Mobilising Volunteers Effectively (MoVE), brings together experts from Hull, the Management School at the University of Sheffield, and Health Economists at the University of Leeds.
The University of Sheffield is the principle investigator in the project, supported by the University of Hull and University of Leeds.
Stories of volunteers have hit the headlines on countless occasions since the outbreak of COVID-19.
People have played their part in responding to the pandemic in a variety of ways, from helping to collect shopping and medication for vulnerable residents, to transporting patients home who have been discharged by the NHS.
Other volunteers have helped supermarkets keep up with increased demand for deliveries and collections, and helped transport medical equipment and supplies between hospitals.
The focus of the new research is to understand and maximise the effectiveness of some of these volunteer responses.
Dr Erica Ballantyne, Lecturer in Operations and Supply Chain Management at University of Sheffield Management School, said: “This project provides an exciting multi-disciplinary opportunity to explore how volunteers are supporting the supply chain through the provision of local and community centric initiatives.
“The research seeks to address the logistical challenges around effective deployment of volunteers, in order to optimise the available support for meeting essential needs in food supply, healthcare and wellbeing.”
Technology has also played a significant role in the recruitment of volunteers throughout the pandemic so far.
Researchers will now use large amounts of data available to examine the changing nature of supply and demand for volunteers across the country.
Dr Silviya Nikolova, Lecturer in Health Economics at University of Leeds, said: “We are excited to work together with the Universities of Sheffield and Hull, care organisations, charities and industry to assess volunteer response to changing needs in the community and impact on health and wellbeing during COVID-19.
“Understanding determinants of volunteer response is important to addressing problems in the health and care sectors which have been dramatically affected by the current crisis.”
[Phil Winter – University of Hull]