The Sheffield Coordinating Volunteers group was established in April 2020 and consisted of staff members from Sheffield ACP, Sheffield CCG, Voluntary Action Sheffield and Sheffield City Council.
The group was set up as in the early stages of the city’s Covid-19 response; various areas of activity were established to support those in our society who are vulnerable and/or shielding. These areas of activity were at both national and local levels, involving statutory and voluntary organisations. Examples of these included:
- The national NHS Volunteers Scheme
- Local Community Response Teams established by Sheffield City Council
- Community Hubs established within neighbourhoods
- Medical student volunteers pooled together to support the collection and delivery of prescribed medicines.
The purpose of the group:
There were reports of confusion from frontline staff and members of the public, about how they accessed support such as shopping services and voluntary patient transport. Several responses to this were developed:
- Sheffield City Council offered to develop their contact centre into a single point of access for members of the public seeking support
- VAS worked with Tribepad to re-purpose their virtual recruitment platform to make it work for coordinating the Covid-19 volunteer response.
The Sheffield Coordinating Volunteers group was established to share information about the different services being put in place, and agree a co-ordinated approach across the city to supporting vulnerable residents. The group held virtual meetings fortnightly for two months, and continued information sharing through email, with additional one-to-one and small group meetings taking place in between the full group meetings.
There were a number of challenges in pulling these shared processes together, these included:
- Securing agreement from all organisations involved to ‘share’ access to volunteers through the portal seemed difficult, due to a lack of understanding around the functionality of the portal and the level of control that any one organisation would have over how volunteers would be ‘allocated’ to tasks.
- Virtual recruitment of volunteers has never been done by partners. This needed to be done quickly, and an appropriate duty of care needed to be followed by checking documents and references.
- Sheffield CCG and Sheffield City Council do not typically work with large numbers of volunteers, and not for the types of activities now being required as part of the Covid-19 response. They therefore needed to develop an understanding of the legal requirements and responsibilities aligned with mobilising a volunteer workforce.
- The volume of people wanting to volunteer significantly outstripped the capacity that both charities and the public sector had to involve and mobilise them. Over 5000 people registered as NHS responders, over 1200 people registered with VAS, in addition to the people already responding to Covid-19 in local communities.
- Information about the NHS Volunteers Scheme was scarce at the beginning of the process. There were several unanswered questions around how this programme would work.
These problems were primarily overcome through conversation, and the sharing of knowledge, expertise and good practice. Every member of the group actively contributed to conversations within and outside the meetings, and an excellent support network has been developed as a result.
The South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Integrated Care System (ICS) was very helpful in raising awareness of the NHS Volunteers Scheme through identifying routes into the national service and raising questions and concerns at a national level, which were always quickly addressed.
The group has established several processes to coordinate volunteers which include:
- Use of a portal to identify, security check and train volunteers, this was also used to notify them of volunteering opportunities.
- Pathways for offering support, e.g. if a member of the public called the contact centre with a non-urgent request (i.e. it could wait more than 72 hours) then a referral would be made to the NHS Volunteers Scheme, more urgent requests would be directed to either an appropriate voluntary organisation or the Council’s Local Community Response Teams.
- The design and delivery of a customer satisfaction process for referrals through Sheffield City Council’s contact centre. Customer satisfaction scores were consistently very high across six weeks when these were conducted.
An agreement was reached on who would have formal responsibility for which volunteers with good practice shared between organisations.
The greatest achievement noted was the genuine collaboration between a group of people from different organisations, many of whom had not previously met, who all ensured they put their organisational priorities aside and supported one another to achieve a service that would quickly ensure that Sheffield’s vulnerable residents received co-ordinated and appropriate support.
Implications: How we may work differently in the future
“There is an opportunity to embed capacity to involve and mobilise volunteers into service provision. The achievements in mobilising volunteers through Covid-19 have been extensive under pressure, but even so, Sheffield has not had the capacity to mobilise the volunteer offer to the best opportunity due to the voluntary sector being too stretched, and the public sector being too inexperienced and unfamiliar with using volunteers for service delivery. There is an opportunity to mobilise more volunteers in the future with the voluntary sector and the public sector continuing to help manage volunteers.”Paul Harvey, Volunteer & Partnerships Manager, Voluntary Action Sheffield
Testimonials from those in the group, and those supported by the group
“Key lessons to learn from this are that we can all take on new roles and learn new ways of working quickly without letting ourselves be stifled by bureaucracy. None of the people on this group are members of their respective organisational executives, yet decisions were made quickly and acted upon – this is a way of working we need to have the confidence to continue.”Jane Ginniver, Deputy Director for Delivery, Sheffield ACP.
“All organisations sought to remove barriers quickly and agreed pragmatic solutions ‘on the ground’ with trust that executive back up would follow. This agility and responsiveness was rewarded with a rapidly established service fit for client use and robust in support of the volunteers. An eye was kept on legacy building from the beginning and collaboration with VAS added an essential element to the success of this work. The whole process has opened up the potential for greater joined up working, where our residents and patients could benefit from more seamless care which draws on all the resources available in more creative ways”Jo Tsoneva, Pharmacy Development Manager, Sheffield CCG.
“Baby Basics, a volunteer-led project across Sheffield aiming to support new mothers and families who are struggling to meet the financial and practical burden of looking after a new baby, needed someone to deliver essential items to a family in need. They recruited a brand new volunteer in less than an hour! The portal meant they could read a reference, check an ID, conduct a DBS check, and make direct contact within minutes to recruit a volunteer. This process would’ve normally taken weeks.”Paul Harvey, Volunteer & Partnerships Manager, Voluntary Action Sheffield, recounts how the achievements of the group has supported Baby Basics, a volunteer led project running across Sheffield.