UK Spontaneous Volunteer Survey

Please see attached the survey for Spontaneous Volunteer groups in the UK who have been working during the Coronavirus pandemic. In order to complete the survey you will need to copy and paste it into a Word document and then email the completed survey to me at the address given below. Alternatively please email me and I will send you the doucument direct. Thank you.


This survey will seek to establish what Spontaneous Volunteer groups have been doling across the United Kingdom in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. It will aim to establish the rots of these groups; the contributions they have made to their local community and the barriers they have encountered and how these were overcome to enable their support to be most effective.

The survey forms part of an award given to Melvin Hartley CF, by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust from their Covid 19 fund.

Please complete the survey on behalf of your Spontaneous Volunteer group. There are 5 initial information questions and then 10 free text questions about your group and its work.

Please feel free to write as much information as you would like in your answers.

1NAME of person completing the survey
4WEBSITE ADDRESS of Group if applicable
5Your role in the Group
6How  was the   Group formed
7How and why did you get involved
8How is the group organised, explain governance/leadership arrangements
9What work does the   group do (e.g.  shopping, pharmacy collections, care and support etc)
10How many volunteers do you have
11How are volunteers recruited
12Are you linked in with other organisations (such as Local Council, Local Resilience Forum, Local Voluntary and Community Sector umbrella  body)
13What barriers and problems did you encounter when starting up and since
14How were these resolved
15What are your plans post CV19  (disband, develop)

Following analysis of all the surveys, the award allows for 5 projects to be visited in person (once Coronavirus restrictions are lifted) to conduct a more in depth case study of their work.

Please indicate if you and your group would be willing to be a Case study.       YES     /    NO

Please return completed surveys to  


All information collected through this survey will be kept in line with Eastleigh Borough Council’s privacy notice which can be found here:

Once analysed the   findings from the survey will be put into a report to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and published on their website. The report will only refer to the   Spontaneous Volunteer Group by name, not individuals who are members of that group. No personal data will be included in that report without the express permission of the individual concerned. Once the report has been published all personal data (questions 1 and 2) will be deleted.

Thank you for helping with this survey, I hope that the outcome will encourage greater support for  the  work of spontaneous volunteers in any future disasters and incidents.

Melvin Hartley CF

Covid 19 Volunteer survey

I have been awarded a grant by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to discover the experiences , learning and best practice from Spontaneous Volunteer Groups across the UK which have helped deliver aide and assistance in their local communities during the pandemic. Part of this will be asking a representative of local groups to complete a simple survey. The survey results will be anlayzed and then follow up visits conducted to go into more depth to build best practice case studies on 5 of the groups.

If you are involved in the coordination of a Covid 19 Spontaneous Volunteer group please contact by email for a copy of the survey:

The Netherlands

My final week in Europe and my final week of the whole Fellowship travel programme was a busy one as I headed east to west across the country starting in Arnhem and then driving on the sunny Sunday morning to Lieden where I based myself for the week in the centre of the triangle of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Den Haag.

The Institute for Physical Safety (Instituut Fysieke Veiligheid IFV )is the national support organisation for the safety regions and supports them in strengthening the fire service and tackling disaster relief and crisis management.

The IFV HQ in the forest outside Arnhem

At the IFS I learnt about 2 major incidents where Spontaneous Volunteers played a crucial role – the serach for the missing girl Anna Faber in 2018 and the cargo loss from the MSC Zoe in 2019. In both these events volunteers arrived in their hundreds to help and assist the authorities, who were not well prepared to coordinate such large numbers. The IFS reviews of these incidents identified key lessons such as the need to determine who is in charge; to share information; to trust and engage with the volunteers; to be able to respond quickly with the media and get your messages out on social media ; and ideally have a strategy in place before an incident occurs. My thanks to Willem and Marijie for sharing this and other aspects of their research and reports.

Refugees Welcome developed in the 2015 European refugee crisis starting in Germany and spreading to other European countries as thousands of refugees arrived and the authorities couldn’t cope quick enough. In the Netherlands Daisy coordinates the process which aims to provide a home for refugees . The process is deliberately simple – refugees are registered and then matched with a potential volunteer host. A meeting is arranged in a public setting and a volunteer attends to make the introductions. If all goes well, then a second meeting is held at the host’s home. Hopefully this leads to the refugee moving in and there are volunteers from the programme on hand to help the settling in process. They have matched successfully over 15 refugees in the Netherlands and there is still a need even now 5 years later. Across the organisation over 1200 matches have been made in 11 countries..

The Netherlands divides the country into 25 security regions for the purposes of policing, fire and disaster management and I visited 2 of these in Amsterdam -Amstellend and Rotterdam. The fire service across the country is founded on a mix of full time professional and volunteer fire fighters. They have found the motivations from the volunteers are usually based around wanting to serve and help in their community. Increasingly though it is difficlt to retain volunteers after a few years due to the changing nature of work where the younger people who volunteer then move away with new jobs as careers progress. The average recruitment age is 18-20 but many have left before they reach 30.

Burger Harthulp is a system where volunteers can be on site quickly to resuscitate someone following a heart attack while waiting for the ambulance. If volunteers can use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), the survival rate is even greater.  This programme links the fire and ambulance service with their communities. Volunteers are recruited and attend recognised CPR training; they agree to receive a call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; and undertake a refresher course every year. The volunteers who get a call live or work in the vicinity of the victim. Before the ambulance arrives, they can start resuscitation. This is important, because in the case of cardiac arrest, the first six minutes determine the survival chances and the further recovery process of the patient. My thanks to Ryan and Sietske for my visit.

The view from the World Port in Rotterdam is stunning and I met Sjack Seen on the 20th floor to hear about his work within the security region but also with the United Nations Disaster Assessment Team. They have spent a lot of time building on community resilience and a belief you can start with the children and work upwards. Their approach is to identify the community , noting languages, ethnicities, communities within comunities and then raise awareness and resilence. They use a targeted approach mapping to find those who need the greatest help. One of the outcomes of the programme has been that many elderly people now live longer in their own homes following risk assesments leading to provision of appropriate physical and emotional support.

A stunning view of Rotterdam

Sjack remarked from his experience that where the government doesn’t provide, the community steps into help themselves and thus it is important that the authorities get invovled in building community resilience. His work abroad has shown this to be true. In 217 he worked with the UN in Sint Maarten, following Hurricane Irma. The government on the small island (population 40,000) struggled to get things organised and the community and volunteers took over the running of food, welfare, clean up and security. They were self organised and managed the process 24/7 based at a local school. The motto was we will clean up our community. They identified who was unable to collect food parcels because of their incapicity, age etc and the church stepped in to help. The cooperation of the NGOs and community volunteers was central to the success of the operation.

He noted that governement and emergency services are reluctant sometimes to use volunteers, especially spontaneous ones and he calls this “ribbon fear”. The authorities are all inside the ribbon of police tape and the community is outside and they are fearful of stepping outside their zone. As a result there is mistrust and disorganisation when incidents occur. This is why prior engagement is crucial to successful community resilence and aide when disaster strikes.

My trip to Den Haag to meet Anouk and Shereen from the Dutch Red Cross was a fascinating one as I learnt about thier work in engaging volunteers prior to a disaster through the Ready2help programme which started in Austria in 2007. This was a new area of work for the Red Cross who had never previously engaged with “unbound ” volunteers. They started work in 2014 and after national publicity from a Government Minister in 2015 numbers rose from 6,000 to 36,000 in 3 months! The Volunteers are not bound to the Red Cross like ordinary volunteers who undertake training and work regularly. Instead they register their details and undertake some basic online training and then await a call. When an incident occurs which needs bodies on the ground to help with basic tasks, the volunteers in that area are notified by text message and then via the app can state wether they can volunteer for that task if available.

Research in 2016/17 found that 75% had volunteered between 2-6 times in the year for 2-4 hours work each time. There was a 60:40 ratio women to men, 25% already had first aid training, 64% were in work and 47% were under 40 years old. All were happy to help whatever the task. As there are more volunteers than tasks the team have developed other roles for those who want to do more including victim after care training courses and local team leader roles. The key is to manage expectations when it comes to retention and this is obviously working well as only 90 dropped out in 2019 . The volunteers are generally very positive about their experience, highly motivated and hard working. Learning and development of the scheme – some vounteers are not used to working in a heirachy, and there is as yet no place to register your skills when you join up.

We also discussed the Red Cross role in the Refugee crisis in 2015 which was to host them in temporary accommodation for 72 hours. They used both their existing bank of regular volunteers as well as Ready2help volunteers who provided first aid, moving equipment and cleaning roles. Other work by their regular volunteers included enabling calls home, translating services, reuniting families, registering of refugees with the government, and getting & distributing donations of clothing through their shops. My thanks to Anouk and Sheeren for thier time and commitment.

Red Cross HQ.

My final visit was to the University of Amsterdam to meet Professor Kees Boersma who has undertaken many studies into Spontaneous Volunteers as well as the full evaluation of the Ready2Help scheme. Our discussion around volunteers raised many interesting areas and learning gained across many reviews. These included: there is need for collaboration and cooperation rather than control; help comes from many sources including the unexpected; make use of SVs working alongside regular volunteers; the government lost trust with it’s handling of the refugee crisis, the voluntary sector and SV groups filled the void; many SVs have been victims of disasters themselevs and want to give something back; it is vital to understand your community as an emergency responder and to work together to develop plans with the community before any disaster happens..

We wondered given the fact that I was undertaking a Churchill Fellowship if the “little ships” of Dunkirk was the frist recognised spontaneous volunteer major response to be properly recorded?

My thanks to everyone in the Netherlands who made my visit so fruitful, interesting and engaging.

Covid19 Action Fund

I’m delighted to announce that today I have been awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust #Covid19ActionFund grant. I am one of the 21 #ChurchillFellows whose projects will receive funding to aid the national effort against Covid-19. I will be examining how spontaneous volunteers have made a difference to the community response in the pandemic building on my #2019Churchillfellowship on volunteering is disasters. #communityengagement #Covid19ActionFund @wcmtuk

Germany – Siegen University

After a three drive through the snow, I arrived at the picturesque University town of Siegen, where my meeting the next day was with Jnr Professor Thomas Ludwig and colleagues. Their work has been focused on using technology to help link spontanoeus volunteers with the authorities. The idea behind this was that during previous disatsers (2013 German floods, and the 2015 refugee crisis) many volunteers arrived at railway stations and town centres to help but didn’t know where to go, so the question asked was how could technology help?

A snowy german scene

The team, after undertaking secondary research, created “CityShare” with the aim of connecting the volunteers, emergency planners and those in need. The design had two elements an online app and interactive display screens with their own inbuilt wifi, the key being that the volunteers phone could interact with the screen. Volunteers would be able to stand in front of the display screen which had 3 sections. The first section would be input by the authorities displaying up to date news about the incident and important information, whilst in the second section were the wifi instructions, and the QR code displayed from which instructions of how to interact were downloaded.

The main section is the largest on which, dispayed in real time, what help was needed and where. Affected citizens as well as emergency services could post jobs. In order to achieve high visibility by default the screen showed only two posts at a time. The headline of each item consists of a title, author, contact details and creation date and time. Additionally, there is a map and the things required and /or needed in order to fulfill the task. The requested amount of voluntary helpers needed can also be listed. Volunteers can then veiw the task and then through the app say they are going to volunteer for it. This can also be done remotely through the app if you have already downloaded it.

The great advantage of this technology is the fact that it is not only online, but also at the locations where people are arriving and also can be put close to the scene of where the incident is happening. This facilitates early connexion between the authorities and the volunteers. Messages can also be issued by the authorities who can take over the whole screen remotely and make announcements such as stating no more volunteers needed, direct volunteers to the Volunteer Reception Centre or issue Public Safety notices asking people to avoid certain places for instance.

The original version of the City Safe screen

Since the original testing back in 2016 the team have developed the app and screen design further but it has not been tested fully in an incident though they are hoping to gain funding to take it to this next stage. The concept is simple and given the ablity to move screens around very flexible.

After this presentation and discussion, we loooked at their other crisis management projects which the team have undertaken in recent years combining technology, GIS mapping, crisis management, collaboration and the successful intergration of volunteers. My thanks to Thomas and Christoph Kotthaus for their time and a lovely lunch!

Germany – BBK

My first visit was to The Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) which is the Government’s federal civil contingencies organisation. They are based in Bonn and after a warm welcome and short overview of their work with my host, Marion, we travelled out of the city to Ahrwheiler where they have their training centre ANKZ (equivalent to the UK’s Emergency Planning College in Easingwold).

I had been invited to join the first day of their 3 day conference on Spontaneous Volunteers and Social Media   and to give the opening address. There were 18 delegates and team members there from all over Germany and it was interesting to hear their experiences of working with spontaneous volunteers. I spoke on my learning from the visit to the United States and then we had a question and answer session. By way of example, I learnt about the Essen Packt An group who started as  a food kitchen for the homeless but now  have widened their brief to deal with disasters in general,  recruiting volunteers and  offering training  to enable  people to support their local community.

Giving the opening address

The social media aspect for Spontaneous Volunteers is very important as most come to the point of volunteering through social media. Agencies need to be aware of this and as the phrase emphasised was ” you cannot not communicate”. If the authorities fail to engage, this creates a vacuum which others will fill.  Use the word “we” to help create a shared community. Times have changed and in 2014-16 research showed that social media contact in disasters was about 7%, this has dramatically increased in the last 5 years. How we communicate with the potential SV is crucial – in order to engage need to very quickly provide information and keep it simple and clear.

As previously discussed language is important and some had success using the term Donate your time – people are used to being asked to donate, food, clothing, money but how about asking them to donate their time rather than use the term volunteer? We discussed how volunteering has changed over time. People seem to prefer short term rather than long term commitment, projects to get involved with rather than joining the organisation, and the lesson must be to make it easy for people to get involved as much or as little as they wish.

A PHD student form Aachen studied SVs in the German floods and found that we need to integrate them into our structures, thinking ahead in our planning. SVs met barriers from people within the organisations who don’t want to change the way they work or won’t accept the help out of fear of insurance claims, complaints etc. However, since research started in 2013 in Germany there has not been a single insurance claim against the authorities in relation to SVs.

The question I was left with was how do the authorities successfully communicate in non-crisis times what volunteers need to do during a crisis in order to have people follow these instructions when the crisis occurs.

The delegates and the 2 wonderful translators at the back in their “sound” box

My thanks to Marion and Stefan who organised a fascinating day  with  colleagues at the extremely well equipped  training centre, the various speakers were very interesting and my special thanks to the 2 skilled translators who kept me literally in the loop.

Fellowship trip part 2: Europe

I am heading off soon to Germany and the Netherlands to meet many colleagues who work or volunteer in emergency response. The cities I will be visiting include Bonn, Siegen, Arnhem, Amsterdam, the Hague and Rotterdam. I will be meeting academics who have undertaken substantial research and also developed tools to help manage situations, volunteers who have given their time and fellow emergency professionals who have dealt with disasters and engaged volunteers, both trained and spontaneous in their work.

The trip starts with the overnight ferry to the Netherlands.

San Francisco

My final visits on my trip were in the City of San Francisco meeting emergency managers from the City Goverment and the University of California who shared with me their experiences of volunteering in disasters.

At the University which is a medical school, they are widely spread across the city in 250 locations. They have undertaken CERT training for staff on the catch and release basis so they have trained staff all over their locations. They play a leading role in the University’s Global Disaster Assistance Committee (GDAC) and staff and student volunteers have helped recently with the wildfires and the Ebola crisis using their medical training in the field.

At the University’s Santa Barabra campus students are actively trained in disaster response taking on a number of roles on campus and volunteers train in CERT and first aid. It is a comprehensive programme to engage students in preparing for disasters.

The Emergency Management Office of San Francisco City runs a NERT programme through its fire department trainng about 1500 citizens ecah year. The challenge is keeping those who are trained busy and actively involved and they run city wide drills twice a year. The Human Resources department runs the VRC in liaison with the City’s Volunteer Centre. They train volunteers in advance to run the VRC.

In the oil spill of 2007 from the Cosco Busan many people came to help clean up the birds, which was hazardous work and they had to manage expectations but after significant pressure from would-be volunteers, a four-hour “Disaster Service Worker Volunteer Certification” was provided as in time training. The biggest issues in relation to SVs they have found were people wanting to do their own thing, feeding SVs in large numbers, and managing social media.

The employees of the State and City authorities are all designated Disaster Service Workers (DSW) and can be deployed as part of their employment to assist with the response. This gives them a large resource pool of wokrers. The OEM prefers to work with organised voluntary agencies who have trained staff and the abiliity to train new volunteers.

Ready to roll…

My thanks to Andrea Jorgensen from SF City and JenniferDressel from UCSF for hosting me.

Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership

CVNL have been heavily involved in managing the volunteer response to the devastating fires in California over the last few years. The key to their success has been establishing good working relations with the emergency management teams, seeing volunteers as an asset rather than a liability and importantly establishing a long term relationship with those who volunteer.

Lessons have been learnt over the years particularly when they were called upon to set up Volunteer Reception Centres (VRC) too late. Different appraches by emergency management teams led to doing things at the last minute especially where emergency planning has not been prioritised by the authorities in advance. This learning has now resulted in a much more coordinated planned response.

In Napa County the emergency managers now activate in advance, and so the VRC is set up when there are no volunteers yet. This getting ahead of the game approach is vital to the success and smooth running of a VRC. If you are set up and ready when the volunteers do arrive you can handle large numbers, engage the volunteers quickly and get them out there doing useful work. Funds are set aside for the VRC in the annual budget and it is an intergral element of the community plan. Volunteers are tasked to be involved in helping in the shelters, donations and supplies, and clearing and support tasks.

CNVL created a simple form for all SVs to complete on arrival and this was important even if on that day they didnt need the volunteers help – so long as contact was made to follow up that registration : record volunteer details and stay in contact and they are more likely to come out the next time and even get trained in advance. Appreciation even just for turning up leads to longer term engagement

In the fires of 2017 in 10 days the the VRCs coordinated 900 volunteer shifts in Sonoma County and 2000 shifts in Napa. Some volunters stayed for the whole 10 days as they were “bit by the disaster bug”, and they ended up having to tell volunteers to go home and rest. All these volunteers now have a bond with CNVL which wil be vital in the future.

The VRCs are staffed by CNVL employees and their own volunteers. During the course of deployment they also indentified individuals who were SVs who could be trained to work in in the VRC. One heartwarming example was a young muslim lady who volunteered and got so engaged, she went off and returned with half the mosque worshippers who all volunteered as well. In some areas they have used CERT members to run the VRCs. Another key successful aspect was the use of affiliated volunteers to be the leaders of SVs groups.

CNVL has now establised a Memorandum of Understanding with other parts of California to provide mutual aide, and made a link with the America Corps programme run by California Volunteers. By way of example when I was there, volunters from Santa Cruz, a city south of San Francisco, were helping in the wake of the fires in Sonama county 120 miles north.

My thanks to Elaine Tokolahi for her time and the inspiration she and her team have shown me in their work and the practical caring approach to managing volunteers in disasters.

The inspriational Elaine Tokolahi