Guest blog: Esther McLaughlin, Special Constabulary Chief Inspector and All Wales Citizens in Policing Co-ordinator

Covid 19 is undoubtedly the biggest challenge we have faced in modern times. Of this we are in no doubt. A month or two ago, lots of my work involved trying to encourage people to see the benefits of volunteering and to sign up to volunteer to assist the police service. My role has turned on its head all of a sudden, and I am now fielding continuous requests from people asking “How can I volunteer? How can I help? What can I do?”

Public services, support networks and third sector organisations across Wales are currently flooded with requests from people offering to assist. People are signing up in their thousands to join the effort to fight the impact of Coronavirus within our communities. This is an incredible response, and gives us hope to know that there is so much willingness to come together at a time of such great need for many. Our world is an uncertain place at the moment, there is a lot of fear and worry, but this unprecedented level of volunteering is a story of light in the darkness. For every story of selfishness, loss and tragedy, there are two more of kindness, self-sacrifice, care and support, of people reaching out to those in need. It’s a hopeful picture.

Many of those offering to volunteer have lost incomes, jobs, businesses, some even loved ones and yet incredibly they still want to give their time to help others. For us as volunteer managers and coordinators, the challenge is to harness and make the most of this offer. We are working closely with our partner agencies to make this happen.

For our hundreds of long standing volunteers in the police service, this crisis really highlights their immense value. Our Special Constabulary’s response to Covid 19 in Gwent and across Wales has been fantastic, and I would expect nothing less. Our Specials have gone above and beyond stepping in and boosting resources where they are most needed. They are ready to step up even more in the coming weeks and months. This comes as no surprise, they are an incredible team who make us proud every day.

Many of our police support volunteers have had to suspend some of their regular activities during the Covid crisis, but this has not stopped them volunteering. Many are helping other voluntary organisations at the moment, getting involved in local initiatives in their communities.

Our Mini Police and Police Cadets have had to suspend their regular meetings and activities too, but they have also been doing what they can to assist from home, writing letters to those who are isolated or unwell through the Ffind i mi / Friend in mine intergenerational project hosted by the Aneurin Bevan Health Board.

Our world will be a different place on the other side of this crisis, our societies will be changed forever. I wonder if we will look differently upon volunteering after this is all over? We will have seen with our own eyes the incredible impact that volunteering has had on communities, and on the individuals who take up the call.

The impact of Covid 19 will stay with us all for years to come, and the voluntary sector will play a vital role in our recovery as a nation. We will continue to recruit volunteers into the police service as we start to come out the other side of this. We will continue to build our Special Constabulary, to get our Cadets out and about helping their communities again, to work with our Mini Police, and to bring in more Police Support Volunteers.

Imagine how our communities would look if even a quarter of those signing up to volunteer at the moment, stuck with it for the long term. I hope as a nation that we will emerge from this with a greater respect and appreciation for volunteering.

If you are interested in volunteering in your community please visit the Volunteering Wales website.