Volunteering in Norfolk: A Lifeline for Communities

This Volunteers’ Week, we’re celebrating the amazing contributions volunteers make to our local communities!

Voluntary groups in Norfolk have been nothing short of heroic in their efforts to support communities through these challenging times. Grassroots community organisations have spearheaded initiatives to ensure that those who need it most receive the help they need. From delivering food support to providing companionship for the elderly, these groups have been lifelines for many.

The Norfolk Community Foundation plays a pivotal role in supporting voluntary organisations across Norfolk. By acting as a bridge between donors and grassroots initiatives, we ensure that vital resources reach the heart of the community where they are needed the most. Our efforts span a range of areas, including supporting local charities, social enterprises, and community groups, all of which are crucial in addressing the pressing issues Norfolk faces today.

A woman stands in a field with crops growing behind her.
Kerianna volunteers her time to grow vegetables for Sheringham Food Club

Challenges and Opportunities

Working with over 500 charities and community and voluntary groups last year, we heard about the challenges that individuals in communities were facing, as well as the opportunities that voluntary community groups required to continue doing their amazing work. These challenges ranged from challenges in helping people access food and helping people suffering from social isolation and loneliness to ensuring grassroots groups had access to the funding and services they needed to survive.

A group of young men use a tape measure and pencil to mark a wall.
VIY in Great Yarmouth

Volunteering has profound benefits for both community cohesion and individual wellbeing, especially among the most isolated. The Know Your Neighbourhood Fund is an excellent example of how we used targeted funding to make a significant impact. Young people who are not in employment, education or training (NEET) are at risk of becoming isolated, so we funded VIY (Volunteer-it-Yourself), a charity which helps young people learn trade skills. In Great Yarmouth, they used this funding to recruit more volunteers and have used these skills to renovate community spaces for the benefit of all. This fund has helped to foster stronger community ties and enhance voluntary organisations’ ability to reach more people.

Cristina from Fakenham Food Fellowship

Volunteers have also been helping to provide access to affordable, nutritious food – which remains a significant problem in many parts of Norfolk. Through our Nourishing Norfolk network, we saw the number of households signed up at their local food hub double between 2022 and 2023, highlighting the growing issue of food insecurity in the region. This increased need has meant more volunteers are required to support people in their community. Recruiting and retaining volunteers, however, has become more challenging. Many volunteers, particularly older individuals, did not return to volunteering roles after the pandemic. Nationally, volunteer numbers have dropped by about 15% compared to pre-pandemic levels. We knew something had to be done. Thanks to fundraising efforts from Norfolk Superhero and the generosity of local donors, we have been able to offer funding for Volunteer Coordinators across the Nourishing Norfolk Network, to help give local people the confidence and inspiration to volunteer at their local food hub.

We have also recently launched our ‘Nourishing Norfolk Growers’ programme, which helps you volunteer your green fingers for your local food hub!

Bruce sits behind two laptop computers
Bruce from Phase Three Goods

Businesses can also play a vital role in supporting voluntary organisations. Voluntary organisations sometimes lack the resources to pay for business services that they may desperately need. The Norfolk ProHelp scheme is an initiative where local businesses provide pro bono services to community groups. This support ranges from legal advice to marketing expertise, enabling voluntary organisations to operate more effectively and efficiently. Norfolk African Community Association, a voluntary organisation committed to inspiring and fostering social cohesion through horticulture, organic gardening, and conservation science, recently benefitted from ProHelp support to receive a new website from Phase Three Goods. This website gives them a greater online presence and will help attract new members and volunteers.

A group of people sit at a table. They have coffee and pastries.
We have offered ‘Let’s talk about Fundraising’ workshops with Richard Felton

We are also pleased to have received funding from the Empowering Communities partnership to support community and voluntary organisations with training and support. As well as supporting the Norfolk ProHelp programme, funding has also enabled us to work with business partners to unlock training and support opportunities which have benefitted dozens of local organisations.

The spirit of volunteering in Norfolk is strong, and the efforts of voluntary groups are crucial in addressing the region’s challenges. However, they need continued support to overcome the lingering effects of the pandemic. Funding from the Norfolk Community Foundation and support from business initiatives like Norfolk ProHelp are essential in sustaining and enhancing these efforts. By coming together, communities, businesses, and volunteers can create a more resilient and cohesive Norfolk, where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

[Posted: 31.05.2024]