On 18 May 2020, EUROCITIES held a city dialogue with its cities on the role played by volunteers and civil society during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the framework of our project VALUES - Volunteering Activities to Leverage Urban and European Social integration of migrants, we were inspired by how much local authorities and volunteers are doing to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak at local level. There are a number of good practices involving volunteers and civil society not only in the field of migrant and refugee integration but in many other different areas, such as health, food distribution, support to the most vulnerable groups (including elderly, homeless people, youth, Roma and many others).
Attended by over 30 people from 26 different European cities, this city dialogue enabled our members to share experience and discuss challenges and solutions regarding the examples of solidarity spread across many cities in support of the most vulnerable. The engagement of civil society during the pandemic and the role of city authorities in coordinating these efforts was the core topic of discussion. Riga, Bristol, Madrid, Birmingham, Toulouse, Poznan and Brussels presented good practices and new initiatives involving volunteers (nationals, but also migrants and refugees, wanting to give something back to their hosting community).
Key highlights from the city dialogue
Coordination amongst city services and associations: in five out of seven cities presenting during the city dialogue, a volunteer platform or a network was established by the city authorities and/or in cooperation with civil society organisations to coordinate different initiatives, the groups of volunteers and to ensure that all people in need were supported during the lockdown.
Increasing role of the digital: cities had to rethink their usual ways to provide help. For example, volunteers who used to help children do their homework had to keep supporting them online. Many cities also moved some or part of their services online, by increasing digital channels for their community and the city officials' presence online, especially through social media.
Need to continue provision of services/assistance vs need to protect volunteers and safety concerns: many city officials highlighted how additional safety measures were put in place to protect volunteers when delivering food to the elderly or helping out in a reception centre. All cities who presented their experience during the dialogue described these additional safety measures, e.g. compulsory wearing of masks and gloves (especially when delivering food), keeping at least 1.5 m distance and others.
Common challenges and innovative solutions: many cities noted that many of their volunteers so far had been the elderly who had in general more time (being in most cases retired). However during this pandemic, they were the most affected groups and could not keep volunteering as in the past. Therefore there was shortage in the number of volunteers available and many associations had to call out to young people that luckily responded very generously.
Language barriers and involvement of foreign communities: many cities faced an additional obstacle at the beginning of the pandemic. There was need to reach all migrant communities and especially those who don't speak well the national language and have in general less contacts with the outside world, e.g. unemployed women, newly arrived migrants and refugees. In most cities, there were non-national volunteers who stepped up and supported local authorities in translating the information pamphlets or brochures about Covid-19 in the main languages spoken in the community, outside the national one.
The recording of the whole city dialogue is available here.