Home / Research / Reports

Volunteering After the Pandemic: Lessons from the Homelessness Sector

Volunteering After the Pandemic: Lessons from the Homelessness Sector

Hannah Rich and George Lapshynov’s report on the state of volunteering across the UK since the pandemic. 12/09/2023

Volunteering has changed significantly over the last few years, both in its nature and in the patterns of engagement seen nationally. Many charities, faith groups and community projects report having lost a significant number of their previous volunteers since the pandemic, due to a combination of changed working patterns, retirement, economic pressures, and a difference in the ‘offer’ that volunteers are now looking for after the pandemic. Both recruitment and retention of volunteers are challenging for a majority of charities. The same changes and challenges are observed for local faith communities including churches, who are often also reliant on volunteers.

Drawing together existing data and new research, this report examines the trends and evidence around volunteering post–pandemic, exploring what has changed in volunteering on the ground and the factors that have contributed to this. It considers what strategies faith groups and charities might pursue to recruit new volunteers and sustain their activities amid the many pressures of the current climate. It focusses on the homelessness sector as a case study, with the support of Housing Justice, but the findings are applicable more widely to any voluntary organisation.

We find that there has been a marked decline in volunteering over recent years. The initial boom in informal volunteering at the beginning of the pandemic has not been sustained, nor has it translated into a significant increase in formal volunteering subsequently.

Volunteer recruitment is noticeably harder than pre–pandemic, as is retention of existing volunteers. Many regular volunteers who stopped volunteering because of lockdown have not returned. The average age of volunteers, which skews older, has compounded this, with some choosing to retire.

Some of the changes to the ways in which voluntary services operate have profoundly altered the experience of volunteers. For some, the upheaval of recent years has prompted a refining and reassessment of volunteer roles and practices, which can be a positive thing. Whilst we observe that many of these have been beneficial to the clients or guests of a service, however, they have not always been seen positively by volunteers. In particular, we note that volunteers value the communal nature, the sense of ownership and belonging, and the relationships they build through volunteering.

In terms of improving volunteer recruitment and experience, we recommend that:

– The whole voluntary sector needs to find ways of broadening its volunteer demographic and in particular lowering the average age;
– This might mean introducing greater flexibility of volunteer placement, including short–term opportunities for younger people.
– A clearer delineation of roles and responsibilities would also help attract new volunteers as well as retaining existing ones;
– Investing resources in volunteer recruitment pays dividends in retention and increased organisational capacity and should therefore be prioritised;
– Local businesses and charities should seek to develop longer–term relationships leading to meaningful engagement and corporate volunteering opportunities.
– While conversations about the tension between volunteer and guest expectations may be uncomfortable, they are worthwhile;
– These conversations may lead to the development of a new paradigm for the voluntary sector, balancing volunteer and guest experiences.
– For some organisations, there is still a need to raise public awareness of their cause in order to continue attracting volunteers and charitable support.

Read the full report here.


Interested in this? Share it on social media. Join our monthly e–newsletter to keep up to date with our latest research and events. And check out our Supporter Programme to find out how you can help our work.

 Image by addkm on Shutterstock

Hannah Rich

Hannah Rich

Hannah joined Theos in 2017. She is a senior researcher working on theology and economic inequality. She is the author of ‘A Torn Safety Net’ (2022).

Watch, listen to or read more from Hannah Rich

Coronavirus, Covid, Homelessness, volunteering


See all

In the news

See all


See all

Get regular email updates on our latest research and events.

Please confirm your subscription in the email we have sent you.

Want to keep up to date with the latest news, reports, blogs and events from Theos? Get updates direct to your inbox once or twice a month.

Thank you for signing up.