What have we learned about COVID-19 volunteering in the UK? A rapid review of the literature

Mao, Guanlan; Fernandes-Jesus, Maria; Ntontis, Evangelos and Drury, John (2021). What have we learned about COVID-19 volunteering in the UK? A rapid review of the literature. BMC Public Health, 21, article no. 1470.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-11390-8


Community engagement and volunteering are essential for the public response to COVID-19. Since March 2020 a large number of people in the UK have been regularly doing unpaid activities to benefit others besides their close relatives. Although most mutual aid groups emerged from local neighbourhoods and communities, official public institutions also fostered community volunteering, namely through the community champions scheme. By considering a broad definition of COVID-19 volunteering, this article describes a systematic review of the literature focused on one broad question: What have we learned about COVID-19 volunteering both at the UK national level and the more local community level?

A rapid review of the literature in peer-reviewed databases and grey literature was applied in our search, following the PRISMA principles. The search was conducted from 10 to 16 of October 2020, and sources were included on the basis of having been published between January and October 2020, focusing on COVID-19 and addressing community groups, volunteering groups, volunteers, or community champions in the UK.

After initial screening, a total of 40 relevant sources were identified. From these, 27 were considered eligible. Findings suggest that food shopping and emotional support were the most common activities, but there were diverse models of organisation and coordination in COVID-19 volunteering. Additionally, community support groups seem to be adjusting their activities and scope of action to current needs and challenges. Volunteers were mostly women, middle-class, highly educated, and working-age people. Social networks and connections, local knowledge, and social trust were key dimensions associated with community organising and volunteering. Furthermore, despite the efforts of a few official public institutions and councils, there has been limited community engagement and collaboration with volunteering groups and other community-based organisations.

We identified important factors for fostering community engagement and COVID-19 volunteering as well as gaps in the current literature. We suggest that future research should be directed towards deepening knowledge on sustaining community engagement, collaboration and community participation over time, during and beyond this pandemic.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions