IN June the prime minister asked Devizes MP Danny Kruger for proposals to sustain the community spirit we saw during the lockdown as the UK enters the “recovery phase” of the crisis.

In early lockdown the UK experienced a flowering of volunteering not seen since the second world war. Over a million people signed up to the NHS volunteers scheme and traditional charities.

Mr Kruger has now delivered that report, which includes a raft of ideas which could see a new Act of Parliament giving local people power of the design and delivery of public services as well as a reserve army of volunteers to help respond to future national emergencies, from pandemics to fires, floods and environmental disasters.

Many of the ideas now being reviewed by the PM are already in embryonic form in his own constituency, where he looked first for inspiration:

“My report starts with a tribute to the work of the Devizes Covid-19 Support Group set up by St James’s Church and run with the help of Devizes Town Council,” said Mr Kruger.

“We have an amazing strength in our local communities in Wiltshire, including Community First and the Wiltshire Community Foundation and hundreds of smaller local bodies at town and parish level.

“This is the network our neighbourhoods need in order to survive and thrive in the months and years ahead.”

Amongst his proposals are a volunteer passport system to match the supply and demand for voluntary help.

In addition, he proposes paid ‘service opportunities’ for unemployed young people to work on social and environmental projects, funded through the Kickstart programme, an annual Neighbour Day bank holiday to celebrate communities and volunteering, and funds of between £500 million and £2bn for community-led investment and support.

“The experience of the recent crisis – the willingness of local people to step forward and collaborate, the flexibility shown by public services and the social commitment of businesses – shows what is possible,” he said.

Much of the ‘local effort’ referred to in the report is already under way. Devizes, says town clerk Simon Fisher, has always has a strong ethos of volunteering.

“Over the pandemic we had more than 350 people come forward. The difficulty or challenge now is how we can sustain that.

“We are working with the Indies Devizes to see how we can work together to promote the town to shoppers and visitors.

“We are also looking at re-wilding open spaces in Devizes, and this needs to be done with the support of the community. It is popular, and people are very willing to get involved here.”

He said the Covid response from volunteers was exceptional in Devizes, and one of the key work streams now is to match people’s available time to making the volunteering feel worthwhile.

“The reason our covid response was so successful was that we had a system where people could ‘book’ in advance for a volunteering commitment, but also we had an immediate response system where people could say, ‘yes’ I am available now.”

Pewsey, a village on Mr Kruger’s patch, punched above it’s weight with the formation of the PCCA – or Pewsey Coronovirus Community Action group. A different set up to the already up and running Pewsey Community Area Partnership.

The former tapped into the zeitgeist, attracting hundreds of volunteers usually at work but all of a sudden available and willing to do anything from picking up prescriptions and shopping for those in need.

The PCCA is now morphing into a more community activity-based outfit, still voluntary, and hopes to find its sustainable feet running courses, staffed by and organised by expert volunteers.

Its longer running, and more traditionally civic operator, the Pewsey Community Area Partnership is working with 26 other parish councils and Wiltshire Council to find a way to formalise and harness the surge in volunteering for the long term. “In an ideal world, I would write job descriptions for all the volunteering opportunities there are,” said chairwoman Dawn Wilson.

“But there really isn’t the time to do that. What we need to figure out better is working out that life and time equation.

“Some people have more time to give than others, but some people can also provide a short amount of time at short notice.

"We are really focussing on matching people’s skills and experience with the volunteering opportunities.

“It is hard getting the message out that volunteering doesn’t have to be full time or many hours a week.”

She said a number of people in Pewsey had lost their jobs during the pandemic, and had turned to volunteering as a way of making themselves more attractive on the job market.

“Teenagers and young people are coming through too,” she said. “They want to take part and have a say in what happens in their communities too, so volunteering is no longer the preserve of the elderly or retired people.”

Next steps on Mr Kruger’s ‘social covenant’ will see Baroness Diana Barran, minister for civil society, consult with the people, charities and other local organisations who have volunteered during the pandemic, to discuss whether and how they expect to volunteer in future, and what infrastructure or policy support will help them to do so.