Volunteering and helping others

Young woman leads a group of five men and women of various ages in discussion outdoors.

The information on this page is about how you can safely get involved and support your community before, during and after an emergency.

No matter what abilities you have, amount of time you have to offer, or if you have never volunteered before, there may be ways you can get involved and help.

You could get involved by:

  • Getting to know your neighbours and understanding what support you and they might need in an emergency.
  • Speaking with your family, friends and neighbours about preparing for an emergency, and checking in on them when an emergency happens to see if they need support.
  • Looking out for calls for support from your local council or local charities and community groups when an emergency happens.
  • Joining or supporting a local volunteering or community group before an emergency happens. 

Some volunteering schemes are specific to certain emergencies and others are more general – but they could be called on in the event of an emergency. You should support your community in ways that are meaningful and appropriate to you. 

A simple step you can take to prepare your friends, family members and neighbours for emergencies is to talk about the advice in the preparing for emergencies section of this website. Helping others to undertake some of the steps set out is an easy way to get involved and prepare. 

When an emergency happens, it’s likely that the people around you will also be affected.

  • Get to know your neighbours – they (or you) might need support during an emergency. You or your neighbours might have valuable skills e.g. first aid that could be useful to know about in an emergency.
  • Swap contact details with neighbours and consider creating an instant messaging group or other closed online social network for your street or building – these can be an important source of information and support during an emergency.
  • Make a plan to check in on people who might need help if an emergency happens, particularly if the power goes out.
  • Don’t forget that some of your neighbours may have additional medical needs, be new to the area, be digitally excluded, or not speak or read English well. They might need checking on (in person) during an emergency, or they might need additional help to prepare.

Volunteering Directory

Anyone can get involved with helping their community.

Every volunteer is different and has different skills, but all are vital for supporting communities. 

The information in the Volunteering Directory will help you find a volunteering opportunity that suits your interests and skills.

Some of the organisations listed below have UK-wide opportunities, but some are England only. To find out more about volunteering in the other nations search online or visit:

Get involved in or support your local community groups

Local voluntary and community groups offer support to their communities even when an emergency isn’t happening. Through their work they help build connections and networks that can support people when the worst happens. During an emergency, community groups can support people affected.

You might have the time and skills that could help your local community group with their work. You might want to learn new skills and connect with others in your community. 

If you can’t commit to joining a group or regular volunteering, you could still make your local community group aware of any skills or resources that you have that could help – for example, if you’re first aid trained, own a 4×4, have digital or project management skills, or if you’d be happy to support with low risk activities during an emergency.

You can find a local charity through the organisations listed here.

  • The National Council for Volunteering Organisations has an interactive map of local volunteering centres in England who can help you find a volunteering opportunity.
  • The National Association for Voluntary and Community Action’s members support local charities and connect people to volunteering opportunities across England. Find your local NAVCA member.
  • DoIT is a national database of volunteering opportunities.
  • Reach Volunteering is a website for volunteers with specific skills – like accountancy, marketing, law, management, mentoring or IT.
  • Your community may have a Neighbourhood Watch or other Residents’ support group. They can help you get to know the people who live near you and can create safer, more connected neighbourhoods and communities. You could consider setting one up if there isn’t one.
  • Speak to your local high street charity shop, local sports clubs, disability support groups, faith-based groups and places of worship, cultural groups or other interest groups, to see if there are ways that you can get involved.
  • Find out more about volunteering with a charity or voluntary organisation, including your rights as a volunteer.

Emergency preparedness and response volunteering

Some community groups and volunteers plan and prepare for emergencies, often working with emergency responders to get help to those who need it most. 

This could be through a community-led action group or a national voluntary organisation who provide local or regional services.

Some groups have schemes that you can sign up to and get involved with. When an emergency happens, you could be asked to support your community (if it’s safe to do so) and help people in your area.  

There are specialist national organisations that work with volunteers to respond to local and national emergencies, such as those listed below. 

  • Communities Prepared has an interactive map where you can find some Community Emergency Volunteers and Flood Warden groups.
  • British Red Cross is a volunteer-led organisation that works to support people in the UK and around the world in times of crisis. It has a range of volunteering roles including emergency response and fundraising.
  • REACT is an emergency and crisis response organisation working in the UK and around the world. Their Response Volunteers are trained to react to emergencies such as floods and power outages. 
  • St John Ambulance is a first aid and medical support organisation that is dedicated to saving lives and keeping communities safe. Their volunteers perform a range of roles including clinical care, emergency ambulance crew and event first aiders.
  • Air Ambulances UK is the membership body for the 21 air ambulance charities in the UK. Their website will direct you to your local air ambulance charity. Volunteers perform roles such as fundraising, public awareness raising and mechanics. 
  • 4X4 Response UK represents and supports local 4X4 response groups across the UK. The groups provide logistical support to areas during severe weather or other disasters. Volunteers use their own 4×4 vehicles alongside specialist equipment to reach people in their time of need.

Search and Rescue

There are a range of organisations that support emergency responders to locate and rescue people in the event of an emergency. You can find out more about their volunteering opportunities by visiting their websites.

  • The Coastguard Rescue Service is made up of volunteers and is part of HM Coastguard. Their volunteer coastguard rescue officers perform services such as rescuing people who are trapped, missing people searches and providing support to emergency services during emergencies such as floods.
  • Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboat crews rescue people in difficulty at sea. Their lifeboat stations rely on volunteers to perform their lifesaving service. Volunteer roles include lifeboat station crew, lifeguards and water safety education. 
  • National Independent Lifeboat Association provides a list of 50 independent lifeboat organisations that rescue people at sea. Their members’ volunteer roles include lifeboat crew and shore crew who maintain equipment. 
  • The Royal Life Saving Society provides water safety and rescue services at a wide range of open water events. Their volunteers provide safety cover including lifeguards and first aiders, as well as welfare support such as crew catering and kit maintenance.
  • Surf Life Saving GB provides highly trained volunteers to undertake beach patrols, helping to keep our beaches safe, as well as inshore flood response search and rescue teams. The Surf Life Saving Association of Wales has a map to help you find a club. It is the largest volunteer organisation for ocean safety and rescue work in Wales – their goal is to prevent the loss of life through drowning.
  • Mountain Rescue England and Wales has a map to help you find your local mountain rescue team. These teams rescue people who need help in mountains, hills and moorlands. Their volunteers perform rescues, maintain equipment and fundraise. Scottish Mountain Rescue has a website to help you find your local team in Scotland and what opportunities could be available to volunteer and support their work.
  • Lowland Rescue UK has a map to help you find your local lowland rescue team. These teams perform search and rescue operations in lowlands across the UK. These rescue teams are staffed by trained volunteers. 
  • The British Cave Rescue Council is the representative body for volunteer underground rescue in the British Isles. Cave rescue teams do not train volunteers to cave: that is a prerequisite for underground team members. There may also be opportunities to volunteer as a non-underground team member and provide support with vital surface roles.

Public emergency services

Public services provide vital support to people across the UK. They have opportunities for voluntary, reserve and on-call work. 

You’ll be supported with training to learn new skills and become part of a team, helping to make a positive difference in your community.

You can find out more about their volunteering opportunities by visiting their websites. 

  • NHS reserves provide healthcare support for the NHS during peak times and emergencies. Volunteer roles differ and depend on the help needed and roles available at your local NHS organisation. These include Covid-19 and flu vaccinations, helping to run hospital wards and supporting basic patient hydration and feeding.
  • Ambulance Services provide a range of services including accident and emergency response and medical transport. Volunteers at ambulance services may provide support to ambulance crew or be trained as Community First Responders, who support their local community by attending emergency calls ahead of an ambulance. This website will direct you to your regional ambulance service, where you can search for volunteering roles near you. 
  • Special constables are volunteer police officers, sometimes known as specials. They take part in frontline police work and have the same powers as regular officers. Volunteers are trained and work alongside their local police force. 
  • On-call firefighters are trained and paid to be on standby to respond to emergencies. They do not staff the fire stations 24 hours a day like full-time firefighters but are called on when they are needed. 
  • NHS CARE volunteer responders provide a range of services to their local community. As a volunteer you could be delivering shopping and essential supplies to people, providing telephone support to people who would benefit from a friendly call, delivering equipment between NHS services, sites and people, or stewarding vaccination centres.