Just before Aotearoa went into its second nationwide lockdown in August 2021, we checked in with more than 600 tangata whenua, community and voluntary organisations to see how they were coping. Here’s what we found.

Community organisations are running on empty after 18 months of pandemic pressures, new research from Volunteering New Zealand and Hui E! Community Aotearoa shows.

The survey of more than 600 organisations in the tangata whenua, community and voluntary sector showed the sector is experiencing increased demand for its services from stressed communities.

But the demand has not been met with increased funding from government and the philanthropic sector, and the challenges are starting to wear down workers and volunteers.

The research was conducted in June-July 2021, just before Aotearoa New Zealand went into its second national lockdown in August. It was a follow-up of a 2020 survey which showed similar trends, and included focus groups with organisations caring for Māori, Pasifika, migrant and refugee-background, and disabled communities.

Key findings

  • Demand for services has been rising.
  • Funding in most cases has not kept up with demand. Funding levels have stayed the same and, in some cases, have fallen.
  • Pandemic pressures have created further strain on budgets, staffing, and service delivery.
  • Despite this, members of the sector have shown tenacity and flexibility in continuing to serve the increasing demands of their communities.
  • The disability community is affected by the additional stress lockdowns have placed on clients, for example, additional complications in keeping connected, accessing services etc.
  • High anxiety was reported in this part of the sector over the risks of moving away from the elimination strategy and further opening our borders.
  • Volunteers of migrant and refugee background communities are experiencing particular stresses and isolation and need priority counselling and support.
  • While volunteer numbers initially fell at the beginning of the pandemic, younger volunteers stepped up to fill the gap. However, pressures on volunteers have increased meaning adequate management support, training and wellbeing support are needed.
  • Staff and volunteer wellbeing is being impacted by increased demand for services, lack of funding, the compounding issues facing communities, and the general impacts of working in a pandemic environment.
  • The natural tensions between community care and self-care have become more apparent in pandemic times.
  • Levels of optimism remain high, though energies are starting to wane.
  • The pandemic has created the conditions for a more collaborative and less competitive approach to funding.
  • Whakawhanaungatanga and local mobilisation have been key to wellbeing and service provision, and will continue to be key. Deeper connections within and across communities are a source of strength, flexibility and tenacity.
  • There is a huge wellspring in our communities of effective leadership, energy, tenacity, skill, knowledge, wisdom, love, respect, kindness, and compassion.