People who have provided essential help since the start of the pandemic are suffering from volunteer fatigue, it has been warned.
More than 300 local resilience groups were set up across the Highlands in the face of the pandemic.
For example, in Caol and Lochyside, half a dozen stalwarts deliver supplies to some 3,000 vulnerable people and operate the community cupboards.
The burden on them is immense, said local councillor Ben Thompson.
“Knowing the quality of these natural community champions, they will shoulder the huge burden, but as lockdown continues I wouldn’t blame them for struggling.”
Willie Jack, chairman of Assynt Development Trust (ADT) says the problem of exhausted volunteers is not new, but increasingly serious.
The 1,021-strong neighbourhood of Assynt is thought to have more community groups per head of population than anywhere else in Scotland.
ADT has more than 30 volunteers and 100 members, Mr Jack says, but this doesn’t equate to plenty of feet on the ground.
He said: “I imagine the problem of volunteer fatigue is applicable everywhere, but more acutely felt in rural areas, because we have less people to go round the geographical area.
“Many individuals are on multiple boards and committees, and that’s probably always the case, but what it means is that as more and more is being asked of people in terms of community resilience for Covid, and possibly Brexit, it becomes more and more demanding.
“These people are volunteers, doing it in their spare time, they may not even have the correct skill set for what’s required and maybe out of their comfort zone.
“They feel if they were to stand down as treasurer or chair there would be no-one to take over, so it becomes quite an onerous task to be on the voluntary board of an organisation.”
Mr Jack said the problem was not easily solved.
“Getting young people is really hard.
“They’re concentrating on their families, keeping their jobs during Covid.”
He called on local authorities to do more to help voluntary groups.
He said: “Highland Council could begin by devolving roles in Inverness to local communities to ensure they are better supported.”
Black Isle councillor Gordon Adam said local volunteers were tired.
“Over the past nine months volunteers on the Black Isle have played a key role in identifying vulnerable people in the community and helping them in a number of ways from providing food to companionship.
“But like all of us, they did not expect the crisis to continue for so long, they are tired and they need council support.
“I have asked that the ward discretionary budgets should be boosted so that community groups will have rapid access to money for a range of humanitarian response work.”
Depute leader councillor Alasdair Christie said there is a huge risk to the council if volunteers get burned out.
“Without them people would be at risk.
“Excellent people are doing very valuable humanitarian interventions, improving people’s lives and checking on them.
“If they are not doing that, then it falls to the council, and the council simply doesn’t have the time, resource or the local knowledge of networking to be able to carry it out so efficiently.”
He said the council is looking at ways to support volunteers.
“The council can give support where it has expertise in systems, process and logistics.
“The council can free up resource from government grants, and can offer advice and information to join volunteer groups up in different ways.”