12th May 2015

Edge Hill University, Manchester

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The seminar was generously hosted by Edge Hill University and was organised with the kind assistance of John Diamond.

Conference Report

The day conference, chaired by John Diamond from the Edge Hill University, began with an engaging debate on the future of volunteering. Nick Ockenden from the NCVO argued that there are several reason for being optimistic about the future of volunteering:  awareness of volunteering and its value is high as are the rates of voluntary work, more and more young people are getting involved, management of volunteers has improved and public services reform and technological development are opening more opportunities for volunteering. In contrast Colin Rochester from the LSE pessimistically concluded that, in an increasingly marketised society, volunteering, based on the principles of altruism, solidarity, reciprocity and social justice, soon might be seen as a deviant behaviour. He emphasised that it is important to remember the multifaceted nature of volunteering and the roles it plays in society, and that volunteering can not only support status quo or serve as an alternative provision but also challenge the existing situation.

Research by James Davies from Strathclyde University highlighted the frequently accidental nature of becoming involved and how deeply young people’s volunteering in deprived areas is rooted in social networks and the pressures and barriers they create. He found that often young people begin volunteering just because they happened to be asked. Young people also reported a lack of support or even occasional resistance to their volunteering from their parents. Some evidence from the study suggests that compulsory volunteering can put a young person off from a further involvement.

Julia Hill from Church Urban Fund presented a survey of 118 church volunteers who, according to her findings, are involved in over 700 different volunteering roles – from taking out rubbish bins to serving on a committee. Her study also finds that these volunteers might benefit from more clarity, support and guidance and an occasional ‘thank you’ for the work they do.

Margaret Harris, University of Aston, and Duncan Shaw, Manchester Business School, introduced the paradox of spontaneous volunteering: there is a need for additional human resources during floods or other disaster situations and emergencies; yet, there are a number of obstacles that prevents an effective use of the help that volunteers offer. They proposed a range of practical recommendations for resolving this paradox, including pre-training of potential volunteers.

Finally, Jade Jackson from the University it Wolverhampton explored challenges of involving and retaining volunteers for community sports projects in areas where demographics does not fit the conventional volunteer profile. Her presentation induced a lively debate about research on policy failures.

Report by Daiga Kamerade, Research Fellow, Third Sector Research Centre, University if of Birmingham

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Papers presented at event