Report on Emotion and Feelings in Voluntary Sector Work Second Seminar (April 2021)

ExecOfficer |

How do emotions and feelings interact with our work in the voluntary and community sector? The second of three seminars on this theme, funded by VSSN, took place on the 13th April 2021 via Zoom. This provided a space for 24 researchers and practitioners – from the UK and beyond – to share and discuss our work in this area.

The seminar began by reflecting on the wide range of contributions from the first seminar in October 2020. Vita Terry pointed to learning from a practical tool developed by the National Trust to support the experiences and emotions arising from volunteers’ engagement. Further, volunteers’ emotions within settings as varied as the emergency coast guard, associational golf clubs and sewing groups was noted. Emotions within leadership roles and explorations through story telling processes were also noted.

Joanne Vincett’s (Liverpool John Moores University) published research has previously examined issues such as researcher self-care and compassion fatigue. Her session ‘Choosing to reach beyond academic goalposts: Ethnographer as compassionate advocate inside an immigration detention centre’ developed these understandings further in relation to experiences of migrants.

Meanwhile, Pierre Monforte (University of Leicester) presented on-going work on ‘When Refugees Become Family Members: Private Hospitality and Affective Responsibility within Refugee Hosting Initiatives in Europe.’ Pierre’s research, drawing on insights from Derrida’s work and Berlot, pointed to how compassion and hospitality relate to inclusion and exclusion: hospitality can be seen as conditional.

Marilyn Taylor, Houda Davies and Vita Terry (Institute for Voluntary Action Research, London), drew on learning from recent – and highly topical – research with voluntary sector leaders in relation to ‘Emotion and wellbeing in voluntary sector organisations’.

Mike Aiken, Vita Terry and Julian Manley presented a working paper to offer an initial orientation to some of the theory behind the complexities and dynamics of emotion as a causative force within voluntary action.

The seminars also provided open spaces for discussions between participants. Hence, in the plenaries participants raised issues concerning the absence of informal spaces for discussion of emotions in the age of Zoom meetings brought on by Covid-19. Processes for discussion on IT platforms could be seen as less conducive to the emotional. Swift and important decisions taken by voluntary sector leaders in ‘emergency situations’ may have been crucial. But this process may also lead to a longer term loss of voice for some volunteers. The differences between paid staff and volunteers in relation to spaces for expressing emotions was cited. A slower reflective approach can produce important ‘ah hah’ moments of insight. However, the pressures by government and other funders towards ‘professionalisation’ could squeeze out the spaces for expressing the emotional.

Dr Vita Terry, Dr Mike Aiken, Dr Julian Manley and Alina Belousova devised and organised these sessions to open up spaces for discussing the complexities in the interaction between emotions and feelings within voluntary and community sector work. The final seminar in this series, drawing from research and practice in a multi-disciplinary way, will take place in early summer 2021. We welcome suggestions and comments on themes and contributions.

Check out the VSSN website for the announcement of joining details for the third and final seminar in the series ‘Emotion and Feelings in Voluntary Sector Work’ due in early summer 2021.

This seminar series was conceived, organised and facilitated by Dr Vita Terry, Dr Mike Aiken, Dr Julian Manley & Alina Belousova. It was made possible by the generous support of the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN). Watch out for details of session 3 in early summer – and your chance to submit a paper or presentation or workshop (on-line).