Facilitating online support for new researchers during the coronavirus lockdown

Are you a new researcher in the field of voluntary sector/action studies?  You may be a student, an early career researcher in an academic environment, or a new researcher working directly in the third sector.  If so, you may be interested in getting involved in VSSN’s online support for new researchers.

We held our first online chat with new researchers on April 27, 2020 – 10 people joined from universities and communities across the UK.  It was a really positive session, providing an opportunity for people to connect, talk about how they are feeling during these difficult times, and to give and get peer support.

Given the success of the session, we are going to facilitate these online sessions monthly.  At the moment the session is unstructured, but this may evolve.  For example, there could be a particular focus to each session; we could also organise breakout rooms for people who want to talk about specific issues.  Potentially new researchers will begin to make connections with each other and organise their own activities – such as an online writing retreat.  Anything is possible!

We are also offering a one to one peer support session of up to 30 minutes – providing an opportunity for you to discuss a research issue with someone from within the VSSN community.  If you are interested, please email me and let me know what you would like to focus on in the session; we will then connect you with the most appropriate person in our network.

The support for new researchers is being offered by Vita Terry, Jon Dean and Jane Cullingworth of the VSSN steering group.  Please note, you do not need to be a member of VSSN to participate – however, we do encourage you to join VSSN.  VSSN is a membership driven organisation that relies on its members for support.  Membership offers a number of benefits and is on a sliding scale; you can find out more here.

Please contact Jane Cullingworth at for more information.


Changes to conference plans – 2020 and 2021

Unfortunately, current circumstances mean we have had to postpone the 2020 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference. This feels like the only reasonable choice given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.


However, we have two pieces of good news.


Firstly, we can announce that the conference will take place at Aston University in Birmingham in early September 2021. We are hugely excited to be working with Aston again, and look forward to seeing you all in Birmingham next year. We will transfer the programme we had lined up for this year to next. We are delighted that our key note speaker – Angela Eikenberry – has agreed to postpone her trip from the US until 2021 to make this possible.


Secondly, we can announce VSSN and NCVO will be partnering to host a virtual conference – ‘Times Like These’: Researching civil society responses to and recovery from COVID-19 – to be hosted digitally across 7th and 8th September.


This eConference will include two plenary sessions, featuring a host of expert speakers reflecting on research into and experience of how the COVID-19 crisis has affected the voluntary sector and volunteering in the UK and around the world. It will also feature four panel sessions, specifically reflecting on what COVID-19 has meant for philanthropy, mutual aid, volunteering, and voluntary and community organisations. The exact format of each of these four sessions will depend on the proposals that we receive to participate in them (see below). Further details are below.


The eConference will be free to join and registration details will be shared shortly. We will also announce the full line-up of plenary speakers in the coming weeks. Details of the four panel sessions and how to register your interest in presenting in them can be found here.


All the very best, and take care,


Angela Ellis Paine and Jane Cullingworth (co-chairs) and the rest of the VSSN Steering Group

Postponement of day seminar – Volunteering in Health and Social Care – 19th May

Postponement of VSSN day seminar:  Volunteering in Health and Social Care.   Tuesday 19th
May, University of East Anglia.

We are sorry to say that the VSSN steering group have taken the hard decision to
postpone the above day seminar until later in the year given the recent announcements from the
Government regarding the coronavirus. Please keep an eye on our website for future
With best wishes,
VSSN Steering Group

Volunteering in Health and Social Care: making a difference in a complex landscape of rising demand. Call for papers

Call for papers: Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) Day Conference, 19th May 2020

This event has now been postponed hopefully to the date of the usual autumn event in November.   Please look out for further developments.

Volunteering in Health and Social Care: making a difference in a complex landscape of rising demand.

VSSN’s next day conference will take place on 19th May 2020, hosted by the Institute for Volunteering Research at University of East Anglia in Norwich. We will explore volunteering in health and social care, considering the opportunities and challenges encountered in a complex landscape of rising demand and the difference volunteering makes in this context.

Pressures are growing on volunteer-involving organisations, locally-based community organisations and social enterprises to respond to increasing and diverse demands for volunteers to provide health and social care services. These range from national newspaper campaigns to recruit large numbers of new volunteers for a variety of new tasks and settings, to the current drive for social prescribing and increased community involvement.

This day conference specifically aims to explore:

  • the current context of volunteering in health and social care,
  • the current policy drivers
  • new and innovative approaches now being promoted to deal with demand,
  • what difference volunteering makes to health and social care, volunteers, volunteer involving organisations and wider society.


We welcome contributions from researchers, academics, doctoral students and practitioners from a broad range of fields around innovative initiatives taking place in different communities, and critical theoretical debates on what is happening to voluntary and community sector innovation and enterprise in the current period.

We will be pleased to consider proposals on related topics which may include (but are not limited to) organisations working with diverse groups in the population, for example refugee groups, those facing inequalities due to geography, black and minority ethnic led, women’s and faith-based groups.

Your abstract should outline your proposed paper, showing how the issues you raise will contribute to the themes for the day.

Abstracts of 250-300 words should be sent to: by March 13th 2020.

Please also attach contact details.

If helpful, please contact Jurgen Grotz to discuss contributions informally in the meantime.

We are also happy to accept poster proposals, if you wish to submit a poster please contact Jurgen on the email address above.

Attending the event

VSSN aims to promote an understanding of the UK voluntary sector through research. The event is aimed at researchers, academics, doctoral students and practitioners in voluntary organisations or foundations interested in the UK voluntary sector. We also welcome policymakers and practitioners engaged in relevant fields. We are always pleased to meet and receive contributions from colleagues in similar settings in other countries. The working language is English.

Bookings will open shortly and the normal costs for day seminars will apply: £35 for members, £70 for non members and £25 for non members without institutional support.

We look forward to welcoming you at the University of East Anglia on May 19th 2020.

VSSN development opportunity grants – deadline extended until the 27th March

***Extended deadline for VSSN development opportunities small grants scheme***

In light of the current situation, particularly the strikes that are taking place,
VSSN have decided to extend the deadline for the small grants scheme until the 27th

For more information on the scheme please visit<>

We look forward to receiving an application from you.

All the best,

The VSSN team


Applicant guidelines: VSSN development opportunity grants

2019-20 Call Outline

The Voluntary Sector Studies Network invites applications from members for proposals to support and develop an idea or activity that will benefit voluntary sector studies in the UK. The grant can be used to fund seminars, workshops, roundtables, webinars, podcasts, film/animation and other activities linked to research, learning and teaching. The main focus will be to bring individual researchers and/ or practitioners and/or policy makers together to create a dialogue on a voluntary sector and volunteering related issue. In particular, we encourage applications that will provide on-going dialogue.

Eligibility and suitability

Successful applicants will be expected to:

  • Ensure that the proposed activities are undertaken and the grant is spent within 12 months of the notification of the award. However, any events should not be held in May, September or November due to potential clashes with key VSSN events and conferences.
  •  Publicise their event as widely as possible, including through VSSN channels Write a short report/ statement/ blog after the event for the VSSN website.
  • Use this as an opportunity to advertise the VSSN to potential new VSSN members (including marketing via other channels, distribution of VSSN leaflets, use of VSSN logo, etc.).
  • Tweet during the event using the VSSN account.
  • Consider the venue/ location of the event to widen the reach of the audience, except where proposed activities are for a pre-specified group of people.

Application procedure

Applicants for the development opportunity grants are required to fill out the application form either online or download and email to . The application form asks for details of the applicants involved (name, role, institutions), and a clear outline of the activities proposed, purpose of these selected activities, rationale for this proposal and timescale. Please include a provisional budget providing a breakdown of anticipated costs (e.g. travel, refreshments, venue hire) and whether any other funding has been applied for or received from other sources. These costings need to justify the proposed activities.

You may bid for an amount up to £750 and can bid as an individual or as a group (although there will need to be a lead on the application as the main contact and will be responsible for the small grant). The cut off point for funding applications is a combination of how much money we have earmarked in the annual budget for the programme (£1,500 for 2019-20) and the application quality. The lead applicant must be a member of VSSN. If the application involves a group please specify the reason for this collaboration. The deadline for applications is Friday 13th March 2020.

If you are interested in using an alternative medium application e.g. video please do get in touch. Please send your application or any enquiries to

Selection process

The VSSN development opportunity grant assessment panel will consider all applications that have been submitted for call (applications submitted outside of this period will not be reviewed). Successful applications will be expected to provide a short end of funding award report on the activities, a version of which will be published on the VSSN website. We will announce the successful applicants mid- April2020.


All expenditure must be auditable including a breakdown of costs incurred, receipts and invoices, and will need to be claimed no later than 6 months after the activity.

WISERD hosts successful conference with VSSN

During November Wiserd hosted a joint day conference with the Voluntary Sector Studies Research Network entitled ‘Civil society in the four UK nations: past, present and future challenges’. The day included a diverse range of papers from academics and third sector organisations. The first session presented research findings on civil society and the state across time and territories. Irene Hardill (Northumbria University) and Rob Macmillan (Sheffield Hallam University) presented ‘Moving frontiers: Voluntary action and social welfare’ exploring and comparing dominant discourses from the 1940s and 2010s on the shifting relations between the state and civil society. Hannah Ormston from the Carnegie UK Trust introduced the recent report ‘Carnegie UK Trust: The Enabling State’. This compared approaches to public policy-making in the nations of the UK and found the devolved legislatures involved a complex process of learning and dissemination but also enabled generally more favourable developments in Wales and Scotland in relation to civil society than those in England. Other presentations included analysis of changing governance and voluntary sector engagement in Wales (Amy Sanders Cardiff University, WISERD) and in Scotland (Jane Cullingworth University of Glasgow), highlighting the complex trade-offs many voluntary organisations have to negotiate as they seek to influence government.
Rich insights were shared in the panel discussion, ‘Community action in local places – Building leadership and leading change’. James Rees (University of Wolverhampton) highlighted the importance of relational networks within civil society in generating place leadership. This theme was picked up by Dr Sarah Lloyd-Jones, who outlined the Rank Foundation funded project ‘The Llechi, Glo a Chefn Gwlad (Slate, Coal and Countryside) partnership’ which will work with 9 community organisations to support the development of local leaders. Finally within this Panel, Sue Denman (Solva Care and Solva Community Land Trust) and Jessie Buchanan (Trecadwgan Campaign Group) provided rich evidence of how community ownership and delivery of social care can grow through local community action.
The initial afternoon panel focused on the ‘politicisation/ de-politicisation and/or re-politicisation of children and young people’s voluntary action’ and considered how this group engages in voluntary action. Contributions from Alison Body (University of Kent), Esther Muddiman (WISERD, Cardiff University) and Emily Lau (Canterbury University), highlighted the importance of how we involve children and young people and its subsequent impact on ongoing civic action. Rich empirical data demonstrated the role of schools and families in both facilitating and shaping values and action by young people.
The final panel reflected on lessons from practice, with contributions on ‘the impact of government initiatives to end rough sleeping on voluntary sector organisations across England, Wales and Scotland’ (Mike Hemmings York Saint John University); ‘Tensions from volunteer befriending inside a British immigration detention centre’ (Joanne Vincett Open University); and ‘Welsh Town Twinning: A future for civil society across borders, or the end of association?’ (Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins Aberystwyth University). Joanne Vincett described the tensions negotiated by the volunteers she studied, as ‘quietly advocating’. This term captures a key theme emerging from the day, highlighting how voluntary organisations are continually challenged to find ways to advance their actions whilst maintaining working relationships with the institutions of government.

VSSN and VSR election results

VSSN is delighted to announce the results of recent elections for the VSSN steering group and the Voluntary Sector Review Editorial Management Board (EMB).


For the steering group:


  • Jane Cullingworth was re-elected
  • Vita Terry was elected
  • Jurgen Grotz was elected


For the EMB:

  • Feilim OhAdmaill was re-elected
  • Joanne Vincett was elected


Congratulations to the successful nominees and thank you to everyone who stood for election, it is much appreciated. We would also like to thank again retiring steering group members Linda Milbourne and Mike Woolvin and retiring EMB member Eddy Hogg for their huge contributions.

NCVO has just published the NRS best paper blog

NCVO has just published the NRS best paper blog.

Emily Lau, winner of the New Researchers Prize at this year’s Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference organised by VSSN and NCVO, is a lecturer at the Faculty of Education, Canterbury Christ Church University. She is completing her PhD in Education looking at young people and their experiences of social action. At the VSVR conference in September, she presented her paper which looks at how universities have a vital role to play in creating spaces where young people can actively explore their own role in civil society.

Young volunteers and social action: The task for universities, the voluntary sector and communities

Conference report and presentations – Diversity in the spotlight

The report and all presentations from our recent conference, Diversity in the spotlight: highlighting perspectives on race, culture and migrants, are now available to download.

Thank you to all our speakers and attendees for a very stimulating start to what we hope will be a series of events exploring the marginalisation or absence of diverse groups from voluntary sector research and debates.