Covid-19 and voluntary action: new research repository

As part of VSSN’s goal to help maximise the visibility and impact of Voluntary Sector focussed research, we are collating research projects which focus on VCS and volunteering responses to, recovery from and implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you would like your project to be visible on the VSSN website, please fill in the form here. It would be great to hear about projects in development as well as those in progress, as this should help to reduce any risk of duplication and open up possibilities of collaboration.

Read more and submit your research project here.

Duncan Scott – a eulogy

By now many colleagues will have heard the terribly sad news that our colleague and longstanding VSSN stalwart Duncan Scott has passed away. He died on 18th May after a severe stroke.

Duncan was a pioneer and champion of voluntary sector research in the UK, and at the forefront of landmark discussions which led to the formation of VSSN back in the 1990s. He promoted voluntary sector studies in academia, through his long career as a Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer at the Department of Social Policy at the University of Manchester. He researched, wrote and spoke about a wide range of topics, often with a practical focus, including funding voluntary organisations, volunteering and service delivery contracts, social enterprise, rural deprivation and voluntary action and qualitative research methods.

Beyond this, and perhaps more significantly, he was a tireless advocate for community-based research. He recognised the importance of supporting those in voluntary organisations and community groups who needed to get vital research done quickly, but who had neither ready access to all the resources on offer in Universities, nor the sometimes breezy academic confidence about research methods. He played significant advisory and committee roles with, for example, the Institute for Volunteering Research, Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation, Third Sector Research Centre and of course VSSN.

Duncan was very supportive of new researchers and doctoral students, finding creative ways to bring people together to discuss common issues and concerns in voluntary sector research. In the early 2000s he convened several significant sessions through VSSN around qualitative research. This drew from and formed the basis of several important publications with colleagues, including ‘Moving Pictures: Realities of voluntary action’ (2000); ‘Close Work: Doing qualitative research
in the voluntary sector’ (2005) and ‘Researching voluntary and community action: The potential of qualitative case studies’ (2005). Duncan was always keen to discuss the messy practice of carrying out research, and often implored colleagues to bring case study research in the voluntary sector alive, to act as witnesses, to ‘show us that you’ve been there!’

Many of us will have worked with or come across Duncan in our research, and will treasure fond memories of his self-deprecating humour, his commitment, his support, gentle challenges, insight and wisdom, and in the end of simply having spent time with him.

To help mark Duncan’s contribution to voluntary sector studies, we have set up a padlet page for colleagues to share reflections. You can access the page by clicking on this link: Simply visit the page and click on the + sign to add your comments.

Rob Macmillan
Sheffield Hallam University

Development grant projects about to go live!

We are proud to announce the results of the latest round of development grants which are all described below and we encourage members and others to get in touch with those delivering the projects and to get involved.

Mike Aiken, Vita Terry and Julian Manley:  Emotions and feelings in voluntary sector work: Explorations from research and practice

We would like to thank VSSN for the small development grant we have been awarded which will support us to set up a series of events from autumn 2020 on the role of emotions and feelings within voluntary sector work. This series seeks to bring together the community, social and psychological realm. Several of us in VSSN and beyond have already been discussing these cross-disciplinary themes as they affect – or intersect with – our existing research. The aim of these seminars is to explore the cross-over issues through informed discussion, gaining insight from speakers with professional insight and co-learning through small group work, involving practitioner experience and research insights.

The three events will potentially be held in Preston (provisionally 20th or 22nd October 2020), Bristol or South West (March 2021) and London (June 2021). However, in light of the current restrictions due to Covid-19 we will hold a mix of on-line and face-to-face events if or when restrictions are lifted.

The initial planning group is composed of Dr Mike Aiken (Brighton), Dr Vita Terry (London) and Dr Julian Manley (Preston). We will set up a distribution list shortly but if you would like to be kept in touch, or contribute and suggest themes please contact us:

Dr Mike Aiken on or Dr Vita Terry on


Tot Foster, Open University:  Small charities use of video

There are so many barriers to small charities engaging with video, not the least lack of time and money. Yet the rewards can be great – enhancing social media presence, recording and communicating impact. This development grant will be spent on a day long training session for ten small charities in making no/low budget films. As part of her PhD Tot Foster developed a new design-based approach to video production, tailored to small charities. The feedback from the training will inform the next iteration of the production process which will then be converted into an online course such as a MOOC.  The training will be offered later this year to a network of London charities under the umbrella of the digital skills organisation Superhighways. If face to face is impossible then the grant offers an opportunity to deliver and evaluate an early version of the online course.


Philippa Davies, Cardiff University: Women leaders’ experiences of gender (in)equality in Welsh sport leadership

The main focus of my proposal is to share the results of my research, which examines women leaders’ experiences of gender (in)equality in Welsh sport leadership, back with the Welsh sport sector, and in particular, Welsh sport leaders. One of the main reasons I researched this topic, was to share anything useful back with the sector to hopefully help women and men sport leaders. I aim to share the results by creating a bi-lingual report which provides an overview of the results and also deliver seminars to present the results and answer any questions (either in person, or due to the current situation by webinar).

I hope to work with leaders within the sector to ensure as many sport leaders (both voluntary and paid), who would wish to, will be able to attend (whether in person or remotely). I am so excited to have the grant which means I can make sharing back the results a more impactful, professional and, hopefully, a useful process for the sport sector.

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.

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.