VSSN New Researchers Online Support Session 8th December 2021 1pm-2pm

In our final session of 2021, we will focus on sharing experiences from the year and look ahead to 2022. We’ll also share some information and feedback about the 2021 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research (VSVR) conference and the New Researcher sessions that took place there.

The meetings are an informal and open space for people to bring their interests, questions, successes, and worries. You do not have to have attended any of the previous sessions to come along to this one and you also do not have to be a member of VSSN. We do encourage you to join though and you can find out more about that here.

• Introductions, sharing of the good and not so good of the research journey – we usually devote around half of the meeting to this (20-30 minutes)
• Feedback from the VSVR conference and looking ahead to 2022 – what can VSSN do to better support new researchers including in these online sessions (15-20 minutes)
If you’d like to contribute your thoughts ahead of the meeting we’ve also developed a very short survey which you can access here:
• Wrap-up and looking forward to 2022 (5 minutes)

Joining information
The session will be hosted on Microsoft Teams. To register please CLICK HERE
For any further information or questions please contact:

Looking forward to seeing you in December.

Best wishes,

VSSN New Researchers Organising Group.

Launching UK-CAT

First published 06/07/2021:

Today we’re launching a new classification of charities in the UK, which aims to help researchers, umbrella bodies and others make sense of the diverse group of organisations that form the voluntary sector. The voluntary sector is defined by shared characteristics – legal form, volunteerism, non-profit distributing – but the sector covers such a wide range of organisations that to understand it you often need to look more closely at various subdivisions. This new classification system – which we’re calling UK Charity Activity Tags (UK-CAT) – adds “tags” to organisations to help understand the work they do, and identify groups of organisations. You can find tags for food banks, for example, or for charities working on rural issues. In all, we’ve created over 250 tags and defined rules for attaching them to charities.

We did this because we found the existing systems for classifying charities weren’t working. The Charity Commission allows charities to select categories when they register, but these categories are very high level and miss out on the detail of what organisations are doing. And the international classification applied by NCVO in the Civil Society Almanac (ICNPO) misses the nuances of a UK context, and includes too many “catch-all” categories. Esmée Fairbairn Foundation funded this project, involving CRESR at Sheffield Hallam University, NCVO, and David Kane, a freelance researcher, to create a new classification.

We’ve described our method in more detail in two previous blog posts: Classifying the charity register and A UK Classification System. In short, we took a sample of over 4,000 registered charities and manually classified each one, creating new tags as we went along and encountered different types of charities. This sample could then be used to generate and test keyword-based rules for automatic classification of charities, as well as training machine-learning models.

We’re launching the results of this project today, after previously presenting it at the Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research conference in Birmingham earlier in September. You can view the results and download all the data from the project, including a full list of UK charities with the classification system applied. There’s much more detail on the project website,

Although we’re launching this today, we don’t consider the job to be finished. We’re well aware that the complexity and variety in the sector makes our task a never ending challenge – so we need your help to make the next version better. The system will also reflect our experiences and biases as researchers and other people will have expertise in the parts of the sector that we have tagged.

We’d love to have your feedback on the classification system and the project generally. This could be feedback on the tags themselves: what tags are missing, what’s the right term to use? Or on how the rules are applied to the charities – are we catching some charities that aren’t relevant? Is a group of charities not getting captured? There’s a feedback form on the website above, or you can email

With over 200,000 active registered charities in the UK, we won’t have got every decision right, or perfectly captured the makeup of the sector. But we hope that UK-CAT will provide a valuable tool for those who want to understand the voluntary sector better.


Activism and Voluntary Sector Research: two sides of the same coin or different currencies: Tuesday, 16th November: 11.00-4.00

In this one day on-line event, we will explore the relationship between activism and voluntary sector research. We invite presentation proposals from academia and from practice that illuminate the potential and challenges of integrating personal activism and voluntary sector research. Many voluntary sector researchers are motivated to produce research that contributes to social change and reflects their own commitment to challenge social norms, but institutional pressures, performance measures, and ideas about what constitutes ‘good research’ often mitigate against such integration.

This free event will explore:
• The divide between voluntary sector studies and activist research
• The potential for integrating personal activism and voluntary sector research
• Research methodologies for integrating activism and voluntary sector research
• The challenges of integrating activist goals into a successful research career
• The opportunities presented by the current emphasis on knowledge exchange and research
impact in higher education.

The final programme can be found here: VSSN Day Programme – 16.11.21.

Policy Press have created a special collection of free Voluntary Sector Review articles for the VSSN Activism and Voluntary Sector Research Day Event. These articles are free to access until 30 November. VSSN Day Seminar Nov 2021 Special Collection

Bookings are still open, please use the form below and there is no charge

To become a member of the VSSN network, please go to

Online links for the morning and afternoon sessions will be sent one week before the event.

Looking at Emotion and Feelings in Voluntary Sector Work by Mike Aiken

It simply isn’t true to say that all the best ideas in the voluntary sector start with a few people meeting in a busy café over a coffee and snack. That’s because you also need someone to jot down random ideas on a serviette! Then you need to type in a diary reminder for a Zoom call next week. And don’t forget to email and WhatsApp all the people and networks you’ve ever known who might be interested in the idea.

Well, that is pretty much the back story behind setting up three seminars – held between October 2020 and July 2021 – on the role of emotion and feelings in voluntary action. Our bold idea was to ‘open up the practitioner and academic gaze to the importance of understanding…the realm of feelings and emotion within the practice and research on the community, voluntary and co-operative sector.’ Call it interdisciplinary if you prefer. We certainly had quite a lot to scribble on our serviettes!

But what came out of this series? Certainly, voluntary sector work with refugees and migrants raised complex feelings for many. A researcher might face conflicts between their professional role and their compassion in certain fairly closed institutional settings as Joanne Vincent’s work suggested in our first seminar. In addition, volunteers that generously offered a space for a migrant in their own home might, as Pierre Montforte’s research indicated, also face complex emotional dilemmas.

The ‘workload’ involved in some volunteer activity – from search and rescue operations (highlighted by Craig Needham) to community work in sports clubs (identified by Chris Mills) and sewing clubs (researched by Beverley Gilbert) – can become onerous. But it sometimes involves little emotional support.

Within larger voluntary organisations, long hours of working or volunteering with little supervision can be hard to challenge in the face of the important cause (as Conor Twyford’s work suggested). Meanwhile, leadership issues remained important in Rachel McGrath’s analysis as well as the toolkits and organisational processes to support staff and volunteers discussed by Anne-Marie Greene.

Marilyn Taylor drew attention to emotions in community action and how notions of place and local sensibilities could be in conflict with different ‘rational’ knowledges held by, for example, city developers. Meanwhile Julian Manley, identified and analysed dilemmas within volunteering through the use of psychosocial approaches to the role of affect and vocation.

These three events – kick started by a small grant offered by VSSN – were organised by Vita Terry, Mike Aiken and Julian Manley with administrative support from Alina Belousova. With the outbreak of the Covid virus in March 2020, the whole series went on-line but still attracted over 80 attendees in total. These included researchers and practitioners from the UK, Ireland, mainland Europe, USA, Canada, New Zealand and beyond.

For those who weren’t able to take part in the live events, some videos and programme notes have been made available on the VSSN website. Do check them out here:].

There is clearly a lot more that we can learn from cross-disciplinary approaches involving voluntary sector work and the psychosocial realm of feelings and emotions. So we are hoping to follow up the seminars with publications that have emerged from this work. Watch this space! Meeting up to develop further collaborations between practitioners and researchers across these fields could also offer us important learning.

So, when you next go for that inspirational coffee in a busy cafe, don’t forget to carry a pen and find a serviette!

Successful development opportunity grants about to go live!

We are proud to announce the results of the latest round of development opportunity grants 2021. The successful proposals are described below and we encourage members to get involved in the activities and contact those delivering the projects.

Susanne Martikke: Acknowledging complexity, learning from failure – Greater Manchester Third Sector Research Network event about evaluation and learning

Evaluation and learning is a dominant form of research in the voluntary sector (VCSE) and directly relates to practice and the relationship between organisations and funders. GMCVO worked with six members of the Greater Manchester Third Sector Research Network to develop a proposal for an event that aims to start a dialogue between researchers and practitioners about the potential of moving beyond presenting polished accounts of success stories towards a nuanced appreciation that every successful project contains elements of potential or real failure. While the current funding environment incentivises a focus on successes, there is reason to believe that real learning not only about what works but how it works will only be unlocked when more attention is paid to the complexity involved in voluntary sector delivery. Doing so may not only benefit VCSE delivery, but also the field of voluntary sector studies.

The full-day event, which is currently envisaged as a face-to-face event in spring 2022, will have a Greater Manchester focus and will bring together VCSE practitioners and researchers from frontline organisations and support organisations with funders and commissioners. It will aim to include both VCSE managers and frontline staff, as well as volunteers and people accessing VCSE services.

The event will combine open and entertaining presentations about learning from failure on the one hand and smaller working groups where experiences and approaches to integrating a learning culture into daily work can be discussed in a protected atmosphere. Providing a safe space will encourage participants to reflect about the problem-solving that is inherent in delivering projects in order to begin developing their own stories about “failure”.

Dr. Carol Jacklin- Jarvis and Dr. James Rees: Voluntary Sector Place Leadership: setting the agenda and sharing knowledge between practice and academia

We will use the VSSN Development opportunity grant to hold two exploratory knowledge exchange workshops on the topic of Place Leadership. Rather than following a conventional conference format with separate presentations, these workshops will draw on insights from knowledge exchange theory to model a format that gives equal space to story-telling from the front line and theoretical insights, with the aim of generating new knowledge for practice and academia. We plan to hold these face to face in the East and West Midlands of England in early 2022, but we will move them online if necessary. We will advertise the events widely within our own academic networks as well as through VSSN, NAVCA and other voluntary sector networks in order to attract practitioners to explore their experiences and challenges in shaping place and to reach academics with an interest in bringing a theoretical perspective to the topic. Ultimately, we hope the workshops will lead to an edited book and we have been in discussion with Policy Press about this.

Emily Lau: A short documentary on the value of place leadership in small communities by Food Friends

Food Friends will use the VSSN Development grant to film a short documentary about the value of place leadership in small communities. During the pandemic, Food Friends a small project tackling poverty and isolation was able to pivot its operations to work with other food projects, secure emergency funding and work with some of those most vulnerable in their community. Lessons learned from the way local project leaders and small organisations responded during the crisis are important for planning and funding projects into the future.

VSSN New Researchers Online Forum

VSSN New Researchers Online Forum
23rd August 2021

Following on from our first session of 2021 in April, this session will continue to offer a supportive environment for new researchers to share their experiences.

As always, these meetings are an informal and open space for people to bring their interests, questions, successes, and worries. You do not have to have attended any of the previous sessions to come along to this one and you also do not have to be a member of VSSN. We do encourage you to join though and you can find out more about that here.

In this meeting we’ll briefly look ahead to the Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research (VSVR) Conference in September and give an overview of what it’s like to attend the New Researchers sessions there. For more information on the conference and to book, click here.

We also plan to have some breakout groups in which attendees give a ‘three-minute pitch’ on a topic of their choosing. If you’re presenting at VSVR this can help you to refine your content and if you’re not this will be a useful exercise for any future presentations that you might give.

Structuring your ‘three-minute pitch’.

These are typically structured as an overview of your research as a whole, but you could also focus on something specific, for example your approach to data collection, analysis, or position as a researcher.

Think about:
• Your title – clear and succinct
• The focus of your research/presentation – why is this topic/aspect important?
• Background or context – academic literature and/or practice – what has come before your work and
informed it?
• Key themes, issues, findings, or questions you might have
• Implications – for your research project or more widely for academia (what’s your contribution?), for practice,
for policy.

There is no ‘right way’ to do this so we’ll just give it a go!

• Introductions and sharing of the good, not so good, frustrating, and infuriating about research! We usually devote around half of the meeting time to this (20-30 minutes).

• An overview of the VSVR conference including how it works and what it’s like to attend as a new researcher (5-10 minutes).

• The ‘three-minute pitch’ – depending on numbers we will break into smaller groups to discuss our pitches (20-30 minutes).

• Feedback, wrap-up and what’s next (5-10 minutes).

Joining information
The session will be hosted on Zoom. To register please visit:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

For any further information or questions please contact:

Looking forward to seeing you on the 23rd of August!

Best wishes,

VSSN New Researchers Organising Group.

2021 conference booking is now open!

Booking for the 2021 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference is now open.

Please use this link to access the Aston University booking site:


This year, we have decided to make access for those working at voluntary organisations slightly easier. So VSSN members and anyone from a voluntary, community, social enterprise or faith organisation can book at the member rate.


We have created a Frequently Asked Questions page to offer advice on where to stay, how to get to the venue, and the other events occurring at the conference:


More information about the conference, including the draft programme and details for presenters on their paper submissions, will be sent out very soon.


Any questions please either email us at:, or use Twitter: @VSSN_UK

Conference Organising Committee

VSVR Annual Research Conference



Twitter: @VSSN_UK

Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) Online Day Conference: Volunteering in a Global Pandemic

VSSN Spring Day Conference Report: Volunteering in a Global Pandemic

This year’s Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) Spring day conference was hosted by the Institute for Volunteering Research at University of East Anglia in Norwich, hosted in collaboration with the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) and the International Forum for Volunteering in Development (FORUM) and the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC).

The focus of the day was ‘Volunteering in a Global Pandemic’. Dr Carol Jacklin-Jarvis, Director of the Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership in the Faculty of Business and Law at the The Open University, and VSSN Steering Group member, wrote the following:

In this extended day event VSSN researchers and practitioners from the UK heard directly from volunteer-involving and volunteer support agencies around the globe, with presentations from the Americas, Asia and the Pacific region, and Africa and Europe.  The inclusion of different voices from so many different contexts highlighted the impact of volunteering during the pandemic on a vast range of challenges.  From India, we heard about the role volunteers played in supplying oxygen. From Peru, we heard about the support that volunteer psychologists gave to women in domestic abuse situations.  From Trinidad and Tobago, we heard about the development of a volunteer e-mentoring service.  There were multiple stories from around the globe of voluntary action in local communities to provide food, assuage loneliness, and provide a support structure to meet local needs.  Indeed, it was this everyday and yet extraordinary, often informal and self-organised local community support that was perhaps the most dominant theme of the day – described by one participant as ‘love in motion’

A second theme was the implications for volunteering support and infrastructure organisations of this growth in informal community-based voluntary action – in a context where many more formal volunteer-involving organisations have had to limit their services due to lockdown.  Several participants reflected on how their organisations might harness the growth in community-based, neighbourly action, but also recognised that the relationship between community action and the formal part of the sector is by no means straightforward.  In the words of one of our participants, there is a ‘fine line between encouragement and interference’. Understanding and working along that fine line in very different contexts poses a challenge for volunteer alliances and infrastructure agencies.  Participants talked about the importance of the  ‘volunteering ecosystem’, ‘tendrils of association’, the ‘intersectionality of formal and informal’, and the enabling environment, but also reflected on very different political contexts and the impact of those contexts on structuring support to volunteers.  An example was the discussion of national volunteer strategies (or their absence) and differences in regulation.

A third significant theme was the role of digital in enabling volunteering during the pandemic and the importance of digital for the future of volunteering.  Digital technology makes things possible and engages people in new ways (as our global discussion illustrated).  Tech enables a ‘mobility of knowledge’ and participants gave examples as to how volunteering activity developed and grew through, for example, social media, and online volunteering. However, tech can also marginalise, and this needs working through in the future to ensure a move to digital does not further exclude those who are already marginalised.  In one example, we heard about partnerships between business and schools to give children access to technology, but it’s not clear whether such partnerships will continue beyond the pandemic.

The final theme of the day was partnerships and collaborative working.  We heard of great examples of collaboration between volunteers and business, and volunteer-involving organisations and government.  But this was where the darker side of pandemic volunteering also emerged – the absence of government support in some cases and the failure of centralised volunteering schemes; gaps between government and sector-led support and services; and questions about the legitimate role of volunteers in state welfare.

This was an extraordinary day – hearing directly from people involved in making volunteering happen around the globe.  It reminded us all of the kindness and generosity of so many during the pandemic, but, looking ahead, also posed important questions for research and practice – about the future of community-based volunteering and its relationship with formalised volunteer-involving organisations; the role of volunteering in future state welfare; and the shape of future volunteer infrastructure.

The panellists were kind enough to record position statements which are available to view here, which helped us get the conversation started. They are very powerful, so we encourage you to view them if you are interested in diverse perspectives about the role of volunteering in a global pandemic.

Seminar 3: Emotion and Feelings in Voluntary Sector Work: Thursday 1st July (10am – 12.30pm) 2021 Register now!!

Here are the details for the third and final seminar in our series. Emotion and feelings in community, voluntary and social enterprise sector work! It will run 10 – 12.30 am on Thursday 1st July. Join us, contribute to the discussions, and make contact with other people in a wider network who are interested in these themes

Please register, whether as a presenter or a participant, with the link below to confirm your place. It’s free! But you’ll work hard! Follow this link to register:

These seminars are organised by: Dr Vita Terry, Dr Julian Manley, Dr Mike Aiken and Alina Belousova and funded by the Voluntary Sector Studies Network. (


Marilyn Taylor (Visiting Research Fellow, I.V.A.R) has a long track record of research in relation to community policy and practice and has published widely on this subject for academic, policy and practice audiences. Her work has included: evaluations of several national community programmes; research with IVAR on place-based funding and small charities; and acting as a learning partner for the Community Organiser Programmes.

Julian Manley (UCLAN, Preston) researches human relations and social innovation from a psycho-social perspective.

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

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).