4th June 2014

Sheffield University Management School, Sheffield , United Kingdom

A one-day seminar to draw together academic perspectives and promote a research agenda. This conference was a joint event between Voluntary Sector Studies Network,  Leisure Studies Association and Voluntary Action History Society.  It was supported by Sheffield University Management School who provided the venue and managing the bookings.

Conference Report by Deborah Forbes, Newcastle University Business School

Keynote: Bob Snape: University of Bolton – Leisure and volunteering in post-World War I social reconstruction: Are there lessons for today?

Rewards of volunteering– serious leisure, development and employability
Naomi Harflett: University of Southampton – ‘Bringing them with personal interests’: Explaining who volunteers from a volunteering as leisure perspective
Aaron McIntosh: Robert Gordon University – Backstage passes: The student volunteer experience

Volunteers’ motivations and expectations vs organisational management
Torsten Schlesinger and Siegfried Nagel: University of Bern, Switzerland – Does the structural context matter? Analysing individual and structural factors of volunteering in a Swiss sports club
Steven Howlett and Stephen Driver: University of Roehampton – Plain sailing? Volunteer involvement in boating clubs

Closing plenary and workshop: volunteering and leisure in a changing society
Geoff Nichols: University of Sheffield – Research questions bridging volunteering and leisure

The day was well attended by 25 people representing a cross section of interests. Geoff Nichols hosted on behalf of Sheffield University Management School.

After an introduction to the day by Angela Ellis Paine from the Third Sector Research Centre, keynote speaker Bob Snape, gave an interesting overview of Post War Volunteering and asked the question ‘are there lessons for today?’ This was an underlying thread throughout the day.

Naomi Harflett and Aaron McIntosh addressed the theme of rewards of volunteering through two contrasting cases. Naomi’s paper explored National Trust volunteers: who they were; their motivations; and the link between volunteering and leisure.  Many National Trust volunteers had an existing hobby or participated in heritage. She concluded that recognising this link can make an important tool for understanding and changing inequality of volunteer participation.

Aaron’s paper focused on the under-graduate student volunteer experience. A cohort of students was asked to comment (through surveys and focus groups) on their experiences of event volunteering. The paper concluded that there were a range of reasons for volunteering including gaining practical experience of “real life” events which led to perceived benefits in terms of employability and skill development.

After lunch the theme of volunteers’ motivations and expectations vs organisational management was explored.

Torsten Schlesinger’s paper reported the findings of a large scale survey (1434 members) of 45 sports clubs. This involved a multi level investigation into influences on the decision to engage in volunteering. His findings indicated that in addition to individual characteristics club specific conditions also influenced volunteer engagement. Specifically that willingness to volunteer is more probable in rural sports clubs and clubs with growth oriented goals had a destabilising effect ie as diverging individual and collective interest increases, obligations of solidarity reduce.

The final paper by Steven Howlett and Stephen Driver focused on the relationship between volunteers in boating clubs and management strategies. In particular that the growing professionalism of this area driven by regulation; funding and how the service is delivered makes sense but not perhaps for volunteering and its ethos,  values and conviviality. They ended with the question – Does a more professional approach to management enhance enjoyment or is it detrimental?

Geoff Nichol’s closing plenary drew upon the papers to consider the future of volunteering in a landscape that was changing.  (Link to Presentation)

The papers provided some interesting perspectives; raised questions and identified further research areas. Each paper was followed by lively discussion which continued through lunch and during the refreshments at the end of the conference.

Thanks should go to all those involved in organising the day and making it a success.