Income Tax Relief on Annual Subscriptions

Members will be pleased to know that they can now claim tax relief on their membership subscriptions as from the 3rd December 2020. VSSN’s name will now appear in the list of approved bodies on Gov.UK. ( Remember to claim it when completing your tax returns.

Lockdown number 3

Just to keep you all up to date – the VSSN office is open and operating as usual to provide support for members. A programme of events is being organised by the Steering Group for 2021 and our research repository is available for members to keep recording the work you’re all producing during this time to be shared with others. Please get in touch if we can help.

IVR hosts free half day on line seminar

IVR hostS free half day online webinar

On 20 November 2020, IVR hosted a free half day online webinar for the Voluntary Sector Studies Network with fabulous speakers from Newman University, Leeds Beckett University, UEA and from volunteer involving organisations in Norwich. Volunteering in Health and Social Care in the context of COVID-19: making a difference in a complex landscape of rising demand. We’re delighted to provide the recording from session one and session two of this event.

Please use the links below:

Reflections on the New Researchers Support Sessions

In light of the COVID pandemic, VSSN decided to expand its support to new researchers, with new regular online sessions held to provide space for people to connect and provide peer support.  The sessions were hosted by Steering Group members Vita Terry, Jane Cullingworth, and Jon Dean. Sessions were held across the Spring and Summer, with around a dozen attendees each time from across the UK and Europe, drawing in people who had not participated in VSSN before. Sessions focused on peer support in a pandemic, how to publish from your PhD (with Chris Dayson, SHU), and how to disseminate your research findings (with Emily Dyson, IVAR and Nic Dickson, Uni of Glasgow).

Here, one regular attendee Karin Biermann (doctoral student at Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt) reflects on the process.


What a difference it makes: Reflections on new researcher peer support

Karin Biermann

My mind map of doubt: Am I smart enough to undertake a doctorate? And if I am, is my area of interest exciting and influential? If it is, will I find a supervisor and be accepted into a university? And if admitted, have I the stamina and resolution to finish?

And on it went.

Doctoral studies are long and mentally, emotionally, and socially challenging, and in moments of self-doubt, there is the half-hope that there is a good reason not to start at all. Self-doubt acts as a process of self-deselection before and during the doctoral course.

The extent post-graduate students are orientated into and supported throughout their studies depends upon their institution’s history and resources, including access to networks such as Vitae. Yet, even if an offering were made to all students, doctoral studies are not homogeneous. Variations exist in the stages, years, intensity and flexibility, and according to location and subject. The process is complicated, living it is stressful and lonely, and social and collegial support offer essential counterbalance (Hazell et al. 2020). The question is, where can newcomers find encouragement, especially when their institutions fail to facilitate.

Enter another mind map doubt: picturing myself amongst the ‘next generation’ researchers featured in the university websites. This is confronting as I am, by all yardsticks, of mature age, meaning from a previous generation. Search engine results for “young researcher” compared to “new researcher” illustrates the point (for the daring, search “old researcher”, or look at images of “early career” or “early stage” researchers). Thankfully, VSSN did not make this stereotyping faux pas.

I was aware of VSSN, and its publication Voluntary Sector Review, and here is where the forum steps in. To be clear, I was a student, not a researcher in any stage or phase; researcher is a new identity. Luckily for me, the forum name – new researcher – clearly identifies the target audience, making joining-in accessible and transitioning to a researcher-identity possible, albeit a work-in-progress.

The first seminar in my first doctoral semester explored how history has led science being different from other dialogues, such as lobbyism, propaganda, or the trending term, ‘fake news’. History shapes the paradigms of science and knowledge as do the rules, norms – including stereotypes – and ethics of the institutions which cultivate them. In turn, the paradigms and the institutions set the stage for how science is scientifically communicated, even to non-scientific communities.

In recent VSSN new researcher forums, a raft of communication and dissemination alternatives have been presented. Not unexpectedly, getting articles published in academic, peer-reviewed journals to showcase science to the scientific community was a key topic. However, bringing science to a broader audience was covered by book writing and publishing and, in another session, tailoring reports and presentations to practitioners and policymakers, including internet and social media. To show that science is not only stuffy theories and formats, using innovative methods for collection and dissemination was made wonderfully clear by PhD student Nic Dickson presenting her The Art of Reconnection project.

What makes the forums unique is the down-to-earth, and welcoming exchanges within the group, notwithstanding the challenges of interpersonal communication in an online world. We come together because of an interest in civil society, a sphere with mutual support as one of its pillars, not an interest in a discipline. The group meet as peers, although, I must admit, referring to distinguished and accomplished researchers as peers may take a little getting used to. Presentations are a mutually respectful interaction within a small and at-ease group, not a top-down transfer of information from an expert other.

In my first doctoral seminar, Professor Matthias Karmasin encouraged us to read “Re-thinking science” as a critique of science and its relationship to society: ‘The more open and comprehensive the scientific community the more socially robust will be the knowledge it produces’ (Nowotny et al. 2001, p.258). Although the authors are making a larger point, the quotation allows peer support, such as VSSN’s, to be appreciated as more than a mutual exchange but as a precondition for generating valuable science.

Thank you, Vita, Jane, Jon and all my ‘peers’ for your contribution.


Hazell, C.M. et al. (2020). Understanding the mental health of doctoral researchers: a mixed methods systematic review with meta-analysis and meta-synthesis. Systematic Reviews [Online] 9.

Nowotny, H. et al. (2001). Re-Thinking Science: Knowledge and the Public in an Age of Uncertainty. Malden, MA: Polity Press.




Success of our first on line Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference

Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research e-Conference 2020

For two days over 7th-8th September the annual Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research (VSVR) Conference was held online. For more than 20 years the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has partnered with the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) to run this conference and this year the Birmingham Voluntary Sector Centre for Voluntary Action (BVSC) also joined this collaborative effort.

The theme of this first e-conference was ‘‘Times like these’: Researching civil society responses to and recovery from COVID-19’ and we were really pleased at the response from practitioners and academics presenting up-to-date research on the current situation and recovery from the pandemic. The programme comprised two plenaries and two sessions on each of four themes, a session with the Editors of Voluntary Sector Review and two book launches.

Professor Tracey Coule and Associate Professor Chris Dayso launched the conference by considering theoretical frames to consider civil society’s responses to Covid-19. Themes that emerged included the way we frame civil society-government relationships and mutual aid groups, which indeed became recurring themes throughout the conference. These themes, as well as how civil society organisations have reformed and changed their practice, were also carried forward to the plenary on Day 2 with presentations by Karl Wilding (NCVO)   Anna Fowlie (Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations) Brian Carr (BVSC) & Affan Cheema (Islamic Relief Worldwide). Carolyn Cordery who chaired the session ably assisted by Jon Dean.

A focus on volunteer mobilisation to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic brought papers from England, Scotland, Wales and British Columbia. And, while much mobilisation depends on organisations, the pandemic has seen returns to neighbourly volunteering and the geography of voluntary action being disrupted. The second volunteering session focused more on the experience of volunteering during the pandemic, from volunteer and organisational perspectives .

Philanthropy, fundraising and funding issues were the topic of session 1a and to some extent the cross-cutting issues in Session 3b. The research presented in these sessions was very varied, considering issues such as financial vulnerability and good grant making, the effects of furloughing on fundraisers, as well as governance, the role of local infrastructure and how social services data can help researchers understand Covid-19 responses.

As Covid-19 has had such a huge impact on society, it was unsurprising that two sessions discussed research taking ‘micro, meso and macro perspectives’ on voluntary organisations and Covid-19. Again with papers from England and Scotland, these sessions considered responses from local and national organisations working with homelessness, criminal justice, poverty and community businesses, as well as highlighting the lived experience of people.

Picking up the theme of mutual aid, two sessions considered both the conceptual insights and those from the frontline. These focussed on such issues as democratic participation, the influence of international responses on local mutual aid groups, neighbourhoods and umbrella organisations.

While we missed being able to chat to each other and presenters physically, as we would have done in a physical conference, the e-conference was a great experience and opportunity to share cutting edge research with a wider range of people than would otherwise have been possible, both engaging people who are physically distant from the UK and through social media. The sessions were recorded and can be found at: The next VSVR Conference is scheduled for 6th-7th September 2021 in Birmingham. We hope to see you there!






Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) AGM & Online Day Conference, 20th November 2020, 12:15

Volunteering in Health and Social Care in the context of COVID-19: making a difference in a complex landscape of rising demand.

VSSN’s next day conference will take place on 20th November 2020, hosted by the Institute for Volunteering Research at University of East Anglia in Norwich. We will explore volunteering in health and social care in the context of COVID-19, considering the opportunities and challenges encountered in a complex landscape of rising demand and the difference volunteering makes.

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 in the context of COVID-19. These range from national campaigns to recruit large numbers of new volunteers for a variety of new tasks and settings, to the need 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.



12:15 – 12:45 Annual General Meeting

Volunteering in Health and Social Care in the context of COVID-19:
making a difference in a complex landscape of rising demand

12:45 – 13:00 Participants log in

13:00 – 13:10 Welcome and Introduction (Ali Body)

13:10 – 14:00 What is it like to volunteer in health and social care under COVID-19?

What is it like to volunteer?
A Phenomenological insight, investigating the relationship between volunteers and their organisations.
Carol Hebden & Dr Paul McDonald, Newman University.

The view from my window.
Practice insights from ‘Come singing’ and ‘Music Mirrors’ of volunteering under COVID-19.
Heather Edwards

14:00 – 14:30 Break

14:30 – 15:20 The link between volunteering and health inequalities under COVID-19?

Disconnected discourses about Patient and Public Involvement and Volunteer Involvement in English health and social care.
Professor Fiona Poland, University of East Anglia

Move at the speed of trust:
Mobilisation of volunteering in the context of health inequalities and need.
Professor Jane South, Leeds Beckett University

15:20 – 15:30 Short Break

15:30 – 15:50 Speaker Panel with questions from chat room

15:50 – 16:00 Closing and Thank you. (Jurgen Grotz)

Bookings are still open.

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.



Steering Group elections 2020

Opportunities to become more involved with the Voluntary Sector Studies Network and Voluntary Sector Review 

Would you like to support the work of VSSN more actively? Do you have ideas about how you’d like to see the network develop?

If so, please consider nominating yourself for a place on either or both of:

  • the VSSN Steering Group
  • the Editorial Management Board of Voluntary Sector Review, the journal produced by VSSN with Policy Press.

VSSN is a volunteer-led organisation and its success relies very much on the commitment, time and energy of members of these two groups. 

VSSN Steering Group (SG)

This year there are three vacancies on the Steering Group.

The term of office is normally three years in the first instance. The maximum term allowed by the constitution is six consecutive years. Being a member of the Steering Group means also becoming a trustee of the VSSN.

Specific roles on the Steering Group are allocated by agreement after the election. Roles include Chair, Treasurer, Secretary and leading on, for example, membership and marketing, day seminars and the annual conference.

What are we looking for in a member of the SG? Commitment to VSSN and its continued success is the most important quality, but this year we are also keen to encourage self-nominations from members with skills/experience in accountancy/ numeric analysis, event organization and membership development.    We also want to improve the diversity of the Steering Group and would welcome interest from under represented groups who can bring lived experience which may be of value to our Network.

Details of existing Steering Group members and their roles can be found at VSR Editorial Management Board (EMB)

This year there are two vacancies for the VSR Editorial Management Board (EMB). The term of office is three years in the first instance, with an opportunity to stand for another three-year term.

The role of the EMB is to:

  • support the editorial team (currently Daiga Kamerade, Carl Milofsky and James Rees)
  • ensure that high editorial standards are maintained
  • represent VSSN in working with the publisher, Policy Press
  • ensure the journal is produced in accordance with the Publisher’s Agreement.

Additional roles

If you would like to be more involved but don’t want to join the Steering Group or Editorial Management Board, there are other voluntary roles which are equally valuable and help us develop our networks and activities. For example, we are currently looking for:

  • people to join our ‘small grants committee’
  • people to join a new team we are setting up to help shortlist the best paper award at next year’s Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference
  • a volunteer to moderate the VSSN email discussion list – an important role but not an onerous one which would only take a few minutes of your time each week and full training will be available if required.

If you are interested in finding out more about any of these roles please contact Jane Cullingworth on You must be a current member of VSSN.

If you have any questions about the self-nomination process or would like a copy of a nomination form, you can find the forms here (please complete the forms by pasting into a word document and sending by email) or please contact us by email via We look forward to receiving your nomination forms soon. Nominations close on Friday 23rd October.

Agenda for Emotion and Feelings in Voluntary Sector Work seminar: Thursday, 22nd October.

Emotion and Feelings in Voluntary Sector Work

(supported by a VSSN development grant)

Seminar 1: 10.15am – 3.30pm, 22nd October 2020


Speakers with discussion and questions in each session


Free at the point of delivery! For students, researchers, practitioners, activists


To receive Zoom details please register your interest on:


10.15 Networking and coffee (bring your own!)


10.30 Welcome and Introductions


11.00 Session 1 keynote speaker and Q&A: Emotions in Managing Volunteers

Keynote speaker: ‘Emotions in Managing Volunteers’ and toolkit ‘Working with Volunteers’ developed with the National Trust.

Professor Anne-Marie Greene, University of Leicester School of Business




11.45 Session 2 presentations and Q&A: Leadership and emotions in voluntary sector work

‘Building workplace democracy: leadership as embodied dissent’

Conor Twyford, Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation


‘Women Leaders and Philanthropy’  Paper and Panel discussion

Rachel McGrath, Northamptonshire Community Foundation


12.45 Lunch


13.15 Session 3 presentations and Q&A: Volunteering and emotions in the voluntary sector

‘Frustrated by ‘moaning members’: a study of volunteers in associational golf clubs’ Chris Mills, Manchester Metropolitan University


‘Emergency volunteers: how to help those who help us’

Craig Needham, H M Coastguard and Bournemouth University


‘Examining the motivations and emotions linked to the formation of a Voluntary sewing group formed in response to Covid-19’.

Beverley Glibert, University of Worcester


2.15 Break


2.25 Session 4: Stories and place in the voluntary sector

‘Storytelling, Strategies, and Success: The Case of the Reproductive Rights Movement in Ireland’


Dr. Sheila Cannon, Alexandra Lamb and, Dr. Paloma Raggo, Trinity College Dublin, Carleton University, Carleton University


‘What is it like to volunteer? A Phenomenological insight, investigating the relationship between volunteers and their organisations.’

Carol Hebden and Dr Paul McDonald, Newman University




What next?




Voluntary Sector Review Call for Research Notes: COVID-19 and voluntary sector

Call for Research Notes

COVID-19 and voluntary sector

Voluntary Sector Review (VSR) invites original research notes on COVID-19 and voluntary sector for a rapid publication in early 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly altered many aspects of voluntary sector: disruption to normal life, social distancing and lockdown measures, furlough, job losses and economic crisis have profoundly affected how voluntary sector organisations operate and individuals’ volunteering and donating behavior both in short- and long-term. There is an unprecedented and immediate need for up to date evidence and new theoretical understanding of the current situation, yet the scientific research and publication of findings as a full paper can take a long time. To address this need, Voluntary Sector Review is experimenting with research notes as a new format of publication. We invite scholars from across the globe to submit short research notes on their ongoing research related to COVID-19 and voluntary sector. We are looking for research notes with promising empirical research findings as well as theoretical discussions that help to understand the potential consequences of the current COVID-19 pandemic for voluntary sector. We seek research notes that make a clear and original contribution.

The research notes can include research outputs that cannot be considered as full research or methodology articles. For example, but not exclusively, they can present intriguing initial and/or time-sensitive results and observations,  advance a new idea, theoretical perspective or methodological approach, describe new data available for other scholars or publish a brief summary of a study that is usually difficult to publish (e.g. with non-significant results).

Submission deadline is October 30th, 2020. We invite research notes of short to medium length (2,000 to 4,000 words). Research notes may follow a less strict paper structure than full papers but still need to make a valuable contribution to the study of voluntary sector.  They must have an abstract and must use referencing and follow VSR manuscript formatting guidelines. Please type ‘Research Note’ at the top of your manuscript, then submit it through Editorial Manager, as a ‘Research article’.  All research notes will undergo a fast track peer-review. A selection of 3-5 notes will be published in March 2021 issue and the rest scheduled for publication in next issues.

For pre-submission queries, prospective contributors are encouraged to contact the corresponding editor Dr. Daiga Kamerāde: