Leisure and volunteering in post-World War I social reconstruction: Are there lessons for today?

Bob Snape: University of Bolton

In the period immediately following the First World War the public discourses of volunteering and of leisure exhibited a high degree of convergence. Social thinking on both leisure and volunteering developed in tandem during the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, with the beginning of a shift in each case from an individual to a social model of understanding. In terms of leisure the idea of rational recreation and the moral reform of leisure were superseded by the recognition of leisure as socially produced and thus susceptible to social solutions. Concurrently the personal case approach of social work, typified in the Charity Organisation Society, was challenged by the development of a social model of service. These shifts informed the practices of the University and Social Settlements and the Club movement.

The War heightened the urgency of social reform and the abandonment of the philanthropy of a leisure class as social liberal thinking pointed to a new social understanding of leisure (1). Drawing from classical Greek philosophy, leisure was re-imagined not as time, recreation or amusement but as something undertaken for its own sake and as participation in public affairs and civic duties (2).  Concurrently the social model of voluntary work became formalised with the establishment of the National Council of Social Service in 1919. The first conference organised by the NCSS was on leisure and reflected the symbiotic coherence between leisure and volunteering that remained dominant throughout the inter-war decades (2).  This paper reviews salient aspects of social thinking on leisure and volunteering in this period, in which a not uncommonly expressed view was that volunteering was the best use of leisure.

1. Freeden, M. The New Liberalism. An Ideology of Social Reform. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978

2. Burns, C. Delisle Leisure in the Modern World  London.  Allen and Unwin, 1932

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