A Different Kind of Conference: some reflections from Colin Rochester, one of the founders of the VAHS

Those who haven’t taken part in any of the six previous international conferences on the history of voluntary action may not be expecting the distinctive experience of the seventh event scheduled for the University of Liverpool in July 2020. Yes, of course, it is an academic conference with a plethora of papers on a wide variety of topics but it is so much more. 

Those taking part include both academics and practitioners who will bring to the conference a range of perspectives on the history of voluntary action which will deal with issues of philanthropy, mutual aid and self-help; the moving frontier between state and voluntary action; issues of social justice and social change; and the increasing hybridity of voluntary sector organisations. 

This varied diet will be supplemented by field trips to places of interest in a city which has a rich history of involvement in voluntary action as well as opportunities for participants to mix on a social level with a voluntary action quiz and conference dinner held in a magnificent building and followed by dancing to the sounds of our own jazz band. 

And overall the conference provides a relaxed, friendly and convivial space for anyone with an interest in the history of voluntary organisations and volunteer involvement. Don’t miss it!

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Findings from VAHS’s survey of members and friends: ‘Good to know you exist!’ Meta Zimmeck

For some time VAHS has wanted to be in closer touch with our members and friends in order to assess the strengths and weaknesses of what we are doing and, if possible, to make changes that might make our activities and research outputs more accessible, interesting and effective.

Between September 2017 and May 2018 we invited our 270 members and friends to participate in a web-based survey (our first ever), and we received completed surveys from 63 members and friends, a response rate of 23%.

This is what respondents told us:

  • 90% of respondents were based in England, the majority in Greater London and the South East, and the remainder in other regions, except the East Midlands and the North East; 5% were based in the other nations of the UK, except Northern Ireland; and 5% were based abroad.
  • 54% of respondents were academics; 29% were retired; 14% were consultants, researchers and writers in the government and private sectors; and 8% were practitioners.
  • Two-thirds of respondents initially heard about VAHS and its activities by rather vague and unspecific methods (52% by word of mouth, 8% by attending or speaking at seminars or conferences and 6% by long-term involvement), and the remaining third, by more immediate, mainly electronic, methods (18% by IHR’s/VAHS’s websites, 13% by VAHS’s e-mail announcements and 2% by Twitter/social media).
  • All respondents but one usually heard about VAHS and its activities through VAHS’s e-mail announcements.
  • 90% of respondents attended seminars; 27%, Saturday study days; and 25%, both seminars and Saturday study days.
  • 48% of respondents attended one or more international conferences (six since 2001) of which the best-attended conferences were Liverpool in 2008, Canterbury in 2010 and Liverpool in 2016. More than half of respondents who had attended conferences attended two or more conferences.
  • 33% of respondents read the collection of research papers from the conference in Liverpool in 2008, Understanding the Roots of Voluntary Action: Historical Perspectives on Current Social Policy (edited by Colin Rochester, George Campbell Gosling, Alison Penn and Meta Zimmeck; Sussex Academic Press, 2011); 52% read blogs; and 19% listened to podcasts of seminars (both blogs and podcasts available through VAHS’s website).
  • Respondents reported high levels of enjoyment in VAHS’s activities – in particular, the focus on voluntary action, a specialist subject otherwise marginalised by mainstream social research; opportunities for learning; opportunities for networking; bridging past and current debates on policies and practices; and conviviality (there was much favourable comment about VAHS’s friendly and welcoming approach to a cross-disciplinary community and those at all stages of their research careers).
  • Respondents reported a number of barriers to joining in VAHS’s activities and events – in particular, the location of seminars in London (and therefore the time and cost involved in attending for those who did not live within easy-travelling distance), other commitments such as childcare, teaching or other work; time constraints generally; lack of interest/relevance of particular seminars; and lack of personal organisation.
  • Respondents also made suggestions for improvement, some of which we have already implemented and all of which we will be considering.
  • Overall on a scale from 1 (least likely) to 10 (most likely) respondents gave VAHS a composite score of 8.25 on how likely they were to recommend VAHS to a colleague or friend. This is a remarkably high score as such and in comparison to Surrvey Monkey’s global benchmark for the same question.

While we do not have (and never have had) detailed and complete information about the characteristics and views of our members and friends, we cannot say that these findings are representative, but they are indicative of the views of some of our more committed and enthusiastic members and friends. We are very pleased with these findings and will do our best to keep up the good work and, if possible, do even better work in future.

The full report is available here.

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Leisure, Voluntary Action and Social Change.

Bob Snape is a Reader in Leisure and Sport and also Head of the Centre for Worktown Studies at the University of Bolton. His research centres on the history of leisure 1850–1939. He has published on a number of voluntary organisations, notably the National Home Reading Union and the Co-operative Holidays Association. His current research is focused on leisure and voluntary social service in post-World War One social reconstruction.

Much of the early historiography of leisure in Britain was concerned with mid-nineteenth century rational recreation and the moral improvement of sports, games and amusements through philanthropic and religious intervention.  The idea of ‘recreation,’ with its utilitarian overtones, was well suited to the period; by opening parks, building libraries and museums, establishing Sunday schools and forming social institutions for young adults, for example the YMCA and YWCA, the use of spare time could be moulded to encourage moral behaviour and civilized manners. However, by the later nineteenth century the concept of recreation as part of a civilising mission became less credible as social investigations, notably Alexander Mearns’ The Bitter Cry of Outcast London, published in 1883, revealed extensive drunkenness and vice and both spiritual and material poverty in the capital city. Rational recreation, it appeared, had not worked. Christian socialism and a nascent social science argued that social problems could not be addressed by focusing on the individual but through social solutions and radical changes to social structures and institutions. Accordingly charitable philanthropy, which worked on the principle of case-work, identifying and helping the deserving poor, was increasingly criticized by advocates of social work who saw change in society as a prerequisite for individual betterment. The decades on either side of the beginning of the twentieth century saw a contest between advocates of charitable philanthropy, exemplified in the Charity Organization Society, and social liberals and Fabian socialists who sought to displace its model of philanthropy by social work. By 1930 charitable philanthropy was by no means extinct but social work, by then widely referred to as social service, had become dominant within policy discourse. The relevance of this to leisure is that it was within this transition that a modernizing social idea of leisure superseded that of recreation. In other words, the historical development of voluntary action from charity to social work and of rational recreation to leisure were closely entwined, not just in terms of practice but also of theory.

The processes through which this came about are detailed and complex.  From the eighteen-eighties social and philosophical interpretations of leisure became of interest to social policy makers and cultural commentators, producing a discourse of leisure and voluntarism that flourished until the Second World War but which remains largely overlooked in the historiography of both leisure and voluntary action. Through the work of John Ruskin and William Morris, leisure acquired a humane value but was not, as the social economist John Hobson pointed out, equally distributed. A major influence on debate around leisure was Thomas Hill Green and his school of social idealist philosophers who articulated a model of the good society and the political obligations of the citizen, thus connecting the use of leisure with social change and citizenship. The work of these social critics and philosophers helped shape theory and policy around social work and leisure and was diffused through a multiplicity of channels which included monographs and journal articles, particularly those published in the International Journal of Ethics, seminars, and discussion circles concerned with the social sciences. There was too, from the eighteen-nineties, considerable correspondence between social workers in Britain and those in the United States of America where similar concerns about urban working-class life and citizenship were becoming pressing.

After the First World War the demand for radical social reconstruction led to increased interest in voluntary action in terms of community building. The National Council of Social Service, established in 1919, saw the enhancement of community well-being as one of, if not the most important, of its tasks. Its first conference was held in Manchester in 1919 on the theme of ‘The Leisure of the People’ with a range of papers outlining proposals for varied forms of voluntary action through and for leisure. Leisure had important theorists in the inter-war period, notably Ernest Barker, a classicist who as Chair of the National Council of Social Service New Estates Community Committee re-articulated Aristotle’s work on leisure and civic action as a model for voluntarism through housing estate community centres and Cecil Delisle Burns, Stevenson Lecturer in Citizenship at the University of Glasgow, who saw a new leisure of mass culture, voluntary association and shared experience as a harbinger of a modern civilization. More radical understandings of leisure and social change through voluntary association and action were proposed by left wing associations, for example the Kibbo Kift, Woodcraft Folk and various worker-sport organizations.

Leisure and voluntary action were thus inter-twined in several different social, political and cultural contexts. Social change was not always a sought outcome; several organizations remained conservative in outlook while numerous expressive voluntary associations existed solely to enable or promote participation in a hobby or a sport. The histories of those organizations which did seek social change through leisure, however, open a new and revealing window on social policy and voluntary action in a period of rapid and extensive social change in Britain. Leisure, Voluntary Action and Social Change in Britain 1880-1939 (London:  Bloomsbury, 2018) attempts to capture these patterns of integration of voluntary action and leisure and to re-introduce some significant and relatively forgotten thinkers on leisure, social citizenship and voluntary association.

For publisher’s webpage click here.

To see a preview of the book click here.

For more information and book discount click here.

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Recording Leisure Lives: Cultures, Communities and Class in Leisure in 20th Century Britain – 27th March, 2018. 


© Bolton Council. From the Humphrey Spender Worktown Collection of
Bolton Library and Museum Services

A Tenth Anniversary One Day Conference at the University of Bolton,
presented by the University of Bolton and University Centre at Blackburn

Second Call for Papers

The annual Recording Leisure Lives conferences were established ten years ago by the Centre for Worktown Studies. Their inspiration was Bolton’s identity as Mass Observation’s ‘Worktown’. The Worktown project was an in-depth study of working-class life in a north of England industrial town. Although intended as a contemporary anthropological cum sociological exercise with the potential to enhance the well-being of the working-class, its documentation now constitutes a globally renowned historical archive.

The Centre for Worktown Studies invites you to its tenth annual Recording Leisure Lives conference on 27th March 2018. The theme of the conference is intended to provoke discussion and debate on the social and cultural contexts of leisure in twentieth century Britain. In particular it aims to explore ideas and meanings of culture, community and class in the context of leisure. In terms of class we are particularly interested in, for example, cultural hierarchies, mass culture, religion, politics and radicalism in leisure. We remain open, however, to other interpretations. The theme of community implies both spatial communities and also clubs, voluntary associations, hobby societies, civic groups, play groups and national regional and neighbourhood leisure organizations. In terms of class we hope to receive papers based around themes of socio-economic divisions, a
leisure class, and other socio-historical constructions of class. It is neither expected nor necessary that papers should cover all three strands. There will also be an open stream for general papers on leisure in 20th century Britain.

We would be delighted to welcome VAHS members to this tenth anniversary conference. A second call for papers (we already have enough for parallel sessions) is outlined below. We welcome papers from academic lecturers and researchers, doctoral students and practitioners –   please do pass on the conference details to anyone who may be interested.  This year’s conference will be held on 27th March at the University of Bolton.

Paper proposals on leisure in 20th century Britain are invited. 

Sub-themes include  Cultures – National, Ethnic, Religious, Class, Sexual, Radical; Communities – Clubs, Voluntary Associations, Hobby Societies, Civic Groups, Play Groups, Spatial Communities (National, Regional, Neighbourhood); Class – Working and Middle Class, Leisure Class, Politics, Economics, Work and Mobility.

There are also open streams on any aspect of leisure.

Keynote speakers include Martin Johnes, (University of Swansea) author
of Christmas and the British: A Modern History and Carolyn Downs
(University of Lancaster), author of A Social, Economic and Cultural
History of Bingo (1906-2005): the Role of Gambling in the Lives of
Working Women.

Please submit abstracts for paper proposals (max. 250 words) to r.snape@bolton.ac.uk by 12th March.

To attend the event, please contact Bob Snape, r.snape@bolton.ac.uk or Bethan Atkins
B.Atkins@bolton.ac.uk and they will forward a booking form to be filled and returned.

The conference website is at http://www.bolton.ac.uk/Worktown/Conferences.aspx

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Disabled Ex-Servicemen of the First World War and Christian Charity in Inter-War Britain

Bethany Rowley is a PhD student at the University of Leeds. Her research examines religious charity and the experience of disabled ex-servicemen in inter-war Britain. She is a team member of the European Research Council funded ‘Men, Women and Care’ Project at Leeds University.

One of the evident, but often forgotten, legacies that the Great War left to Britain was the unprecedented number of disabled ex-servicemen. There was no armistice on the war against the misfortune of mind, body, disease and deformity. Teachings on equality and kindness to the sick and lame are enforced throughout the Bible. With over one and a half million men receiving a war disability pension by 1929, this blog post questions whether Christian charities neglected these principles, arguably, at the very time they were needed most in twentieth-century Britain.

As well as providing guidance on how to behave towards the disabled, all Christian denominations define domestic relations. Being head of the household, the male provides for his family. Yet, many men were unemployable because of their disablement. This personal and financial loss was felt more intensely by those accessing charity. Seeking charity contradicts self-reliance. Yet, by giving charity, those providing care had power over the veterans receiving it. Gender historians Jessica Meyer and Wendy Gagen have examined correlations between First World War disability and masculinity, arguing that men became ‘child-like’ in their dependency on others. Whether religious identity declined because of an altered sense of masculinity through war disability, however, remains unexplored.

In 1918, there were six-thousand charities for the war disabled registered with the Charity Commissioners, and in 1936, Ministry of Pensions produced a directory naming more than five hundred charities still operating on behalf of ex-servicemen and their dependants. Jeffery Renznick’s John Galsworthy and Deborah Cohen’s The War Come Home, examine British charities formed during and after the war for disabled ex-servicemen, such as The War Seal Mansions, The Star and Garter, Roehampton, and St Dunstan’s. Whilst the religious aspect is again neglected by the authors, the number of charities highlights the importance of extending arguments of dependence to charities and welfare organisations. This is because in the literature, the ‘others’ whom disabled men were dependent on, refers predominantly to family members, largely women such as wives and mothers.

Leeds in West Yorkshire is a useful case study to highlight such issues. This is because parish records with charity subsections are available for every area in the city, providing insights into how Christian charities enforced or bypassed biblical teachings towards the injured servicemen of the Great War. Like the Poor Law, charities pre- 1914 were structured to distinguish the ‘deserving’ from the ‘undeserving’ poor. Unsurprisingly therefore, there were many Vicar led charities which aimed to help the poor in Leeds before and after the war. These include the Kirke’s Charity in Adel and the Eyres Park Charity in Armley. Yet, a specific disability or disabled ex-serviceman charity in the West Yorkshire Archives Parish records could not be found. This is problematic and highlights a disparity in religious aid. Why didn’t religion play a larger role in the rehabilitation process when religion was dominant in Christian charitable work aimed at the disabled prior to 1914, as demonstrated by Carmen Mangion’s analysis on Catholic care-giving and Mark Freeman’s work on Quaker charitable care? This is an interesting point which has not been studied.

In the latter example, Miss E. Eyre Park left a Legacy to her Vicar and Churchwardens for ‘the benefit of the poor’. The net amount received was £412 9s 6d, but instead of it going to the local poor, it was ‘invested by the Charity Commissioners as 5% War Stock’ (1916). Charities, even religious charities did not always act in alignment to what was requested of them by Christian teachings on equality and truth. It is therefore ironic that in the Armley Parish magazine of 1916, the Vicar stated:

‘Thousands of men are risking and some laying down their lives to save England. We must share in their self-sacrifice by making England a better place to live in, by bringing the nation back to obedience to the Christian Law for this is and always has been the Church’s work. Can anyone be so indifferent, slack or cowardly as to refuse to take a share in such a work?’

The vicar and parish he is preaching too does not take a share of this work. They offer no financial or social helped to the disabled veterans on their return to Armley. Fittingly, in the Armley Centenary Church Magazine (1877– 1977), there is no reference to the First World War or the immediate years following it. The disabled veterans appeared forgotten by their parish on their return to this part of the city.  Whilst more work needs to be done to draw any conclusions about how and why certain parts of the same city or different cities within the same county responded differently towards disabled ex-servicemen, this highlights how not all ‘heroes’ were offered help from their religious community and thus had little access to religious charities that understood the needs of disabled ex-servicemen. Christian attitudes to helping those in need appear neglected in this case study. However, to argue that Christian organisations on a national level abandoned their religious principles is perhaps misguided. Charities for example, may have believed in and preached the Christian vison but could not fulfil it for material reasons such as human and financial resources.

Themes identified by this blog will be examined further as my research progresses. For further information on Leeds and religious disability charities please see the ‘Men, Women and Care’ research site at: http://menwomenandcare.leeds.ac.uk/

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