The Voluntary Action History Seminar is part of the programme at the Institute of Historical Research, held in Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU.

Everyone is welcome to join us after each seminar for a glass of wine!

Coming up:

16th April 2018, Blue Sky Thinking, Lester Hillman
The world’s first independent air force was established on the 1stApril 2018. For the centenary of the Royal Air Force  Lester Hillman will explore community perceptions and voluntary engagement stretching back to its amateur and enthusiast roots.

Volunteer engagement has embraced cadets, air training corps, Royal Observer Corps, RAF Volunteer Reserves and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Volunteer contributions continue to be made in the spheres of welfare, social and heritage.

The remarkable importance of Senate House and the immediate area, reflected in popular fiction and aviation imaginings, will feature in this seminar along with insights from poetry to musical songs.

Lester Hillman serves on the Committee of VAHS, is an Associate of the Royal Historical Society and is Academic Adviser to the Islington Archaeology and History Society as well as Camden Tour Guides Association.

He has led aviation events for the Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics at Heathrow, Central London and Edinburgh. He has led and supported events at the Royal Air Force Museum London and contributed to aviation publications.

14th May 2018, The Military and voluntary action in Gravesend, Kent 1860 to 1872, Paul Mersh, University of Greenwich

Wawro and other military historians have written about the relationship between the Victorian army and the society from which it arose. Stone has gone on to describe how the church, also a product of that society, had a close relationship to the army, which consisted of the church providing ‘spiritual’ and ‘physical’ comfort for the soldiers. This paper provides a case study of the relationship between the military and society in Gravesend in Kent. The archival work supports many of the conclusions of Stone and Wawro, both of whom described how the soldiers were the benefactors of philanthropic endeavours. This paper goes on to establish that soldiers themselves became philanthropists in their own right, supporting local schools, soup kitchens and other relief work. Many of these philanthropic soldiers were officers, but there is also evidence of the rank and file engaging in this sort of activity as well – that is the working class soldiers. This supports the conclusions of Prochaska who also charts the role of working class men and women who engaged in philanthropic activities.

25th June 2018, How food got its bank:  The background and evolution of food banking, Alex Murdock, London South Bank University

The growth of the Trussell Trust in the UK  possibly marks one of the fastest growth rates of a civil society organisation in recent history.  From initial beginnings in Salisbury in 2004 there are now over 400 Trussell Food banks in the UK.  This is well documented and the subject of quite extensive research.

However, what is less well reported is the origin of food banking and here there is a clear and largely unrecognised hero. John Van Hengel started the first recorded food bank in 1967 and inspired the subsequent expansion in the USA via Second Harvest and its’ current manifestation Feeding America. He also was instrumental in the launch of food banking elsewhere especially in France.

I will take you through the emergence of food banking and identify the historical development and variations in organisational form.  It is a quite remarkable story and now can be arguably seen as a global phenomena which is here to stay and has evolved beyond a perceived focus on ‘responding to food hunger’ to encompass a diversity of objectives and values.


Caroline Diehl (Social Founders Network)
Making history: stories of brilliant founders in the voluntary sector

Monday 12 February 2018
Marjorie Gehrhardt (University of Reading)
The first charity shops? Salvation Army and Red Cross stores (1890s-1910s)

Monday 29 January 2018
Ann Nehlin (University of Stockholm)
Building bridges of trust: child transports from Finland to Sweden during WWII

Monday 15 January 2018
Beth Breeze (University of Kent)
Invisibility and Infamy: exploring the history of fundraising in the UK

Monday 4 December 2017
Cathy Ross
Cloudesley: 500 years of Charity in Islington

Monday 20 November 2017
Henry Irving (Leeds Becket University):
Salvage Stewards: Promoting Recycling in the Second World War

Monday 6 November 2017
Shirley Otto
‘A Maverick’s Tale’: A Witness Seminar from an independent researcher who has been working with voluntary organisations since 1975

Monday 23 October 2017
John Stewart (Glasgow Caledonian University)
Richard Titmuss and Voluntary Action: From Problems of Social Policy to The Gift Relationship

Monday, 12 June 2017
5.30pm, room 304, IHR, Senate House
Sian Roberts, University of Birmingham
Citizens of the world: Birmingham Quaker women, transnational voluntary service and the meaning of citizenship

Monday, 3 April 2017
5.30pm, Wolfson Room NB01, IHR, Senate House
George Campbell Gosling, University of Wolverhampton
Book Launch Seminar: Payment and Philanthropy in British Healthcare, 1918–48

Monday, 20 March 2017
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Ruth Davidson, Kings College London
The Politics of Poverty: The Child Poverty Action Group, 1965-2015

Monday, 6 March 2017
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Julian Simpson, University of Manchester
The first decade of the Overseas Doctors’ Association in the UK (1975-1985): model or ‘missed opportunity’?

Monday, 20 February 2017
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Justin Davis Smith, CBE, Cass Business School
Witness Seminar: My Life in Volunteering in Three Stories

Monday, 23 January 2017
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Kerrie Holloway, Queen Mary University of London
‘The curtain raiser of modern relief’:British Humanitarianism during the Spanish Civil War

Monday, 12 December 2016
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Paul Huddie
Voluntary action, the military family and welfare, 1854–1921

Monday, 28 November 2016
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Louis Carserides, LSE
Fighting the ‘Masterplan’: The Crystal Palace Community Association’s Battle to Preserve a Grade II* Historic Victorian Park, 2007–2013

Monday, 14 November 2016
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Syed Owais, University of Warwick
Lost in Translation: An Historical Institutionalist Analysis of Contingencies in social mobilisation by an NGO in Pakistan since 1989

Monday, 31 October 2016
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Susan Cohen, University of Southampton
Eleanor Rathbone, MP, and the work of the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees (London 1938–1944/5)

Monday, 17 October 2016
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Paul V Dudman and Rumana Hashen, Co Founders of the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration working group on refugee archives
Democratic Access or Privileged Exclusion? Oral history, civic engagement and the importance of refugee archives

Monday, 3 October 2016
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Charlie Chih-Hao Lee, University of Cambridge
The Workers’ Educational Association and the State: Professionalisation and the Decline of the Idealist Spirit, 1919-45

Monday, 13 June 2016
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Michael Passmore
The Untold Story of the St Pancras House Improvement Society: More than Charismatic Leadership
This seminar was followed by a conducted walk around the social housing estate in Somers Town (near the British Library).

Monday, 16 May 2016
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Caitriona Beaumont, London South Bank University
Not just a “club for girls” but “a women’s movement”: the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), citizenship and voluntary action in Britain during the interwar years

Monday, 14 March 2016
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Charlotte Clements, University of Kent
More than just a ‘sticking plaster’? Voluntary youth clubs and associations in the lives of young people in London and Liverpool 1960-1985

Monday, 29 February 2016
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Pat Gay
Witness seminar: The study of volunteering and volunteer management

Monday, 15 February 2016
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Marcella Sutcliffe, University of Cambridge
Humanities activists and humanitarian aid in the First World War: G.M. Trevelyan, the British Red Cross and the Italian wounded

Monday, 18 January 2016
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Sarah Flew, London School of Economics
A Study of Philanthropy: the Charitable Account Books of Lord Overstone, 1844-1883

Monday, 14 December 2015
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Andrew Rudd, University of Exeter and former Parliamentary Manager at the Charity Commission
Charity in the Georgian Era – Lessons for Today?

Monday, 30 November 2015
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Bridget Lockyer, Canterbury Christ Church University
‘I never wanted to participate in a charity’: Women’s relationship to voluntary work within the UK Women’s Liberation Movement

Monday, 16 November 2015
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Mike Locke, formerly of East London University and Volunteering England
Witness Seminar: A Place in a Community

Monday, 19 October 2015
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Bryce Evans, Liverpool Hope University
National Kitchens during World War I

Monday, 15 June 2015
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Jim Butcher, Canterbury Christ Church University
Volunteer Tourism: Development, Altruism or Narcissism?

Monday, 1 June 2015
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Ian Bruce, CBE
Witness: The voluntary organisation environment 1965–75 compared to 2005–2015—a personal account

Wednesday, 20 May 2015
5.30pm, Bedford Room, G37, Senate House
Gaynor Humphreys and Jenny Harrow
Witness: Girls in Gower Street—commitment, confidence and carrying on in London’s ‘LCSS’ in the 1970s

Monday, 11 May 2015
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Alex Mold, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Patient Organisations and Health Consumerism in Britain, 1960s-2010s

Monday, 27 April 2015
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Gareth Millward, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Who decides how “safe” is “safe”? The pertussis vaccine scare and the Vaccination Damage Payments Act 1979

Monday, 16 March 2015
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Marian Flint
‘People of our condition have not any right to expect stability, or certainty of subsistence’—Middle-class men’s experience of receiving charity in mid-nineteenth century England

Monday, 2 February 2015
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Michael Nelles, University of Southampton
Saving Winchester: Voluntary Societies, Historic Buildings and Urban Redevelopment

Monday, 19 January 2015
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Duncan Scott
The Making of a Social Researcher 

Monday, 8 December 2014
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Janine Stanford, The Children’s Society
Unexplored Riches in Medical History at The Children’s Society

Monday, 24 November 2014
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Dr Matthew Grant, University of Essex
Historicizing Citizenship in Cold War Britain: Obligations, Voluntary Action, and Exclusion

Monday, 27 October 2014
5.30pm, Room 304, IHR, Senate House
Don Harrison, University of Bristol
Learning from Britain’s development NGOs: a case study of Oxfam’s Education Department during the Development Decades 1960-1980

Monday, 13 October 2014
5.30pm, Seminar Room 3, IHR, Senate House
Andrew Jones, University of Birmingham
The Humanitarian Industry in Britain: An early history of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), 1963-1985

Monday, 23 June 2014
5.30pm, Athlone Room, Senate House
Bill Squire
Some reflections on Philanthropy with special reference to Higher Education

Monday, 9 June 2014
5.30pm, Athlone Room, Senate House
Thomas Davies, City University London
International NGOs: New Directions for Historical Research

Previous seminars:

A full list of all seminars given as part of the VAHS series since the relaunch in February 2006 is available here. Since September 2009, podcasts were recorded and, if available, are linked to the seminars.

We also present a selection of papers presented at VAHS seminars between 2001 and 2005, available here. Please note that all of these are works in progress and not to be cited without the permission of the author.

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