‘Times Like These’: Researching civil society responses to and recovery from COVID-19

COVID-19 has caused exceptional upheaval and loss across the world. Complex changes to how people live, work and socialise have been implemented at unimaginable pace. The crisis has had massive ramifications for the voluntary sector and volunteering. With the exception of some high-profile successes, much fundraising activity has dried up, many voluntary organisations have seen their incomes plummet and are having to furlough staff and cut services, at a time when the need for their services has increased exponentially. Organisations have been working and collaborating in ways which did not previously seem possible. There has been an up swell of mutual aid and local community action in the immediate response to the crisis, while national calls for volunteers have led to huge numbers registering to offer help. Meanwhile, government support has been seen by many as slow and insufficient in scope and scale and debates about when ‘recovery’ will begin or what it will involve are only just getting started.

Wider long-term debates about the sector’s responses to a wide set of social challenges, its position as an innovator and as a potential leader of social change, continue to play on against the backdrop of the lockdown and health crisis. Philanthropic responses to the outbreak and its consequences have already been both celebrated and critiqued – as society reengages with debates over the balance between welfare delivered by public or private means. And volunteering and mutual aid efforts have highlighted the emergence of longer-term issues around volunteer management, social capital, and community.

This year the Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference will run, in a much modified format, on 7th and 8th September 2020 as a free two-day e-conference. The focus will be on discussing current research and big ideas on civil society responses to and implications of COVID-19. Curated sessions on philanthropy, the voluntary organisations, volunteering and mutual aid, will be organised alongside plenary sessions. The aim is to bring together researchers and practitioners to explore what we’ve learned from this crisis, and what it means for the future of civil society. Keynote speakers include Karl Wilding, CEO of NCVO and Brian Carr, CEO of Birmingham Voluntary Services Council, with more to be announced soon.


7 September 2020

1000-1100          Day one opening plenary session
1130-1300          Philanthropy and COVID-19
1400-1530          Mutual Aid and COVID-19

8 September 2020

1000-1100          Day two opening plenary panel of voluntary sector leaders
1130-1300          Volunteering and COVID-19
1400-1530          Voluntary and Community Organisations and COVID-19

Getting involved

The eConference will be free to join. Registration details will be shared shortly.

If you would like to discuss your research on one of the four panel sessions, please email us with 100-150 words outline what you might contribute to one of the four panel leads below:

Philanthropy and COVID-19: Jon Dean and Carolyn Cordery (via: j.dean[at]shu.ac[dot]uk)
Communities, mutual aid and COVID-19: Chris Dayson and Veronique Jochum (via: c.dayson[at]shu.ac[dot]uk)
Volunteering and COVID-19: Angela Ellis Paine and Veronique Jochum (via: a.ellispaine[at]bham.ac[dot]uk)
Voluntary and community organisations and COVID-19: Jane Cullingworth and Sophie Wilson (via: janecullingworthvssn[at]gmail[dot]com)

Within the 150 words, outlines should include: title, contributors names and affiliations, brief outline of themes to be covered, brief details of methodology/forms of evidence being drawn upon.

We welcome outlines from researchers (new and old!), practitioners and indeed anyone who has evidence to share on how civil society is responding to and impacted by covid-19. The deadline for outlines is 5pm on the 30 June 2020.

If you have any questions about the conference in general please do not hesitate to contact us: a.ellispaine[at]bham.ac[dot]uk   

Dr Angela Ellis Paine
Research Fellow, Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham
Co-chair, Voluntary Sector Studies Network