Giving voice to untold stories of volunteering

This is a guest blog by Mihaela Kelemen and Anita Mangan from Keele University.


It is often assumed that there is an unlimited reservoir of goodwill in communities and that with a little bit of encouragement more people will volunteer. But, in reality not everyone has an equal capacity to volunteer and people’s own views of volunteering are wide-ranging. Their actual involvement reflects not only those views but also different constraints on their ability to volunteer, constraints such as work and personal caring commitments.  The variety of personal circumstances and the diversity of motives for volunteering create very different types of volunteers and volunteering.

New avenues must be created where varied volunteer voices can emerge and be heard. One promising area for these alternative stories to be given voice is through a project developed by Keele University, in collaboration with the University of Leicester, the New Vic Theatre (Newcastle-under-Lyme) and NCVO. This project has recently been awarded an Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant and aims to explore the ‘Untold stories of volunteering’ through cultural animation (documentary drama).  With cultural animation the stories being told are co-produced and co-delivered by everyone involved in the project (volunteers, academics, policy makers, other partners), from design and scripting through to production and performance.  The purpose of this approach is to capture the complexity and richness of people’s volunteering experiences by offering them opportunities to express themselves in different and creative ways. In using these expressive techniques in a collaborative way the aim is to offer everyone an equal voice, so as to better understand and work with communities. Phase 1 [February to May 2013] of the project is the development of a methodology detailing the stages and processes by which co-production and co-delivery of the documentary drama is possible and able to be put into practice in Phase 2 [July 2013 to July 2014]. Once complete the production will be performed at least three times across the UK.

‘Untold Stories of volunteering’ builds on a previous project by Keele University called ‘Exploring Personal Communities’ which highlighted the need to give voice to individuals’ own stories of volunteering. The key idea behind this initial project was that through close, social relationships (with family, friends, neighbours, for example) individuals are able to contribute to the public good beyond their own life. By looking at personal communities, we were able to offer an understanding of volunteering that accounts for the multiple, simultaneous and often contradictory motivations of volunteers. We were also able to explore how volunteering helps people to develop relationships with others, and so broaden and deepen their personal communities.  The project would not be possible without our community partner – award-winning New Vic Borderlines at the New Vic Theatre. Our partnership developed throughout the course of the project which concluded with a documentary drama called ‘A Little Act of Kindness’, created and performed by volunteers about their experience of being a volunteer in Stoke-on-Trent (see photo above).

To find out more about the project or to be kept informed of its progress, visit Mihaela’s profile for contact details or email Veronique Jochum at NCVO.

Veronique Jochum’s blog

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