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Untold Stories of Volunteering: A Cultural Animation Project Professor Mihaela Kelemen, Keele University Véronique Jochum, NCVO
Origins and History of the Project • Follow on study based on an initial AHRC scoping study ‘Exploring personal communities: A review of volunteering processes’ (2012) • The initial study established via a literature review and interviews with 30 volunteers that: • Definition of volunteering is complex: some people volunteer but do not use the label of volunteering to qualify their involvement • Wide range of practices identified as volunteering • Volunteering stories and experiences are a powerful way of understanding how personal communities are formed, sustained and how they change over time
Outcomes of the Original Study • The documentary drama on volunteering, ‘A little act of kindness’ was showcased by the AHRC in London, March, 2013 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QsosP821t0 • The story of the Ford Green Hall which was threatened with closure but saved by its volunteers • From altruistic volunteering to militant volunteering • The Etruria Industrial Museum’s story focused on the ‘princess’ (the engine of the last steam powered potters’ mill in Britain). The volunteers restored the engine to working order • From instrumental volunteering to militant volunteering • The New Vic volunteering story explored how volunteering could turn one’s life around by giving ‘voluntolds’ a second chance in life. • From forced volunteering to instrumental or altruistic volunteering
Untold stories of volunteering • Who is missing from our story? • Official discourses based on the assumptions that • There is an unlimited reservoir of goodwill in communities • People can be encouraged to volunteer more • However, at a grassroots level we find • Diversity in people's engagement with and support for volunteering • Constraints related to other activities, such as work and personal caring commitments • Diverse motives, practices and affective relations involved in volunteering
Background • ‘Untold Stories of Volunteering: A Cultural Animation Project’ • Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) under the Connected Communities Programme • Keele University, University of Leicester, New Vic Theatre, NCVO • 17 month project in two phases (Feb 2013 – June 2014) • Four Phase 1 workshops • Between 15-21 participants at each workshop (2:1 female to male), over 30 in total • Range of volunteers, volunteer managers, senior managers, senior researchers, academics and theatre practitioners • New Vic Borderlines, Victim Support, Staffs Buddies, Mum’s on a Mission, Roma Volunteers, Voice for Change, NCVO, CDF, Volunteer Centre Lambeth, RNIB, The Cabinet Office etc. • Wide range of ages and experience
Cultural Animation • Draws on the everyday experiences of ordinary people and their abilities to achieve things • Describes community arts work or methods which animate or 'give life to' the dynamics of everyday life • Builds up trusting relationships between participants by inviting them to work together in activities which may be new to them but which draw on their life experiences • Articulates ideas and experiences in actions and images rather than the written word
Cultural Animation Outcomes • A series of artefacts, based on themes and issues raised by the volunteers themselves • Poetry, songs, puppets and models, shadow puppet theatre and short plays • A code of ethics for co-designing and co-producing research with communities
It’s Paradoxical You can volunteer for a short time friend But you better find yourself a job in the end (It’s paradoxical) They want the community to have more say So why are you taking all the funding away? (It’s paradoxical) I want to do something for my community But you come and tell me I need a CRB (It’s paradoxical) We’d like to do everything that comes our way There’s only 24 hours in a day (It’s paradoxical) They sent me to work in a factory What! You want my time and you want it for free! (It’s paradoxical) Big Society is a propaganda But we all have a proper agenda (It’s paradoxical) Stacking shelves for free is not my future see I want to work in geology (It’s paradoxical) Some people see volunteering as fashion The rest of us think that it’s all about passion (NOT paradoxical)
Key Findings (1): The ‘voluntold’ • Time frames • ‘Volunteer short term – fine. Volunteer long term – get a job!!’ • Recognition and rewards • ‘Volunteering is fine if you’re paying tax’ • ‘Do too much volunteering and then you’re not looking for work’ • ‘Volunteering is an individual thing and shouldn’t be dictated by government’ • Commodification • ‘Free work is not the same as cheap work. Unpaid work is not volunteering’ • The stigma of being ‘low hanging fruit’ for 3rd party providers
Key Findings (2): Relationships with the State • The absence of local government: contrary to the spirit of the Localism Act, 2011, the discussions referred exclusively to central government • National bodies and individual volunteers found it difficult at times to understand each other’s experiences and points of view • Impact of government policy is diluted to the extent that volunteers are mostly unaware of official policy, choosing to concentrate on the immediate needs of individuals and their community
Key Findings (3): Research Process • There are significant differences between co-designed/co-created projects and existing research on volunteering which tends to be output rather than process focused • A wide range of other stories of volunteering need to be considered in Phase 2. For example: • Stories from professional volunteer management • Stories from ‘voluntolds’ • Stories from people who work during the day and cannot attend day time workshops • Stories from disabled volunteers • Stories from younger people (school pupils) • Stories from volunteers with bad experiences • Stories from corporate volunteers, including civil servants and MPs
Phase 2 Involvement • People could become involved in Phase 2 of the project in a range of ways, including: • Direct involvement in co-design and co-creation • Partial involvement through occasional workshop attendance, • Engagement with project blog • Keeping a diary about their volunteering experiences • Doing their own recordings • Being interviewed by the team • Direct or indirect dissemination of project information and findings • Outcome: an interactive piece of documentary theatre performed in Stoke, Leicester and London in 2014