An agenda for the Future of the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector in Northern Ireland

May 2018

Voluntary action


Our sector’s power doesn’t rely on organisational legal structures, it doesn’t rely on recruiting and employing staff, fundamentally it relies on people freely giving their time to help themselves and others achieve change. Voluntary action is underpinned by volunteering, without volunteers there is no voluntary sector.  The contribution of volunteers to Northern Ireland society is huge and wide ranging and our diverse pattern of many small charities and voluntary organisations in communities of interest and place reflects this. Volunteers change their own lives as well as making a contribution to others. 

Volunteering rates in Northern Ireland have remained constant in recent years but against a backdrop of increasing need, new organisational governance requirements and challenges around sustainability. 

As the world of work changes, could it be that volunteering and voluntary action has great untapped potential to make even more of a difference? 5 


Some ideas for action

If the work of volunteers and voluntary organisations in contributing to a better society is to be properly valued and encouraged then we need new ideas and approaches to develop and support volunteering and the sector needs to take the lead role in enabling this.

  • Our new Programme for Government (PFG)6, for all its strengths, is poorer for the absence of an outcome focused on “Communities”, such as they have in Scotland “We have strong, resilient and supportive communities where people take responsibility for their own actions and how they affect others”7 – the sector could work together to advocate for this in an updated PFG.
  • We endorse the calls and work by others for a Community Rights/Empowerment Act8 – a legislative framework for Northern Ireland that comprehensively supports our communities to do things for themselves, and to make their voices heard in the planning and delivery of services. It has the potential to be transformative.
  • We need more radical action to develop volunteering here including involving young people (18 – 29) in organisation governance and older people in mission related work.
  • Small organisations occupy a special place in our communities, this must be properly recognised with a need to provide comprehensive support for and remove barriers to their work with and their involvement of people.9

We need to review community development training and support and develop a plan to invest in theory and practice in communities. Community development should not mean - what can I get for my organisation and community?