Changing Landscapes for the Third Sector

Participant’s voices

We thought you might like to hear some of the voices of the participants in the original studies, especially the Pathways Through Participation Study conducted by NCVO.

Click on the names in the list below to show their stories, or download the final report of the Study here.

Linda’s Story

Linda moved to the village in which she now lives when she was three. At 17, she moved to live in a local town, but returned to the village at 20 after having her daughter. Her parents live in the village, as well as her two best friends from childhood. Linda has fond memories of growing up in the area, loves living in the village and is happy to be raising her daughter there.

Much of Linda’s participation has been through her daughter, who attends the village primary school. She helped out at her daughter’s pre-school and got involved at the primary school as a parent helper in the classroom. Volunteering in this role complemented her studies and training at a local college and Linda’s voluntary experience helped her get a paid job as a teaching assistant at the school.

Linda often supports school-related charitable fundraisers, for instance when the children do sponsored walks or bike rides, or other mums are fundraising for charity. The school organises a lot of events and activities open to the whole community:

‘…the school always tries to keep the community feel as well, they always try to get everyone together and join in with things, which is lovely. They do a lot of fundraising and fun days and stuff like that, not just school people, for the whole village to join in as well, which is really nice…’

Linda was asked to join the pre-school committee but she declined because she had a negative impression of the committee, which has put her off the idea of committees in general:

‘I didn’t want to be a part of it because it all just seemed a bit bitchy and backstabby and it’s like they were having committee meetings and spending time talking about other mums, and it wasn’t just very nice, and I know that’s not what being a committee is about, but that was my only experience of it and it wasn’t nice, and so that’s put me off getting involved in anything like that.’

Linda works behind the bar at a local pub, which performs a role as a village hub, where people are friendly and welcoming, but also where people can find someone to help them out (e.g. with a DIY project). People with allotments will sometimes bring their harvest to sell at the pub. Linda doesn’t buy fair trade but thinks ‘buying local’ is important to people in the village, particularly older people.

Linda does a lot of informal helping out of neighbours and friends, who help her in turn; for example, she checks on her elderly neighbour who gives her vegetables and she gets help with childcare from friends and family. Linda is also part of an informal dog-walking club with others in the village.

Linda started giving to a charity for premature babies because she was approached in the street by a fundraiser, but she has since decided to stop this contribution for financial reasons.

Linda doesn’t vote for a number of reasons including lack of interest, not knowing enough about politics to feel she can express an opinion, and questioning the difference her single vote could make. She voted once when she turned 18 just because she was legally entitled to. She says she has never had any reason to attend a public meeting.

Akash’s Story

Akash is a middle-aged British Asian of Hindu faith. He had a unsettled upbringing and early adulthood, which included time in a remand home, a children’s home, a working boys’ hostel and bedsits. During this part of his life, Akash was ‘too busy trying to get by’ to participate, but he says that if people asked for help he would help them:

‘…it’s in the nature of me to help somebody else if they ask for it.’

Akash became a salesman, which took him travelling around the country, but mental illness took over in his thirties, which meant that for four years he very rarely left his house. He feels he turned a corner when he began to walk the dogs of his carer, which resulted in him meeting others in his neighbourhood and slowly becoming integrated into the local community, building for the first time in years some form of a social network.

This widening (or beginning) of his social network came at the same time as riots within his community. Local political unrest, the burning of a local pub and conflict with the police gave Akash something to fight against that he believed in, was passionate about and which directly affected his new network of friends.

This network and the catalyst of the riots led to his first taste of participation, which he has sustained ever since, organising an annual community day, which brings all walks of the community together:

‘The [community day] started as a need to actually cement the various factions of our community together and bringing together people seemed like a good idea, bringing together the Asians, Muslims, the West Indians, whites, everyone, the drug smokers, the drinkers, everybody basically and on a level playing field, so to speak, and see us for who we are basically, you’ll see we have some fantastic musicians, great cooks, great artists.’

Akash’s childhood gave him a strong sense of identity closely tied to the community in which he continues to live. He played football for a community centre, which he explains:

‘…that was like, it’s localised, it’s tribal, to me it’s creating a culture of “this is ours” but the thing is you play football, “this is ours and this is ours”, you know like it is healthy. … It gave me a sense of identity, I knew where I come from, I know my friends, I know my local streets…’

As a result, he has a real passion and pride for his local area and it is this passion that has sustained his interest in making the community day a success:

‘I think my area’s a beautiful area, but then I see it going down and I see people just ignoring it, then I meet other people who are passionate about stopping it and passionate about improving it and I think “I want to be on that side”.’

Akash’s involvement in the community day is by far his main participatory activity, although its organisation has led to him fundraising and contacting local councillors and he has also been very lightly involved in a campaign to stop the closure of a local school.

For Akash, being of Indian descent helped to shape his values:

‘I’m proud to be an Indian and yes, it has been part of my story because I feel as though I’ve been my dad’s ambassador, my dad taught me my manners, my dad gave me my initial values of respect and you get that in Asian families.’

Akash says that people around him have inspired him, influencing and sparking his participation. He also suggests that because he has been so well looked after by the state, by doctors, by social workers and by friends, this may have contributed to his decision to participate, although he stresses that ‘it’s not payback, there’s no payback in this.’

Daniel’s Story

Daniel is a Roman Catholic in his mid-thirties, a refugee from Senegal and has a wife and three children. Before coming to the UK, he spent time living and studying in Russia where he says he did not participate because it was not the ‘done thing’ . Nowadays he participates in a range of ways relatively lightly, including giving to charity, volunteering, voting, signing petitions, helping others informally and being a member of local groups.

Daniel’s church played an important role for him and his family when he arrived in the UK and he has been a part of it since:

‘When I came to England, my church really helped me a lot, because they really welcome us and we began by taking part in many activities run by our church.’

His church has opened the door to many participatory opportunities, including donating to charity, signing petitions and playing football in an inter-church competition. Being welcomed by the church and approached to take part in a range of activities was important for Daniel as he says he likes to be asked; otherwise he worries about whether he is needed.

He has volunteered at fundraising events for local groups, he says ‘because it’s an opportunity to take my children out’. He feels that his friends and social networks have been critical to his participation in providing role models that have driven him to participate more and ‘do good’ . He also gets involved in response to specific issues in his neighbourhood. He is, for instance, part of a neighbourhood watch group following a spate of burglaries in the area and has contacted the council to have rubbish collected.

Daniel is interested and engaged in politics which he traces back to his family being ‘very involved in politics’ when he grew up; he feels, ‘it’s part of my responsibility, because I believe each person should vote. If you’re entitled to vote, you should do it’ . His political outlook comes in part from his French-speaking Senegalese culture: ‘In French, we say, “if you don’t do politics, politics will do you”’. He is currently involved in a bid to make his city a ‘city of sanctuary’: such a status means the city would be open, welcoming and fair for refugees and asylum-seekers.

Much of Daniel’s involvement depends on time. He was a school governor for three years at his children’s school, but says he had to withdraw due to not having enough time. However, he says his wife is now going to be a governor. He acknowledges that his participation in certain activities benefits his family and himself. For example, he says he has found being a school governor ‘useful to mention in my CV’ . It also helped him to learn about the UK educational system and the national curriculum, and as a result he has been able to help his children more. When he sees a need, Daniel also helps other native French-speaking parents, who do not speak English, to overcome the language barrier and to understand the educational system.

Jonathan’s Story

Jonathan is aged 55-65. He and his wife set up a rescue charity for wild animals in 1975 and have been heav – ily involved ever since. The critical moment for him and his wife’s par – ticipation came four years into their marriage, nearly 30 years ago. He was taking their dog for a walk and the dog pulled him down a slope to a bird’s nest that had two baby birds inside. He took them home and tried to find help for them, without success:

‘Couldn’t find no help at all, the RSPCA said they’ll never survive, just let them die, we weren’t prepared to do that, so we battled on and saved them and they turned out to be two beautiful goldfinches and so that [I] realised that you know, these creatures can get help in the right place… So that’s how it started, our interest of wildlife rescue started if you like, it’s my dog’s fault!’

From this point until 1999, the couple ran a wildlife rescue charity from their home. In 1999 someone working for the council asked if a local country park could give them a piece of land that was formerly for pets. They had room for six aviaries and the council asked them to take over the running of it because they ‘couldn’t afford to keep it and said we’d make a better job of it’.

Jonathan was a lorry driver, but retired due to ill-health. His health condition meant that he had to stop working five years ago but could spend more time supporting the charity. Jonathan is completely dedicated to the charity. He has put a huge amount of time, energy and money into it and he feels as if his children have suffered because of it. Being an ambulance service for injured wildlife meant that he could get called out at any time of the day or night, and that he and his wife no longer took their two daughters camping at the weekend, or on day trips or holidays.

Jonathan remembers the finances being so bad at times that he had to go around to all the places where they had collection boxes attempting to get enough money together to buy the animals’ food, and owing money to the Inland Revenue. One of his daughters remembers the bailiffs coming round to the house and gets upset when members of the public who use the rescue service are demanding and ungrateful, because of how much the family has invested in the charity. The fortunes of the charity turned in 2008 when someone who had seen Jonathan giving a lecture about the charity died and left some money to them. Their charity is now in the black financially and employs six staff. The love that Jonathan and his wife have for wild animals has kept them going:

‘…what’s made us carry on is the rewards you get…You can tell by the look in their eyes whether they want to live, and that gives you the will to make them want to live, and forget about all modern drugs and techniques, it’s… the love, the care and the freedom these animals get from it…’

Jonathan has been to several public meetings over the years, (e.g. one about a geese cull and others about planning). However, he feels that they were a ‘waste of time’ and doesn’t go to meetings any more because he feels disillusioned: ‘a lot of things are already pre-empted’ . He has had similar experiences with local politicians, having contacted them and had empty promises given to him and people (MPs and councillors) not getting back to him. He always votes, and thinks everyone should, even if it is to express dissatisfaction with the choices on offer.

The energy and commitment Jonathan and his wife have dedicated to wild animals has been recognised: in 2003 they had lunch with the Queen and Prince Philip and in 2005 they each received an MBE.

Alma’s Story

‘I’d decided to teach I suppose for political reasons, I wanted to be some kind of enabling force to help working-class kids get more out their lives because obviously the grammar school system that I went through was totally unfair.’

Aware of class relations from an early age, Alma became actively political at university in the 1960s through her involvement in the anti-apartheid movement, and the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. After university, she went to the United States for a year and volunteered at a radio station and at a nursery for the children of members of an African-American revolutionary leftist organisation.

When she returned to the UK, she became involved in Chilean refugee groups and the Anti-Nazi league. She had two daughters and then moved towards more community- orientated activities in community associations. A trained teacher, Alma became a National Union of Teachers representative, which then led to her joining the Socialist Workers’ Party. She is currently involved in various activities including a community consortium, an action group against the closure of a local school, the management committee for the local community day, a friends of a local cinema group and less formal activities like visiting an elderly neighbour.

‘…it’s the hard core of us that are committed to sticking up for what’s right, like this area needs more playing fields; [the school] belongs to the community it shouldn’t be knocked down and made into a supermarket or made into executive flats that local people can’t afford… or even worse more student flats, which we don’t want.’

Robert’s Story

‘I see life as you have to look after the birds in your garden don’t you, and feed them and so on. I’ve got a pond with newts in, these things matter a lot.’

Robert is a recently retired town planner and has lived in the same house for over 20 years. He is a longstanding residents’ association member, has started several local campaigns, for example to establish a 20-mile-an-hour zone, and is passionate about the local area and the environment. Robert was instrumental in getting the local authority to put in place a tree management strategy and in making the case for his local area to be designated a conservation area:

‘The [council] scored each area according to quality and so on and the need for it and it was below the line so we thought we’ve got to keep plugging away. We suggested that we need to meet with the local politicians, cabinet member of the environment and so on, got together a small group of residents from the residents’ association and plugged away at that and in April of this year the council – and I think it was probably an electoral thing – actually in February of this year they decided to make the area a conservation area.’

He is a member of two friends of parks groups, attends local area forums and council scrutiny panels as part of his role on the residents’ association. He is very well networked locally and knows councillors and people in senior positions in his and neighbouring local authorities, partly through working for local authorities for a lot of his professional life. In the last year he has set up and is running a community orchard. Robert is also a member of the local historical society and the Green Party. He always votes and is a former Labour party member. He is a vegetarian, thinks fair trade is important and tries to use the local shops. He and his wife donate to charity (money and clothes) and will leave most of what they own to charity in their will.

Simon’s Story

Simon is a white British male, who is aged between 25-34 and is currently studying for a PhD. After previously working as part of a bicycle repair/DIY collective when visiting the USA, he returned to England and set one up himself with friends, particularly aimed to be inclusive, empowering and benefit the wider community. He demonstrated and leafleted on the Iraq war, and joined People and Planet when he was an undergraduate.

After returning to his home town to do a PhD, he got involved in a practical environmental charity, where his main interest is helping to run a non-hierarchical vegan fair trade food co-op. Through this he is also involved to lesser degrees in other areas such as Climate Camp, a local radical social centre, and gender politics. He is also involved in an independent media project, has always voted and gives to charity. Simon explained that much of his participation is a natural progression of his beliefs, and that it is the ‘obvious thing to do’ and cites his politics, and his ‘underlying ethos’ as connecting all his activities. Specifically, he explained his participation in organisations such as People and Planet:

‘Because I thought the world could be a better place and I kind of think it’s people’s responsibility if they want it to be a better place to make it a better place… I think that it would be good if people felt that they were empowered to make the world a better place, and if this organisation was trying to do that then I’d be involved in that organisation.’

Angela’s Story

When Angela, now in her mid-40s, was a student she was involved in community projects and peace protests such as CND and Peace Camp. She then trained as a teacher and became interested in alternative schooling, and was involved in anti-war and poll tax demonstrations in the 1980s. When her son and daughter were born, she moved to Leeds and through a combination of her own interests and her children’s needs, became very involved in child orientated groups and SEN (special educational needs) issues.

Angela has recently done voluntary work for Asperger syndrome and autism groups. She has also been very much involved in the resistance to the closures of two local schools, and this led to her standing for election as a local councillor:

‘I joined a group by invitation… which is anti-academy and anti-closure, and I was invited to that by a friend who had been a governor and teacher at [school]… During the course of meetings, discussions and various bits of campaigning it came up that it would be a really good idea if we had a candidate in the next local election… Meanwhile I was writing letters to councillors and stuff and getting no response, or getting brushed off all the time. Because there are an awful lot of reasons not to close this particular school… So they all looked round the table and every one of them worked for either the council or [education support provider], except me, so I was the one that got chosen…’

Diana’s Story

Diana, is a full time carer for her disabled daughter. She has volunteered in numerous activities that support her daughter, for example as a committee member of her school and at an inclusive theatre that she attends. Diana does not consider herself political

‘…we had a really nice contractor transporting our children and she lost the contract because they gave it to some other person that was a lot cheaper… because they don’t have loyalty the council do they, it’s whatever makes the budget look good, and so we did send a letter to our MP, got them involved in it, went up to Downing Street, but it didn’t happen anyway…’

but did get involved in a campaign with other parents of her daughter’s school, to protest that the person who had been contracted to provide transport for the children for 15 years lost the contract to an organisation that provided an ‘atrocious’ service:

Her role in the campaign was in ‘the background’ , she typed the letter to the MP, and Diana did not talk about additional or further political involvement.

Michael’s Story

‘…so there are links all the way along really, and it’s mostly young people… I work with kids and I know what I can do that is comfortable. I’m not going to be asked any hard questions either [laughing].’

Michael, who is aged between 55-64, moved to the local area after he retired from teaching and got involved in the parish council, initially as a councillor and a year later as chair. He volunteers at a National Trust property as a learning mentor, primarily with school groups, and is a school governor and chairman of a community music programme. His past activity includes: various roles with the cubs and scouts (participant, cub helper, scout leader, chair of parents’ committee, secretary and chairman of local Scouts Association); some voluntary involvement in his job as a teacher (e.g. running football clubs); being secretary of a rugby club and referee in college; a trade union member and general committee member; on the local authority education committee and health and safety committee.

His work as a teacher links his involvement with the trade union, his role as school governor, and in general his work with children through Scouts and now through the National Trust. He draws on the skills he developed as a teacher both in his work directly with children and more broadly in his work with groups, and sometimes has to use his ‘teacher’s look’ with adult committee members when there is conflict within the group.

Annie’s Story

‘I started off in guiding as a Brownie and I went through the whole Brownies, Guides, Rangers and started helping out in a pack, and I’ve never really left! So I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I now run the pack I joined as a Brownie.’

Annie joined Brownies in 1970 as a child and now runs the Brownie pack she joined 25 years ago – in her words, she ‘never really left’. She thinks that she joined Brownies initially because it was conveniently located in the church at the top of the road, her friends went and her mum was involved in helping out. Her mother had been involved with Guides, helping out at parents’ meetings at Guides, and for the participant, moving up through Brownies, Guides and Rangers was a natural progression and something ‘quite normal’, and was helped because the company was friendly.

After going through Brownies, Guides and Rangers she became a pack leader (1978), then a leader in training (1982), and in 1984 started running a Brownie pack. In 1991 she became the district commissioner, and in 2010 became the division commissioner for Girl Guiding in the wider area. As division commissioner she looks after ‘about 30 units in my area, about 500 girls and about 30 leaders across the three districts’ . She explained staying involved because she ‘enjoyed the friendship, the things we did and the activities, the camping, all the helping out. I enjoyed that kind of meeting or involvement’.

Albert’s Story

Albert is 76 years old and married. He was born and raised in Ireland and moved to England in search of work at age 18. He is an ex-serviceman with the British Army. He retired from a career in the building industry and before that worked as a manufacturer in nearby factories.

Albert’s participation was greatest as a young man. During this period, he initiated and coordinated the unionisation of the workers at the factory he worked at, and became the union leader at the factory. He was secretary and chairman of the local branch of the Labour Party at a time when, as he describes it, the party had many members but did very little. He was also involved in the wider Labour party and trade union movement. For example, he would attend educational events in London and send away for educational materials. Albert was also a town councillor for two terms.

Albert has Parkinson’s disease, which is beginning to affect his mobility and memory. Until recently, Albert was secretary of the local branch of the British Legion, however his health problems have limited what he is currently able to do, which is the main reason he recently resigned as secretary of the local Legion. However, he will continue to be a member and raise funds through the poppy appeal. Albert continues to raise funds and be on a committee for Arthritis Care.

Stella’s Story

Stella is over 65 years old. She came to England from Greece when she was 15 years old and worked as a machinist. She and her husband (who died several years ago) set up and ran a grocer’s shop and then a dressmaking shop, which they did until retiring 20 years ago. Eight years ago she started volunteering at a drop-in centre run by a local charity for Greek and Greek Cypriots for pensioners and has been doing this ever since. She goes once a week on a Monday morning and makes the toast and tea and ‘quite a lot of things’. Prior to this she had not done any voluntary work:

‘No, apart from bringing up children and looking after husband, having your own business, I’ve been working very hard really.’

Stella always votes because she believes that ‘we need somebody to guide us’ and because if you don’t vote, people don’t ‘know you’re here’. She attended a public meeting about the proposed closures at a local hospital because a key leader of the Greek and Greek Cypriot community ‘sent’ her and her daughter. She accompanied her daughter to some hustings before the recent general election, but doesn’t go to ‘these places’ because she feels that ‘you have to have somebody with you’ and, when he was alive, her husband ‘wasn’t up to anything like that’ .

Stella makes charitable donations to the church every week but otherwise not regularly. She mentioned making donations to ‘foot and mouth’ , the Red Cross and ‘the blind’.

Nadir’s Story

Nadir is a middle-aged Turkish Muslim, with two grown-up children, both of whom are studying political science at university. He has worked in the area for 11 years and spends most of his time helping with the family business, a dry cleaning shop. He has a degree in political science from Thames University.

Nadir grew up in Cyprus where he was a Scout. Sometimes in the school holidays he helped collecting the harvest – olives and oranges. In the war in Cyprus in 1974 in which there were several months of fighting, he helped with the wounded and those under siege. He described the conflict as something ‘unexpected’, and that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. While the fighting was happening, he took bread and milk to old people stuck indoors and after the war he did lots of reforestation, because lots of trees were burnt in the conflict.

Nadir thinks that it is important to vote but does not always do so. He has had some contact with political representatives, for example the local MP contacted him about his dry cleaning shop because he was lobbying against proposed rises in the council tax rate and wanted to draw the shopkeepers’ attention to how this would affect them. He has little respect for Parliament and democracy and does not think they truly represent the people. Some time ago, Nadir took part in a demonstration against the Greek Cypriot embargo on the Turkish Cypriots. He said, ‘I’m not an activist but when there’s an injustice I take a stand on it.’

Nadir has collection boxes for thalassaemia (a blood disease) and Cancer Research on the shop counter and gives money when disasters happen. In terms of ethical consumerism, he said that he is price conscious. He is ‘eco-friendly’, but he said that he will not go out of his way. He knows his neighbours and helps them out if they need it (e.g. carrying shopping).

Naomi’s Story

Naomi is a former town planner, aged between 35–44. She became a member of Friends of the Earth (FoE) in 2007, and identifies this as the first time she ever did any ‘official voluntary work’. As a member of the local group of FoE she was involved in activities around climate change (e.g. the Big Ask campaign) and setting up and running a farmers’ market, which the local group had to run a ‘bit like a business’. Naomi became the local FoE membership secretary for almost two years. In this time she supported stands and postcard signings at local events, and was involved in another campaign called the Food Chain.

In November 2009, Naomi went on an EcoTeam training course. EcoTeams encourage teams of neighbours and friends to monitor their energy usage, waste production and shopping habits with a view to looking at how to reduce waste and save energy. The model appealed to Naomi as it was friendly, social and, ‘very much around helping people’. She set up an online EcoTeam but this, ‘didn’t work out too well’ because:

‘I did it just online, because people couldn’t meet, and it sort of worked to start off with but, to be honest, with summer holidays and not meeting, it meant not actually physically meeting, it kind of fizzled out somewhat.’

Through ‘various internet networks’ she got involved with another environmental initiative: a local green home zone. This initiative had the backing of local businesses, which were going to try to discourage people from using plastic bags, the support of the council and the Energy Saving Trust. One of the things Naomi does through the green home zone is visit people’s houses to help them identify key areas they can work on to improve their home energy efficiency.

Before joining FoE, Naomi didn’t have the energy and space to do anything voluntarily outside work – her career was her focus and priority, and any spare time she had would be spent at the gym or socialising with friends. A number of factors came together to make her decide to join the local FoE group. Her interest in sustainability and the local and global environment clearly links with her choice of voluntary activities. Her work was in the public sector and she had been involved with a project about sustainable transport development. She changed job roles and started working fewer hours and became ‘a bit itchy’ as she says she needs ‘to influence things’. She made a conscious decision to make more of an active life locally for herself as she had a bit more space and time. Her friends were spread out across the city and her social community existed mostly in the centre of town, so she wanted to try to make a more local life for herself:

‘And I suppose it was also, with age as well, you know, I no longer felt the need to every weekend go out, drink loads, party, whatever. I thought, well, actually, I might like to do some other stuff, really, and so, you know, giving up a Saturday afternoon to do a stand didn’t feel like a major encroachment on my social time, really. So it was just sort of age, stage and, I can’t think of a third word to rhyme with that!’

Naomi stood down as membership secretary for FoE last year as she was more focused on her personal study of alternative health practices and helping with the setting up a community interest company – her time was getting stretched and so she decided to stop doing the FoE work so intensively. In terms of other involvement, she and her husband have direct debits set up with FoE, the NSPCC, cancer charities and a charity for children who are deaf and blind. They are also members of the National Trust. She always votes, and thinks it’s important:

‘I actually, I don’t know, I kind of also feel like, oh, damn it, people have died for us to be able to vote, so I think it’s a really good thing to be able to do and, you know, there’s parts of the world where you couldn’t, so, therefore, we shouldn’t take it for granted.’

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