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Responding to a 'new world'? A qualitative study of change in the voluntary and community sector in England since 2009

Nesbit, Steven (2017) Responding to a 'new world'? A qualitative study of change in the voluntary and community sector in England since 2009. Masters by Research thesis (MA), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This study examines and maps the impact of the UK recession in 2009 to pose the question as to whether this is a ‘new world’ for the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS). The research investigates and analyses how the VCS has responded to the recession and a range of austerity measures introduced by the coalition government in 2010, and presents a critique of the responsible Government ideology. The study redefines the voluntary and community sector and considers its importance to and relevance in the provision of services across England. It also considers how funding and political support for the VCS have evolved over the past eight years and whether current challenges facing the sector are entirely new or part of ongoing cycles. The thesis utilises theoretical models drawn from theories of organisational change and behaviour, in addition to employing a Bourdieusian perspective to contextualise and support the author’s explanations for the ways in which VCS organisations have responded to the prevailing economic and social policy climate and how their leaders behave in times of stress. During a sustained period of data collection in 2016 to 2017, the study gained direct and personal access to a range of key players working in and with the sector, and through nineteen face-to-face interviews developed a highly detailed and very contemporary perspective on the changing voice and status of the sector. Using thematic analysis, the study proposes a number of specific sustainability strategies emerging from the VCS and makes recommendations for sustaining an active and thriving sector, concluding that it may only now (after eight years) be entering a 'new world'. By undertaking this work, the study provides insights for professionals working in the sector, researchers in the field, and for government officials who shape social policy that inevitably impacts the VCS. In interpreting voices from the sector, this study has learned of the fears faced by many who work in the VCS in attempting to continue, let alone thrive in the current socio-economic climate. It has uncovered why some organisations have survived while others have not. Finally, the conclusions to this study point to a VCS with diminishing voice and influence; increasingly required to fill gaps in service delivery but less able to thrive in a continuing period of resource scarcity and political ideology.

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