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Community resilience in an age of austerity – examining volunteering as a response to public sector cuts

Project Description

This research will examine community response to cuts in local government support of traditional leisure services through the theoretical frameworks of social capital (1), the big society (2, 3), community resilience (4,5) and how these are constructed and understood in the context of disruption to local community structures arising from austerity measures. More broadly, its theoretical contribution will be to explore how community activism can contribute to social inclusion (6) and social capital (7), potentially enhancing resilience at a local level.

The research will focus on how community groups have taken responsibility for management and delivery of public libraries in Sheffield. In September 2014 management and delivery of ten Sheffield libraries was transferred from local government to community groups. The groups are supported by a three year grant to cover running costs. After that time they will need to become economically independent. They will also need to sustain the enthusiasm of volunteers who originally developed as a campaigning group but have had to transform to one capable of delivering a library service.

The research builds on work supported by a research stimulation grant; which led to an ESRC Festival of Social Science event in November 2014, the dissemination of sport related cases studies through the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity and conference presentations (8). The proposed project will focus on the sustainability of transfer of libraries because of the examples available in Sheffield and because national data is available showing the considerable replacement of paid employees by volunteers 2008 – 13 (9).


1. Putnam R (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

2. Alcock, P. (2010). Building the Big Society: A new policy environment for the third sector in England. Voluntary Sector Review1(3), 379-390.

3. Such, L. (2013) Little leisure in the Big Society. Leisure Studies, 32(1) 89 – 108.

4. Adger, W. N. (2000). Social and ecological resilience: are they related? Progress in Human Geography, 24(3), 347-364.

5. Wilson, G. A. (2014). Community resilience: Path dependency, lock-in effects and transitional ruptures. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 57(1), 1-26.

6. Nichols, G. and Ralston R. (2011) Social inclusion through volunteering – a potential legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games. Sociology. 45 (5) 900-914.

7. Nichols, G., Tacon, R. and Muir, A. (2013) Sports Clubs’ Volunteers: Bonding In or Bridging Out? Sociology 47: 350-367.

8. Nichols G. and Forbes D. (2014) The transfer of public leisure facilities to volunteer delivery
http://svrn.group.shef.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Nichols- and-Forbes- transfer-of-
leisure-facilities- to-volunteer- delivery-20141.pdf

9. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and accountancy (2014) Library Survey.
http://www.cipfa.org/about-cipfa/press- office/latest-press- releases/cipfa-library- survey-shows-closures- slowing-visitor- numbers-falling- but-volunteers- soaring).

How good is research at University of Sheffield in Business and Management Studies?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.50

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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