Welcome to the Association for Research in the Voluntary and Community Sector (ARVAC) website.  

ARVAC was founded in 1978 as a network for researchers in the voluntary and community sector. It now provides information and training in research for and about the community sector.

We are a membership organisation and invite any researchers or practitioners from academia, the public sector and importantly, from the community sector to join. Membership is free.


Lesley Symes 1958-2021

 Colin Rochester writes: as someone who worked closely with Lesley as chair of ARVAC when she was its Director I should like to celebrate her work with the organisation and its contribution to its mission.

Founded in 1978 the Association for Research in the Voluntary and Community Sector (ARVAC) has worked to enhance the health of local communities by providing information and training for them.  Its history has been made by a succession of key individuals but few of them have made an impression on the organisation and its contribution to the community sector to match that of Lesley Symes.

Lesley joined ARVAC as interim Director in 2000 when the organisation was reeling under the double blow of the simultaneous resignation of both its Chair and its Director. Her task was to work with the trustees and small staff team to get ARVAC back on the rails. Thanks to Lesley’s firm guidance, calm leadership and quiet efficiency this was accomplished smoothly and rapidly and the trustees were delighted when Lesley agreed to accept the post of Director on a permanent basis.

There followed a period when the work and reputation of ARVAC flourished as Lesley built and led a talented staff team and forged strong partnerships with her trustees and ARVAC’s partners.  The organisation developed a programme of research projects in collaboration with a range of community groups; developed a tool-kit to provide many others with the means to undertake their own research; set up an information and advice services; and organised well attended annual conferences and other events.

This ‘golden age’ came to an abrupt and undeserved end when the government of the day decided to end the modest but vitally important core funding that ARVAC had received for much of its history. Once again Lesley rose to the occasion and worked with the trustees to wind up ARVAC as a staff-led organisation and transform it into what it is now – a purely voluntary association. All this was accomplished with the quiet efficiency which was Lesley’s trademark and the trustees were able to embark on a new phase in ARVAC’s history.

The gap left by her departure was however unbridgeable. As Fiona Poland, one of longstanding members of ARVAC who is currently one of the trustees, summed her up:

Lesley was fantastic for ARVAC over some uniquely difficult times – and dealt with everything with the highest professionalism and with care for people, even when managing the worst of transitions.  These included having to plan for and then disband the staff team, closing the office base, and her own redundancy. She had also supported us and the paid staff to secure ARVAC’s future by ensuring we had flexible options and by promoting our key values and project outcomes. These added greatly to ARVAC’s profile, underlining and courageously sustaining its distinctive contribution – in adversity.  I always valued knowing her and our working and collegial relationship.  She is an absolute star in my memories of community working and researching.

And another of the current trustees who knew Lesley well – John Diamond – added:

From my point of view she was so welcoming and supportive of new members of the ARVAC Board. She had that quality of being someone who facilitated your engagement with the charity and did so always with its principles and values shaping her work and those of the Board. ARVAC depended on her as so many charities depend on individuals who quietly make things happen.



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