ARVAC Memories  This section of our membership pages is devoted to remembering deceased ARVAC friends.  

A Kerslake


I first encountered Lord Kerslake in my role as a Commissioner on the Centenary Commission on Adult Education when he came to give evidence as an invited speaker at the third Centenary Commission meeting at the Institute of Education on the 3rd May 2019, in his capacity as Chair of the ‘Civic University’ Commission. His key points in the meeting focused on the conviction that, whilst the Civic University Commission should celebrate the good work already taking place in universities, it should also centre on what needed to change – a recognition of the tension between national policy and local agency, the crucial civic role of the university relating to place and responsibility at the local level and the importance of creating a balance of recommendations for government and universities. He emphasised the vital importance of strategic analysis of local needs and the importance of adult education in England, which is in massive decline but, he argued, is vital to civic purpose and  to re-skilling local people and the local workforce.

In June 2020 Lord Kerslake was kind enough to lead our ARVAC annual lecture – How can Communities and Universities work as Civic Partnerships? – which aimed to develop this thinking, arguing that for too long, seeking to build partnerships with their local communities has been the ‘poor cousin’ of the national and global ambitions of the Higher Education sector. He called for universities to reframe how they approach their relationship to place, and to the people who live there.

Lord Kerslake was an important and erudite advocate for a more sophisticated understanding of community, adult learning and the civic mission of higher education. He will be sadly missed by those of us working in these sectors and in need of powerful and learned advocates.

OBITUARY Colin Rochester, 1942 – 2023

It is with great sadness that we are writing to you with the news that our friend and colleague Colin Rochester died on 16 February 2023.

Colin was an academic, teacher, practitioner, mentor, colleague, editor, author and thought leader with an independent and sharp mind. He helped establish and maintain key research institutions such as the Association for Research in the Voluntary and Community Sector (ARVAC) in 1978, the Voluntary Action History Society (VAHS) in 1991, the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) in 1996 and the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) in 1997. In each of these organisations he collaborated convivially, leading with kindness and offering critical thought, bringing up the next generation of researchers and practitioners.

He was head of Cambridge House and Talbot Settlement in London (1978-1987), a lecturer at LSE (1987-2000) and later led a course at Roehampton University (1999-2007). He was Honorary Academic Advisor to IVR (2007-2012) and was awarded Honorary Lifetime Membership of ARVAC in 2021. Since 2018 he had been an Honorary Research Fellow with the Centre for Philanthropy, University of Kent.

To honour his memory and to highlight his spirit of collaboration, kindness and conviviality the four institutions he helped to establish plan to jointly organise a memorial seminar later on in the year, more news of which will follow in due course. In the meantime, we have set up a padlet page, for anyone who would like to share their reflections and memories of Colin. The page will stay open for a week, at which point we will send it to Colin’s family.

Jurgen Grotz & Mike Locke, the Institute of Volunteering Research

Angela Ellis Paine & Jon Dean, Voluntary Sector Studies Network


Ellie Munro & Bob Snape, Voluntary Action History Society



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.