ARVAC events


How can how communities and universities work as civic partnerships?
Learn more at ARVAC’s first ever online Annual Lecture on 29th June and hear Lord Robert Kerslake, Chair of the Civic University Commission, speak.
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. At a time when the value of community living and working is being radically revalued, universities will need to demonstrate that they too are giving much higher priority to the places and local communities that host them. The recent report of the Civic University Commission calls for universities to reframe how they approach their relationship to place, and to the people who live there.

In the current COVID 19 crisis, connecting universities’ business with their local communities is especially pressing, since universities are experiencing uncertainty over their future role and function post-pandemic.

Lord Kerslake is the Chair of Sheffield Hallam University, Chair of Peabody, Chair of the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS), Chair of London Collective Investment Vehicle, and is President of the Local Government Association.

A former Head of the Civil Service, Bob led the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) from November 2010, stepping down in February 2015. Prior to his DCLG role, he was the first Chief Executive of the Homes and Communities Agency.

Before joining the Civil Service Bob received a knighthood for his services to local government, spending eight years serving the London Borough of Hounslow and then a further 11 years leading Sheffield Council. In early 2015, he was made a life peer, taking the title Baron Kerslake, of Endcliffe in the City of Sheffield.


Engendering trust in evidence ‘Co-production – making community research work’

ARVAC collaborated with the Institute for Volunteering Research the NIHR East of England Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research & Care to organise this year’ Annual Lecture in Norwich, 17 July 2019.

Thank you to everyone who attended and joined the debate.


Fiona Poland opened the proceedings. She was twice Chair of the Association for Research in the Voluntary and Community Sector (ARVAC). She is Professor at UEA and her research projects and publications explore how and how far community connections and participation may affect access to resources for health and wellbeing.


The event was chaired by Brian Horner, who is a trustee for both the Norfolk Museums Development Foundation and the Norfolk Archives and Heritage Development Foundation having retired as Chief Executive of Voluntary Norfolk in 2015, after over 10 years in post. In addition, he is Co-chair of the Delivery Board for an ESRC funded programme at the University of East Anglia.


The first speaker was Heather Edwards who founded and leads Come Singing groups for people living with memory loss and is the originator of Music Mirrors. She was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to dementia in 2017. Visit her sites at and


Our second speaker was David Walker who is Vice Chair of Voluntary Norfolk. He took up the historic civic office of Sheriff of Norwich in May 2017, prior to which he was clerk (effectively chief executive) to Norwich Charitable Trusts, from which he retired in August 2016.


Our final speaker was Jeff Prosser who is Chair of Age UK Norfolk. He is a qualified social worker who has worked in managerial settings in the UK in social services and the health and private sectors. His last major role was as Director of Housing and Social Services in the London Borough of Barnet. Following retirement Jeff was also appointed Chair of Flagship Housing Group and of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Trust in King’s Lynn.

*For technical reasons the audio from Jeff Prosser presentation is currently unavailable 



ARVAC aims to support building evidence to promote community action. The 2019 Lecture speakers underlined how developing research questions relevant to communities should be based on sharing experiences. We heard how momentum is growing to ensure communities have more say in setting research priorities and in allocating funding for research. Having a say therefore includes taking time to share stories, learning from practice, and to provide evidence on how we can make quality connections between communities, evidence and resources. ‘Knowledge Partnerships’ can be built to ensure we learn from practice.  But available knowledge and partnerships are always changing. So organisations have to work flexibly to stay in tune with local issues and priorities.

Community research priorities are increasingly around seeking evidence of need, promoting community sustainability by helping them gain credibility to gain funding and to set the quality standards affecting funding.  Research into effectiveness and cost effectiveness are not as high up the community agenda as they are for some of the big health and social care funders.  A role for ARVAC may therefore be to support priority-setting between communities, funders and researchers.

We heard how communities are being asked to provide new types of evidence to funders. The Charity Commission requires evidence on the impact of charitable funding – and this is another type of evidence local communities now often need to provide.  One way to show this evidence is for communities to know and be known by their funders, via building longer-term relationships which can build credibility on both sides.  Funders need to recognise that volunteer-run services can improve access and inclusion. Sharing volunteer/service user experiences can help co-produce priorities, standards and evidence. Making time for face-to-face relationships between people who provide and use information is key.  This can be easier where there are existing long term relationships, such as Age-Friendly Communities, which can help build more trust in what research says, how to use it to shape activities and services.

Researchers need relevant experience to support this kind of co-production with communities.  Funders Forums need to take time to talk to local communities about their priorities for gaining and using evidence.

ARVAC has resources to help people carry out their own research and to run community activities as with the Getting Started toolkit, its Annual Conference on Challenges for Community research, its Annual Lecture and its Governance Pages.


ARVAC AGM and annual conference 2018

On Tuesday 13 November 2018 we held our 2018 AGM and annual conference, and also celebrated our 40th anniversary. As part of this we also re-launched our resource for community researchers, Getting Started

The theme of the conference was Spaces for Community Action. An exciting range of speakers joined us for a topical, timely and important afternoon exploring citizen engagement in parks, typologies of spaces in community action and the role of community spaces for the future of communities.

Speakers included:

You can find out more about the event and download presentations here

2018 also saw us mark our 40th birthday and the re-launch of Getting Started, our resource for community researchers. We took some time out to pause and celebrate ARVAC’s work and to consider what lies ahead. We also heard from the researcher leading the re-vamp of our most popular resource for community researchers. 

ARVAC Annual lecture

Patient and Public involvement – the role of the community in health and social care research

Thank you to everyone who attended our annual lecture, which we held in London on the 17th July 2018. The event was chaired by Colin Rochester and the afternoon’s speakers were:

Peter Beresford OBE, Professor of Citizen Participation at the University of Essex. Download Peter’s presentation notes. Listen to Peter’s presentation here:

Jurgen Grotz, Senior Research Associate for the Patient and Public Involvement Research theme of the Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) East of England. Download Jurgen’s PowerPoint slides. Listen to Jurgen’s presentation here:

Savitri Hensman, the Patient and Public Involvement Coordinator at the Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) South London and based in the Service User Research Enterprise (SURE) team at King’s College London. Download Savitri’s presentation notes. Listen to Savitri’s presentation here:

Speakers explained that involving Patient and Public representatives and communities is complex and potentially flawed but can be a rich and rewarding contribution to health and social care research. Speakers pointed out that it is not a substitute for specific service user involvement and called for a better understanding of the potential and the limitations of Patient and Public Involvement. There was a clear call that in our challenging policy environment participation must embrace the personal and the political and their interrelations.

Following some discussion participants raised a range of questions we or others might wish to address in future work:

  • parity of esteem between Patient and Public representatives and researchers and how payments may reflect this;
  • practical implementation issues such as researcher’s ability to deal with the emotional needs of Patient and Public representatives;
  • the status of Patient and Public representatives as volunteers and the implications of this such as the need for clarity about the expected outcomes of their involvement;
  • lack of knowledge of how many Patient and Public representatives there are and who involves them.

ARVAC is delighted that Patient and Public Involvement in health and social care is taking place, but as the speakers explained and some of the participants pointed out, there is still a long way to go to make it work in the best interest for all. 


ARVAC Annual Conference and 2017 AGM

Thank you to everyone who came to our annual conference and AGM which we held on the 6thFebruary 2018 in London.

It was a fantastic afternoon and the event included two excellent presentations, from Nick Mahoney of the Raymond Williams Foundation and Paul Black of Nottingham Civic Exchange.

Nick Mahoney – ‘Participatory democracy in the age of angry publics’

‘Putting democracy and engagement in university research’ – Paula Black