Celebrating 80 Years of Voluntary Action

14 Dec 2018 Shauna O'Neill    Last updated: 17 Dec 2018

Vice Chair, Peter McBride; Chair, Marie Cavanagh and NICVA Chief Executive Seamus McAleavey

NICVA marked 80 years on 7th December, with a conference to celebrate the vital role the voluntary and community sector has played and continues to play in our society.

Founded in 1938 as the Northern Ireland Council for Social Service, NICVA has worked to develop, support, and give a voice to many charities, helping them respond to massive societal changes and challenges — all the way from the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Second World War and the establishment of the modern welfare state, through to the major challenges of today.  

Over 100 people including NICVA members, previous staff and representatives from voluntary organisations in the sector – some started by NICVA, attended the special celebration event.

Hosted by Sarah Travers, the event focused on the past, present and future role of NICVA.

Historian Dr Éamon Phoenix set the scene of NICVA’s formation, by reflecting on society in the 1930’s, or ‘the Devil’s Decade’;

“the impact of the world's slump, the rise of fascism dictatorships across Europe, challenges to democracy everywhere and economic and social problems which governments worldwide seem to be failing to deal with, losing credibility during this entire period, its against that background in the 1930s the Northern Ireland Council for Social Services 1938 really first saw the light of day”

NICVA Chief Executive, Seamus McAleavey, brought us up to date with a focus on NICVA through the decades from the 30’s right up until today. Seamus referred back to 15th April 1985 when NICSS becomes NICVA after a review of the organisation, commonly referred to as ‘the Good Report’ as it was led by the Rev Harold Good, who we were delighted to have join us at the event.

A special guest panel consisting of former Chief Executive Quintin Oliver, former NICVA Chair Bronagh Hinds, author of ‘The Good Report’ Rev Harold Good and former NICVA staff member and Volunteer Now Director, Wendy Osbourne joined us to reflect on their time and involvement with NICVA and a focus on their hopes and vision for the future of voluntary action. Key hopes for the future from our panel included:

  • not to be afraid of change
  • to keep voluntary & community activism going
  • keep up the good working models already established & challenge politicians
  • and to recognise the value of volunteers & encourage and develop this in future.

We were delighted to receive a special video message from our Honorary President, Kenneth Branagh who unfortunately couldn’t be with us on the day due to filming commitments.

Sir Kenneth Branagh Congratulates NICVA on their 80th Anniversary from NICVA on Vimeo.


Closing the event we had one of the leading youth orchestras in the UK, and NICVA members, the Ulster Youth Orchestra playing in the foyer.

Speaking after the event Seamus McAleavey said:

"Looking back over 80 years has shown us some aspects of voluntary action in Northern Ireland.  People did some amazing things in very tough times.  Most importantly, it helps us all imagine the future shaped by people, ordinary people who do extraordinary things.  As in the past, people shouldn’t be limited by their circumstances but think about what they can do to change and improve those circumstances.  Do great things."

NICVA’s Annual Report 2017/18 is available here


To coincide with the event, we asked voluntary and community organisations to send us photos showing the impact of their work in the community. You can view the slides below.


Catch up with our celebration event on Twitter using #NICVA80

shauna.oneill@nicva.org's picture
by Shauna O'Neill

Information Officer

[email protected]

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