We were founded in 1938, and today represent the interests of over 1,100 members and the wider community and voluntary sector.
Founded as the Northern Ireland Council for Social Service in 1938 after the Great Depression, with the purpose of 'promoting the common good' and co-ordinating the scattered efforts of voluntary personal services in response to the prevailing high levels of unemployment.
The First Decade
The first decade of the existence of the NICSS was profoundly affected by the War. While the initial focus had been on stimulating the foundation of clubs, garden plot associations and work camps, this quickly shifted to addressing the social problems stemming from the mass evacuation of children, the transforming role of women, and funding of legal assistance for the poor.
Disability and elderly welfare
The Council moved to Bryson House from its first offices at 29 Wellington Place in Belfast. A residential home and a specialist care centre for older people were established, along with over 40 Meals on Wheels clubs. A standing committee for disabled people, which later became Disability Action, was formed. The Committee of Ulster Folklife and Traditions was set up and supported in 1953. The Council took responsibility of housing an influx of 600 Hungarian refugees in 1956.
Social welfare, folklife and traditions
While progressive welfare policies helped to clear slums, the Council sought to ensure that community identities were protected by local groups, including through the work of the Ulster Folklife Society. Regional social service councils were set up to bring together existing voluntary organisations in Derry, Bangor and Antrim.
Conflict, poverty and Scope
This was a turbulent time in Northern Ireland's history which saw the emergence of civil and political strife and a breakdown in community relations. The Council coordinated anti-poverty groups to work on issues of common concern and speak as a collective voice. Funding thanks to EU membership underpinned support for work on social issues. Scope magazine first went into print in November 1975.
A new set of aims and values was adopted by the council, along with a move to offices on the Ormeau Road. A change in name, from NICSS to the NI Council for Voluntary Action, was reflected in the shift 'towards a development agency working for social change' through community action. NICVA took a leading role in influencing government policy on social security, funding and charity law matters.
Public affairs, equality and training
NICVA's training services were expanded to meet the increasing needs of the sector, including IT skills, and the purchase of the first computer. Public Affairs staff worked to raise the level of understanding and engagement with government and policy makers on behalf of the sector. Seamus McAleavey took post as Director (now Chief Executive) in 1998. With the signing of the Good Friday Agreement there was a sense of optimism for the future.
New millennium, new building
NICVA moved into its current purpose-built premises at the North Belfast peace line on Duncairn Gardens in September 2000. New online services for the sector were established, including Grant-tracker and CommunityNI. Initiatives such as the 'Millennium Debate' and the Taskforce on Resourcing the Voluntary and Community Sector invited the sector to reflect on the values and sustainability of voluntary action.
Outreach and understanding
In the past decade we have worked to foster collaboration within the sector and with others. We facilitated the establishment of the All Party Group on the Voluntary and Community Sector at Stormont. The Vital Links programme aimed to increase interaction and promote positive understanding between government and the sector. CollaborationNI helped to form new partnerships, supporting ‘collaboration of the willing for purpose’. NICVA plays a strong role in policy debates through the Centre for Economic Empowerment, and in the debate over welfare reform and the current challenge of Brexit.