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Voluntary or citizen action in the UK has a proud history. The exercise of freedom and free will by individuals acting together on matters of mutual interest is part of our democratic tradition. A wise government understands that such activities need nourishment and encouragement, even if this means encouraging dissent and opposition to those in power. Attempts to curtail, co-opt or control these freedoms will erode and undermine our civil society, our political health, and the capacity of ordinary people and communities to get what they need for themselves.

In 2006 a small group of people came together with such fears: that the independence of voluntary citizen action was in danger, led, in particular, by the rise of commissioning and contracting in the voluntary services sector, an offshoot of wider moves towards the privatisation of public services. Changes to this sub-sector had wider and damaging  implications for civil society more broadly, whether in relation to community development principles and practice, or in relation to campaigning and political activism.

This small group became the Coalition for Independent Action and over the following 10 years, we did what we could to sound an alarm bell of the damage being done to communities and to citizen action. We faced difficult dilemmas about the most effective ways to use our limited resources and faced ridicule and opposition from the voluntary sector establishment. In honesty our impact was largely unsuccessful in the face of powerful pressures from the statutory and private sectors and willing compliance from the voluntary sector.

In 2016, we decided that we had said what we wanted to say, closed the Coalition and move on in our lives. We have, however, retained our website – 
www.independentaction.net – which contains articles, newsletters, research reports and much more. We hope that this will continue to be a resource for those willing to continue the thinking and the struggle we tried to generate.   Andy Benson, together with Penny Waterhouse, convened the first 2006 meeting that spawned NCIA and remained involved until its closure in 2016. Both had worked freelance for many years, across the wide tapestry of voluntary action – in local community and community development, campaign groups, local service-sector organisations and large national voluntary agencies.


All welcome- this session is free to attend, but booking in advance is required.