Celebrating 100 years of championing voluntary action


Aged just 32, Captain Edward Birchall dies from wounds sustained at the Battle of the Somme.

Birchall had been a leading figure in voluntary action in the early 20th century. In his will, he leaves £1,000 to his friend SP Grundy to continue this work.


Grundy uses Birchall's legacy to help set up the National Council of Social Service.

The destitution caused by the first world war results in a surge in voluntary activity, with thousands of new organisations springing up across the country.


"Nothing is finer in the history of this country than the growth of the spirit of social service. It has inspired a mass of social legislation which has no parallel in any other country and it has called into being innumerable associations and a vast army of volunteers."
James Lowther, Speaker of the House of Commons and first President of the Council, in a letter to The Times


The Council establishes the National Association of Boys’ Clubs (known today as UK Youth).


The Prince of Wales becomes patron of the Council, beginning a strong tradition of royal patronage that continues to this day.


The Council nurtures the fledgling Youth Hostel Association until it becomes a fully independent organisation.

It also helps set up the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs. This becomes an independent organisation in 1931.


As war looms, the Council sets up a group to look at how to give people useful advice and information during wartime. This leads to the creation of what we know today as Citizens Advice.

Dorothy Keeling, a leading figure in voluntary action in Liverpool, builds up a network of citizens’ advice bureau and later helps found the National Old People’s Welfare Committee (known today as Age UK).


With war on the horizon, the Council sets up the Women’s Group on Public Welfare.

This later helps organise the wartime evacuation of children from UK cities to the countryside. It even helps transfer some children from concentration camps in Germany.

During the war, the Women's Group convinces the government to launch a national 'Make Do and Mend' campaign in response to clothes rationing.

This runs more than 20,000 classes to help people repair and make their own clothes in 1941 alone.

Meanwhile, the Council supports the creation of over 1,200 village halls across the country.

Funded jointly by the Council and local fundraisers, these become valuable spaces for communities and a place for education, leisure activities and local democracy.


As the Second World War continues, elderly people are felt to be particularly at risk.

During an air raid, plans are drawn up in the basement kitchen of the Council's London office for a National Old People’s Welfare Committee to ‘consider the needs of the infirm and frail’.

This later becomes Age Concern, now merged to form Age UK


The Women’s Group on Public Welfare continues to make a difference in the post-war period.

For example, it highlights the impact of loneliness and campaigns for a new child welfare service.


The Charities Aid Foundation, set up as part of the Council in 1924, becomes an independent organisation.


The Council becomes the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).


Building on its history of supporting rural communities, NCVO creates a new independent national organisation to run this work. This is called Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE).


NCVO helps set up the National Association of Councils for Voluntary Service - known today as NAVCA.


After beginning life as an NCVO project, the Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG) becomes a registered charity. 

Today BTEG works on national policy development, research and direct support for young people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities.

Also in 1996, NCVO sets up an independent commission on the future of the voluntary sector, chaired by Professor Nicholas Deakin.

Its report sets out a vision for the next decade of voluntary action, making recommendations for how the sector and government can work better together and for reforming charity law.


NCVO helps launch the Giving Campaign, chaired by Lord Joffe and supported by the Charities Aid Foundation.

Through this, Tony Blair's government invests more than £1m to encourage ‘a culture of giving where it is natural for everyone able to do so to give money and time to improve the quality of life for others’. 

Also in 2001, NCVO's chair Winifred Tumin leads a review of charity law. It makes recommendations to Downing Street's strategy unit, and later results in the Charities Act 2006.


NCVO opens its membership to local members, inviting organisations with an annual income of less than £10,000 to join for free. It later increases this threshold to £30,000.


NCVO takes over Knowhow Nonprofit, a leading source of advice and support for charities and voluntary organisations.


NCVO and the Charities Aid Foundation lead more than 3,000 organisations in a high-profile campaign to overturn a decision limiting how much tax relief could benefit charities.


NCVO joins up with Volunteering England, bringing the two organisations together to help fulfill their visions for the future of volunteering.


NCVO merges with Charities Evaluation Services, a service helping more than 1,500 organisations a year to improve their planning and evaluation.

This brings with it the highly regarded quality assurance framework PQASSO - now known as Trusted Charity.


Alongside partners from across the sector, NCVO leads a major overhaul of the Charity Governance Code.


Now with over 14,500 members, NCVO is the biggest source of support for charities and volunteering in England.

In our centenary year, we're reflecting on our collective achievements over the last 100 years and, crucially, looking ahead to the future.

Click to learn more about NCVO today