The National Council of Voluntary Organisations (formerly the National Council of Social Service) grew out of the beliefs that the best way to preserve voluntary services would be if the diverse agencies came together in an overall council to eliminate confusion and overlap; and that they should work together with the newly developing statutory services. The first step in setting up the National Council was the issue in March 1919 of a memorandum from the Local Government Board with a covering letter signed by Sir Aubrey Simmons, then secretary of the Board and first chairman of the council. The memorandum recommended the formation of local councils of social service and set out the aims of a future National Council of Social Service, together with the names of members and bodies giving their support.
In 1919 the councils objectives were:
To promote the systematic organisation of voluntary social work, nationally and locally.
To assist in the formation in each local government area representations of both voluntary effort and statutory administration
To provide information for voluntary social workers.
Captain Lionel Ellis was the only paid officer in 1919, and Professor WGS Adams took over from Aubrey Simmons as Chairman for the next 30 years.
By 1924 the NCSS was soundly established and on 14 May 1928 was awarded charitable status in the High Court. In this same year the NCSS moved to its first headquarters at 26 Bedford Square, London, WC1.
The work of the NCSS between the wars was beset by problems, most notably the economic welfare of the countryside, rural depopulation, housing and the increasing problem of unemployment.
Its answer was to establish and support the rural movement by means of Community Councils, citizens advise bureaux, support to the elderly and disabled and to provide secretariat for branches of groups such as the National Playing Fields Association.
It also created Community Associations to encourage local initiatives and worked with the unemployed enabling 700 schemes, for voluntary social services to operate, and by 1928 2,300 centres catering for 1.25 million unemployed.
During the second World War the NCSS maintained an active role in both community and overseas/international work. Perhaps one of the most well known establishments to develop from the NCSS at this time was the Citizens Advice Bureau. Discussion in 1938/9 resulted in a nationwide plan to establish local centres to give free and unbiased advice - both accurate and up-to-date. Relations between the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Government were initiated in order to enable the Government to have some idea of the problems and anxieties people were facing, so much so that by 1940 retrospective funding was given by the Ministry of Health.
The success of the bureaux during war time meant that in 1945 the first National Conference of Citizens Advice Bureaux decided the service was too important to wind up and equally valid during peace time.
In the postwar era the basic concept of voluntary 'social service' changed considerably. It was no longer associated with services given by the well-off to the less fortunate, but with the help of the NCSS, this narrow concept had been broadened to cover all common effort of the community to improve everyday life.
The NCSS were convinced of the importance of the small voluntary group idea in which each individual had real responsibility. Separate councils were set up in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and NCSS's links with the Foreign Office enabled the establishment of a British Council for Aid to Refugees in the early 1950's.
In the 1950's the NCSS established a committee on behalf of the Government to enquire into the law relating to charitable trusts in England and Wales. It was set up under the chairmainship of Lord Nathan to produce its report on Charitable Trusts. By 1955 a white paper was issued setting out the Governments Policy on the problems considered by the Nathan Committee and as a result in 1960 the Charities Bill became law. In the 1960's the NCSS turned to community service. The first seminar on community work took place in 1961 - showing the pioneer work done in the community organisations field especially that of the 150 councils of social service around the country. The aim was encouraging people to take a conscious role in planning their own lives and future. Attention was given to the aftermath of industrialisation and the movement of young people away from rural areas. Another important event for the NCSS came in 1968 with the formation of the Bedford Square Press strengthening the already established publications department.
1969 was the Golden Jubilee of the NCSS celebrated in Guildhall with a reception attended by HM the Queen, HRH the Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh and over 900 guests. The 50th year marked a new look and reorganisation for the NCSS by the review committee concluding that the NCSS 'should be seen as one living, vigorous entity and not a federation of varied and autonomous associated bodies'. One of the most important roles of the NCSS in the 1970's was that of an information and advice resource. Their role in the rural communities by the provision of advice on all matters and their efforts continued both nationally and internationally.
On 1st April 1980 the NCSS became the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. An extraordinary general meeting called in July 1973 discussed the name change; since the implementation of the Social Services Act in 1970 confusion had arisen between voluntary and statutory bodies. Its new aims as set down in the 1980 Annual Report were
* to extend the involvement of voluntary organisation in responding to social issues
* to be a resource centre for voluntary organisations
* to protect the interests and independence of voluntary organisation
One of its key roles was to make skills, guidance and advice available to all charities and voluntary organisations as well as developing new models of social support.
NCVO increased its membership by 150 in 3 years with a striking number of new members providing aid for illness or disability and furthermore opened membership to leading organisations in relevant fields of activity.
In the early 1980's these were 528 members, links with 159 councils for voluntary service and 38 rural community councils. It had 8 major departments and employed 152 staff.
In the early 1990's the NCVO established a working party to make recommendations on developing and maintaining high standards of efficiency and effectiveness within the voluntary sector the report Effectiveness and the Voluntary sector set out an agenda for action by NCVO and the wider voluntary sector - with emphasis on effectiveness in management and services within voluntary bodies.
The Corporate Affiliation Scheme was launched in 1989 attracting 20 leading companies and in 1992 NCVO played a large role in the Charities Act 1992 by making representations to improve the Bill and by guiding Charities through the new law.
In June 1992 the NCVO moved from Bedford Square to Regent's Wharf, London W1 where they remain today, continuing its role as the "voice of the voluntary sector".