This book provides the historical background to the rise of the Big Society, surveying the history of voluntarism over the last century. Politicians and commentators have long bemoaned the supposed decline of civic life, fretting about its health and its future. In fact, the real story of voluntarism over the last hundred years has not been decline, but constant evolution and change. Whether we use the terms charity, philanthropy, civil society, non-governmental organisations, the third sector or the Big Society, voluntary endeavour is one of the most vibrant and dynamic areas of British public life. The scholars featured in this collection show how the voluntary sector's role in society, and its relationship with the state, has constantly adapted to its surroundings. Volumtary groups have raised new agendas, tackled old problems in new ways, acted as alternatives to statutory provision and as catalysts for further government action. They have emerged out of citizens' concerns, independent of government, and yet have remained willing to work with politicians of all persuasions. By surveying the sheer extent and diversity of the sector since the start of the First World War, the book demonstrates that voluntarism not only continues to thrive, but is also far larger than any political agenda that may be imposed upon it.