Three volunteering organisations are considering a merger to create an England-wide national volunteer development agency.
The National Centre for Volunteering, Volunteer Development England (formerly the National Association of Volunteer Bureaux) and the Consortium on Opportunities for Volunteering have unanimously agreed on a set of proposals which will be discussed with each organisation's stakeholders.
The chief executives of the three agencies have spoken out strongly in favour of a unified organisation.
Christopher Spence, chief executive of the National Centre for Volunteering, said: "This is an important strategic development for volunteering in England that has been long needed."
The chief executive officer of Volunteer Development England, Chris Penberthy, said: "Most volunteering happens at a local level. For the first time in 20 years, we have a real opportunity to integrate the local experience with national programmes and policy to give volunteering a strong and cohesive voice. This is a chance not to be missed."
Ruth Johnson, chief executive of the Consortium on Opportunities for Volunteering, which gives grants for health and social care volunteers, said: "This is an exciting opportunity for us to ensure that grant making is linked to strategic and practice developments in the field of volunteering.
"What all three agencies have in common is that they support, promote and develop volunteering,
The chief executives have all pointed out that the planned new organisation will be able to speak with a single voice to represent volunteers' interests across England.
It is hoped that a network of regional officers will help the agency remain strong at the grassroots and help more people become involved in national volunteering initiatives.
The organisations' core funders, which include the Home Office's Active Community Unit and the Department of Health, support the proposals.
The consultations will end in March 2003, and the new organisation could be up and running by April 2004.