Our people

Meet our team of staff, freelance associates and trustees.

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Ben Cairns
Ben Cairns

Director

ben@ivar.org.uk

Ben has supervised over 250 IVAR projects, ranging from small organisational reviews with grassroots groups to national programmes of support and learning.

Previous work: Ben has worked in and around the voluntary sector for over 30 years, as a volunteer, manager, trustee and researcher. His primary experiences as a practitioner were in the housing and homelessness field, working with homeless families and campaigning for welfare rights; and in the HIV/AIDS sector.

Other interests: Ben is an Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck University and a Governor of his local Foundation Stage School.

Emily Dyson
Emily Dyson

Deputy Director

emily@ivar.org.uk

Emily leads IVAR’s work to share insights with charities, foundations and public agencies in a way that is clear, relevant and useful.

Previous work: Before joining IVAR, Emily led on evidence and strategy for #iwill, a communications campaign aiming to support more young people to become involved in social action. She has experience of engaging wide and diverse audiences from her time rotating between government departments on the Civil Service’s graduate programme, where she worked closely with ministers, the military, charities, businesses, young people and civil servants across Whitehall.

Other interests: Emily is a Trustee of newly formed charity The JUMP, which aims to support individuals to make the lifestyle changes needed to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees. She also enjoys genealogy research, vegan baking, and train documentaries.

A profile picture of Katie Turner, Head of Research, IVAR.
Katie Turner

Interim Director of Research

katie@ivar.org.uk

Katie is an experienced researcher and project manager. She has a particular interest in practice learning on participatory action research methods and has contributed to a range of academic and sector publications.

Previous work: Katie’s work has included project managing a multi-country action research study with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). She has worked extensively with voluntary, community and disability sector organisations in the UK and overseas. Katie has a Masters in Social Research from Birkbeck, University of London.

Other interests: Katie spends her time running on the pavements of London, hiking up mountains and kayaking on the nearest available body of water.

Louise Venton

Communications Manager

louise@ivar.org.uk

Louise leads on sharing the work of IVAR and the insights of our partners using clear and tailored communication.

Previous work: Louise has worked in organisations which advocate for improved foster care, tackle the housing crisis in the UK and a charity which uses sport to improve the physical and mental health of young people.

She has used a range of written communication and grown contacts within the media industry to share the needs and cause of these charities far and wide.

Other interests: Outside of IVAR, Louise can usually be found with her running group, visiting new restaurants or teaching a spin class.

Sonakshi Anand

Senior Researcher

sonakshi@ivar.org.uk

Sonakshi leads on Connecting Health Communities. She has led IVAR’s learning partnership with Comic Relief and worked to develop a new approach to cross-sector partnership working in Lancashire and South Cumbria.  

Her interests are in livelihoods, health, women empowerment, political economy, rural and urban poverty, and community-led development. 

Previous work: Sonakshi has experience of enabling better livelihoods for different rural communities in India. She has experience of working with national and international donor agencies in India including International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Ford Foundation, and World Bank. 

Other interests: Sonakshi is passionate about making people’s lives better and can also be found in experimenting with new cuisines. 

Houda Davis

Senior Researcher (on maternity leave)

houda@ivar.org.uk

Houda is a researcher with experience of working in public participation and community engagement. 

Previous work: Houda has held roles at Involve and Public-i. She has worked on programmes to improve public engagement in local and national policy-making, health and social care, and science and technology research.  

Houda worked on a national programme aiming to give citizens a say in NHS decision-making, leading on outreach and relationship building with community and voluntary organisations. 

Other interests: Houda is interested in how the voluntary sector work with statutory organisations. She is interested in how research can support the voices of service users, communities, and citizens in the design and delivery of welfare services. 

Diana Wray

Office Manager

diana@ivar.org.uk

Previous work: Before joining IVAR, she worked as Office Manager for the Inland Waterways Advisory Council (IWAC), a Non-Departmental Government Body, which advised Government, navigation authorities and others about the use and development of the inland waterways, prior to them becoming a charitable trust.

She has also worked for the BBC, the Royal Air Force Museum, in publishing, for an internet company, the General Optical Council (the regulatory body for opticians) and the Pensions Management Institute (the educational and professional body for those working in pensions).

Other interests: Diana is a chartered librarian, and has used her information management skills throughout her varied career.

Alexandra Parker

Researcher (Maternity cover)

alex@ivar.org.uk

Alex has a passion for telling stories with data. She has a PhD in urban planning from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. 

Previous work: Alex almost became an architect before following her interest in researching social issues within urban environments. She worked in research for the Gauteng City-Region Observatory in Johannesburg on a range of issues such as the challenges of parenting in the city, urban art and graffiti and travel patterns of parents and school children. 

She disseminated research findings to advance gender equality for Global Health 50/50 in the UK. 

Other interests: Alex loves art and dabbles in painting with watercolours. After hours you can find her at the cinema, watching birds in nature reserves, or exploring heritage architecture. 

Ammaarah Felix

Researcher

ammaarah@ivar.org.uk

Ammaarah is a researcher at IVAR and is passionate about the role of lived experience and community knowledge in research.

Previous work: Ammaarah has worked in numerous roles across the charity sector, including gender-based violence, migrant rights, youth work and welfare support. Her work spans across gender, racial and reproductive justice, with a particular focus on supporting the Black, Brown, and Muslim communities she belongs to.

Other interests: Ammaarah is happiest in the community and loves to read, cook, and eat.

Annie Caffyn

Senior Researcher

annie@ivar.org.uk

Annie is committed to working towards equality and the widening of access to social opportunities.  

She leads IVAR’s work on social technology, working with CAST, Comic Relief and Paul Hamlyn Foundation to explore how technology can be more usable and relevant for social welfare services.  

Annie manages IVAR’s work as the Learning Partner to the Pears #iwill NHS network. She also manages our Leading in Uncertainty peer support sessions.  

Previous work: Annie has worked in rehabilitation centres and on education projects in Africa and the UK. She has a degree in History and Education and a Masters in Developmental Psychology from the University of Cambridge and worked as a researcher for the Tudor Trust. 

Vanessa Norris

Events Coordinator

events@ivar.org.uk

Vanessa manages IVAR’s portfolio of events. 

Previous work: Vanessa started her career at the BBC, working on community engagement campaigns. After a career break to bring up her two children, Vanessa worked as a primary school Teaching Assistant.  More recently, she coordinated Reading Oasis, a literacy campaign for the charity United Way UK which places library resources into primary schools. 

Other interests: Vanessa enjoys working on campaigns which engage local communities and affect positive social change. She is a volunteer Events Manager for The National HIV Story Trust. Vanessa has a degree in English, Film and Drama from Reading University. 

Dr Vita Terry profile picture.
Dr Vita Terry

Principal Researcher (on maternity leave)

vita@ivar.org.uk

Vita is an experienced researcher and project manager. She is Vice Chair of Voscur and board member of the Voluntary Sector Studies Network.  

She is interested in organisational change, welfare service provision, community participation and empowerment, emotions and wellbeing in voluntary sector work and is a co-author in the third report on Human Learning Systems. 

Previous work: Before joining IVAR, Vita worked as a Research Fellow at the Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership, Open University. She has worked on projects such as Lloyds Bank Foundation ‘The Value of Small’; Tracking the Transforming Rehabilitation programme and collaborative leadership within the voluntary sector. 

Keeva Rooney - IVAR researcher.
Keeva Rooney

Researcher (on maternity leave)

keeva@ivar.org.uk

Keeva works across several projects that support IVAR’s research programme, including researching organisations’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the use of technology in small organisations. 

Previous work: Before joining IVAR, Keeva worked at NCVO producing outputs for the UK Civil Society Almanac. She has also worked at research agencies on large-scale surveys that provided a range of statistics on the UK population, including on crime, health and nutrition. Keeva has been involved in work exploring diversity in the voluntary sector. 

Other interests: Keeva is interested in how research can break down power dynamics between researchers and participants and is passionate about research that brings about practical advice and real change. 

 

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