Our people

Meet our team of staff, freelance associates and trustees.

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Ben Cairns
Ben Cairns



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

Deputy Director


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 is an experienced researcher and project manager with a background in designing and implementing advocacy campaigns for UK, international and overseas voluntary sector organisations. She has a particular interest in practice learning on the application of participatory action research methods and has contributed to a range of academic and sector publications on this topic.

Previous work: Before joining IVAR, Katie’s work included project managing a multi-country action research study on volunteering with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and a range of advocacy and communications roles, including extensive work 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 is not very good at sitting still and, outside of IVAR, spends her time running on the pavements of London, hiking up mountains and kayaking on the nearest available body of water.

Sonakshi Anand

Senior Researcher


Sonakshi is a Senior Researcher at IVAR, leading on Connecting Health Communities. Her recent work includes leading IVAR’s learning partnership with Comic Relief, which looked at shifting power in grant making; and work to develop a new approach to cross-sector partnership working in Lancashire and South Cumbria. Her broad interests are in livelihoods, health, women empowerment, political economy, rural and urban poverty, and community-led development.

Previous Experience: She is an action researcher with 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 she is passionate about contributing towards making people’s lives better through action research. Outside of work, she can be found in the kitchen experimenting with new cuisines.

Dr Vita Terry profile picture.
Dr Vita Terry

Principal Researcher (on maternity leave)


Vita is an experienced researcher and project manager with a long-standing interest in the voluntary sector. She is currently Vice- Chair of Voscur, an infrastructure organisation in Bristol, and a board member of the Voluntary Sector Studies Network providing particular support with the New Researchers stream, VSVR annual conference and the development opportunities grant. Her research interests are in organisational change, welfare service provision, community participation and empowerment, emotions and wellbeing in voluntary sector work and is currently one of the co-authors in the third report on Human Learning Systems.

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

Houda Davis

Senior Researcher


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

Previous work: Before joining IVAR, Houda held research, communications and policy roles at Involve, a think-tank and charity specialising in public participation, and Public-i, a digital engagement company. She has worked with statutory organisations on programmes to improve public engagement in local and national policy-making, health and social care, and science and technology research. Most recently, Houda worked on a national programme aiming to give citizens a say in NHS decision-making, where she led on outreach and relationship building with community and voluntary organisations.

Other interests: Houda is interested in how voluntary sector organisations work with statutory organisations. In particular, 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


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.

Annie Caffyn

Senior Researcher


Annie is a senior researcher with analytical and practical experience in the social sector and is committed to working towards equality and the widening of access to social opportunities. Annie leads IVAR’s work on social technology, working with CAST, Comic Relief and Paul Hamlyn Foundation to explore the ways in which technology can be made more usable and relevant for the delivery of social welfare services. She also manages IVAR’s work as the Learning Partner to the Pears #iwill NHS network, supporting the growth of inclusive youth social action in health settings. She is currently managing ‘Leading in Uncertainty’ (supporting small and medium VCSE organisations and their funders to respond to Covid-19 through peer support sessions). Annie has previously delivered work for Tudor Trust; John Lyon’s Charity; and Pears Foundation.

Previous work: Before joining IVAR, Annie 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


Vanessa is the Events Coordinator, managing IVAR’s portfolio of events.

Previous work: Vanessa started her career at the BBC, working on a range of community engagement campaigns such as People’s War (an online archive of World War Two experience), The Big Read (finding the UK’s best loved books), and Breathing Places (creating spaces for nature).  After a career break to bring up her two children, Vanessa then 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 has always been passionate about working on campaigns which engage local communities and affect positive social change.  She is a volunteer Events Manager for The National HIV Story Trust, a film archive which preserves the history of those affected by the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s. Vanessa has a degree in English, Film and Drama from Reading University.

Keeva Rooney - IVAR researcher.
Keeva Rooney



Keeva is a researcher with experience of conducting quantitative and qualitative analysis of the UK voluntary sector. She is currently working 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 and contributing to the knowledge and evidence on the voluntary sector. She has also worked at research agencies on large-scale surveys that provided a range of statistics on the UK population, including crime and health and nutrition statistics. Most recently, she was involved in work exploring diversity and volunteering in the voluntary sector.

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

Alexandra Parker

Researcher (Maternity cover)


Alex is a researcher with 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, providing insights for local governments on a range of issues such as the challenges of parenting in the city, urban art and graffiti, and the travel patterns of parents and school children. Most recently, she disseminated research findings to advance gender equality through general communications 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.

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