Voluntarism has moved to the centre of most western neo-liberal governments' focus in terms of welfare delivery. At the same time, very little of the social policy literature has identified specific historical, cultural and political contexts of place in shaping the particular form of voluntarism and the scale at which it takes place in a country. In order to address policy-related issues of the voluntary sector, a geographical perspective focusing on these local contexts can be very useful in unpacking how the sector can exist across regional and local scales. This article explores the rise of voluntarism in adult learning disability services in Ireland. Ireland experienced the ‘community turn’ much earlier than most Western states, in that the state advocated a ‘hands-off’ approach in learning disability services from the outset. It uses data from 40 interviews with local health agencies, voluntary organisations and informal carers. It critically examines the complex geographical factors that have contributed to the particular form of voluntarism that has evolved, thus demonstrating that understanding levels of voluntary activity requires attention to local circumstances.