Whilst studies of employment have fuelled arguments about post-Fordism and questions of flexibility, recent debates about welfare have considered social polarization and the growth of an anti-social, anti-work 'underclass'. In both cases, relatively little attention has been given to the ways in which people in depressed local economies now survive through precarious, marginal and informal work. This article explores how people deprived of jobs seek to re-create positive working lives for themselves through voluntary work. Drawing upon qualitative interviews with working-class men and women in Teesside, it explores the motivations and meanings of volunteering and the significance that voluntary action has for work and welfare in such communities. State intervention in the voluntary work sphere is assessed and a number of recommendations are made for policy and practice.