This paper critically examines the ‘asset transfer’ of leisure services from the public to the voluntary sector. Asset transfer might be theorised as ‘austerity localism’, in which volunteers are obliged to fill the gaps left by retreating public provision, or as ‘progressive localism’, which represents new opportunities through the localism and Big Society agendas to develop more locally responsive, cooperative and mutualist visions. In this way, asset transfer might overcome the limitations of the United Kingdom policies in which ‘Big Government’ is replaced by civic society. Drawing on qualitative interviews with key personnel (volunteers, managers and local authority officers) at 12 leisure facilities, a grounded assessment of the nuanced balance between ‘austerity localism’ and ‘progressive localism’ is provided, including three observations. First, the main impetus for transfer was cuts in local authority budgets which stimulated the emergence of local groups of volunteers. Secondly, the transfers themselves required interaction between local government and the volunteer groups; however, the nature of the relationship and support given varied and support was limited by austerity measures. Thirdly, volunteers do not automatically fill a gap left by the state: without support transfer viability relies on the financial and social capital among volunteer groups, and this is unevenly distributed. These findings suggest that the capacity for a ‘progressive localism’ to emerge through asset transfer is limited. However, where transfer has occurred, there are some progressive benefits of volunteer empowerment and a more flexible service.