This article focuses on the importance of the community context for voluntarism within shifting discourses of localism in England and Scotland. Mobilising communities through the encouragement and support of voluntarism is an important policy and practice driver in both jurisdictions, but is non-reserved. In this context, we outline the ways localism discourses have been mobilised, drawing on case study research in deprived urban areas of Scotland and England to explore the implications of these for sustaining voluntarism. We argue it is important to recognise that the social, spatial and economic context in which voluntarism takes place is multi-layered: some acts are undertaken through an organisation, others may be part of one-to-one acts of helping, or through semi-formal or informal neighbourhood/community groups. If expectations of further voluntarism are to be realistic and sustainable, discourses of localism must support this at the local level and recognise the diverse range of both visible and less visible acts which take place over time. Otherwise unrealistic, unsustainable and ultimately unachievable models and amounts of voluntary participation may be asked of communities, posing serious challenges for ‘localism’ discourse.