Category Archives: Current and Recent Research Projects

The contribution of the charity sector to health and wellbeing in the Home Counties

Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West VCSE Health Alliance partners have commissioned a research report from Tony Chapman and Jonathan Wistow of Policy&Practice at St Chad’s College and the Department of Sociology, Durham University. The aim of the report is to produce a clear picture on the structure, purpose, energy and impact of the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West in a comparative context.

The analysis will help to inform policy and practice debate by providing detailed analysis of sector strengths by considering: distribution of sector energy, financial robustness, workforce dynamics, quality of relationships with other sectors, partnership orientation and business confidence.

The project will complement two other studies on the role of the VCSE sector in supporting local NHS Integrated Care Partnerships (see previous news story). Each study is based on areas with very different characteristics. In Yorkshire and Humber, the study focuses on two metropolitan combined authority areas. While in Cumbria, the study is centred on a relatively spatially separate town and country area.

Collectively, the studies will collate data on the structure and activities of the VCSE sector in over twenty locations, of which 16 are designated as NHS Integrated Care System (ICS) areas. In Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West, analysis and interpretation will be especially challenging because boundaries between ICS areas are more blurred and permeable due to the proximity of Greater London. This produces complex travel to work area flows which means that resident populations can be quite different from the working population.

With comparative data to hand on statistical ‘neighbours’ and ‘strangers’ it should be possible to determine where VCSE sector operations are similar, irrespective of local circumstances and where they are different. This will produce clear messages for NHS Integrated Care Boards and Partnerships on where the transferability of policy initiatives which concern the VCSE sector are sensible and where locally oriented approaches should be adopted.

The contribution of the Third Sector to place

Now that the national statistical reports have been published for Third Sector Trends in England and Wales, it is time to look at the fine detail on how voluntary, community organisations and social enterprises contribute to localities and then think about the policy and practice implications of findings for local councils, NHS Integrated Care Boards and Combined Authorities.

Two new studies are being commissioned to do this which will be researched in parallel. As always, we’ll be using trend data to see how sector practices change in response to events such as the global financial crash, government austerity policies, the Coronavirus pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis.

But there’s a new twist to the story. Each study will collate evidence for the areas of focus – but in order to get beneath the surface of what is going on, comparisons will be made with their ‘statistical neighbours’

One study will be centred on Cumbria, in North West England, where Third Sector Trends has been collecting survey data since 2010. Six other areas have been identified which share statistical similarities: Northumberland, Shropshire, Suffolk, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. Cumbria County Council is commissioning this work and is keen also to look at the situation in the two new ‘shadow councils’ which will be established soon: Cumberland Council and Westmorland and Furness Council.

The other study will be in Yorkshire and Humber – focusing upon three areas: ‘South Yorkshire’, ‘West Yorkshire’ and ‘Humber and North Yorkshire’. Two of these areas are combined authorities – so their statistical neighbours will be all the other combined authorities including Tees Valley, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, West Midlands, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, West of England and the soon to be established Northumbria Combined Authority. Humber and North Yorkshire is an area with widely varying characteristics – so that will make the project even more interesting.

This work has attracted a lot of interest in Yorkshire and Humber and will be supported by NHS Humber and North Yorkshire Integrated Care Board (ICB), NHS West Yorkshire ICB, NHS South Yorkshire ICB, Sheffield City Region, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Yorkshire Sport Foundation.

The most surprising element of the analysis, which arises from doing the research in different types of areas in parallel, will be an opportunity to compare ‘statistical neighbours’ and ‘statistical strangers’. Then we’ll know what the VCSE sector does in more or less the same way everywhere – and where the real differences in the purpose, practice and investment of energy lay.

Commissioners and researchers are not strangers to each other though. We have worked together before to develop new ways of making sense of sector strengths, purpose and impact – especially in the fields of health and wellbeing and community sustainability. And doing stakeholder consultations, to see how people respond to the findings and initial recommendations, will be central to the success of both projects.

It’s an intriguing opportunity which will help to explore how the VCSE sector contributes to place through a new lens – but will also have the wider benefit of producing data for all these other areas which may also be interested in the findings to see how they ‘fit’ in the wider scheme of things.

Previous recent studies underpinning this new study in Yorkshire and Humber and Cornwall can be found here:

Chapman, T. (2022) The contribution of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector to health and wellbeing in Humber, Coast and Vale, Durham: Policy&Practice. The-contribution-of-the-VCSE-sector-to-health-and-wellbeing-in-Humber-Coast-and-Vale-February-2022.pdf (

Chapman, T. (2022) The structure, dynamics and impact of the VCSE sector in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly. Durham: Policy&Prctice

Chapman, T. (2021)  The structure, dynamics and impact of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector: a study of West Yorkshire Combined Authority, West Yorkshire & Harrogate Health and Care Partnership and Humber Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership areas, Durham: Policy&Practice.

Shaping the future of the Borderlands

Over the past decade, Policy&Practice academics at St Chad’s Colhalflege have been closely involved with strategy debates on how to support economic and social development in the Anglo-Scottish Border. 

This initiative was stimulated by awareness on both sides of the border of shared opportunities arising from the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1999. Subsequently, the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 led to the Scottish government gaining new powers. This presented new challenges for politicians and business leaders in the North East of England and Cumbria who felt there may be detrimental consequences for their regions.

The Anglo-Scottish Border has, until recently, been a neglected area of British public policy. Yet it comprises 10 per cent of the UK’s land mass and has a population of over 1 million people. It comprises five local authorities: Dumfries and Galloway; Scottish Borders; Northumberland; Cumbria; and Carlisle Councils (soon to become Cumberland Council).

With a shared history and cultural identity, the area is largely rural with dispersed market towns and isolated former industrial communities connected by cross-border transport links. Low rates of firm formation, low pay, outmigration, an ageing population, transport accessibility and poor broadband connectivity in the Borderlands produce policy challenges.

Policy&Practice’s involvement preceded the Scottish Independence Referendum when, in 2012, the Association of North East Councils requested the Institute for Local Governance (ILG) to commission a new study: Borderlands: can the North East and Cumbria benefit from greater Scottish Autonomy?[1] 

The ILG, led by Professor John Mawson was a North East-wide public sector research and knowledge exchange partnership established to access the expertise of the region’s five Universities. It commissioned Professors Keith Shaw of Northumbria University and Fred Robinson and Jonathan Blackie of St Chad’s College to undertake the work.

Highlighting the economic, social and environmental opportunities of cross-border collaboration the report was instrumental in the establishment of the Borderlands Partnership between the five councils. In turn it led to the commissioning by the ILG of a further report in 2015 entitled Developing the framework for a Borderlands strategy[2] on behalf of the Partnership. This work was undertaken by Professors Jonathan Blackie, St Chad’s College, Durham University; Keith Shaw, Northumbria and Frank Peck, Cumbria Universities and involved ongoing support to the Partnership Steering Group. 

The programme of work’s value was highlighted in the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee report Our Borderlands – Our Future in March 2015.[3]  The initiative was praised by First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond and his successor Nicola Sturgeon.

Ultimately this led to the Conservative Party’s election manifesto commitment to “bring forward a Borderlands Growth Deal including all Councils on both sides of the border to help secure prosperity…” in 2017. The deal was signed by the two governments and partnership representatives in 2021.[4]   

The partnership is now responsible for the management and implementation of this cross-border integrated programme. Worth over £350million pounds, its aim is to deliver 5,500 jobs, expand tourism and other rural industries, improve public transport and ensure a strong place-based dimension.

In the next stage of this research and consultancy programme, Professor Mawson, now based at St Chad’s College as a professorial fellow in Policy&Practice, together with colleagues from Northumbria University, will be exploring leadership and governance issues surrounding the emergence of the Inclusive Growth Deal and Partnership. 

This work will form part of a two-year international research and seminar programme on the development of international cross-border partnerships supported by the Regional Studies Association.

For other news stories on the Borderlands, see: Strengthening the wellbeing of market towns in the borderlands.

[1] Shaw, K., Blackie, J., Robinson, F., and Henderson G. 2013.  Borderlands: Can the North East and Cumbria benefit from greater Scottish Autonomy?  Universities of Northumbria, Durham and IPPR North.  Commissioned by the Institute for Local Governance on behalf of the Association of North East Councils. Available here

[2] Shaw, K., Peck, F., Mulvay, G., Jackson, K. and Blackie, J, 2015. Developing the Framework for a Borderland Strategy  Northumbria and Cumbria Universities.  Commissioned by the Institute for Local Governance on behalf of Northumberland County Council. Available here

[3] House of Commons 2015.  Our Borderlands – Our Future.  Final Report.  Scottish Affairs Committee.  Sixth Report of the Session 2014-15. Available here

[4] The Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal.  March 2021.  Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Carlisle City Council, Cumbria County Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Northumberland County Council, Scottish Borders Council. Available here

Third Sector Trends 2022

What is the study about?

Third Sector Trends began in 2008 and is the longest running study of the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector in the UK. The study, which takes place every three years, covers England and Wales – receiving over 4,000 responses in 2019.

We received 6,070 responses in 2022, 1,263 of which arrived with the help of many local CVSs and charitable trusts and foundations across England and Wales.  The national survey closed on Saturday 1st October 2022 but we’ll be back in 2025 to repeat the study for the seventh time.

We’ll produce some ‘headline’ findings in the second week of October to accompany the launch of the latest report from our qualitative study of 50 organisations in North East and Cumbria which has been running for nearly fifteen years. And then there will be a series of in-depth reports over the next six months on a wide range of topics.

The findings from the study will complement Charity Commission, NCVO Civil Society Almanac and 360Giving data to produce robust estimates on employment, volunteering, sector finance and assets. The study then looks at how the ‘energy’ the sector has at its disposal is applied to local causes.

Even though this is a large-scale study, its purpose is to study the structure, dynamics and impact of the ‘local’ VCSE sector. Only by looking at several areas, is it possible to understand individual localities properly.

How did we do in Wales and English regions?

The graph below shows response levels by region. As the dotted lines show, we hoped to get over 500 responses in most regions of England and at least 400 in all areas – that ambition has been achieved.

The response rates when compared with sample frame distribution (n=110,000) show a different story with much stronger responses in North East England where we have been working the longest (since 2010) and in Yorkshire & Humber (since 2013) and North West England (since 2016, but Cumbria since 2010). Elsewhere the responses against the sample frame matched quite well. The exceptions are South East England and especially London which produced fewer responses proportionally to the population of charities in those areas – which is puzzling.

We got responses by sending direct invitations using all the available email addresses from the Charity Commission Register and by working with local VCSE sector infrastructure bodies in Wales and selected English regions (North East, North West, Yorkshire & Humber, South West and West Midlands). This is how it has worked. As you can see, they’ve done a great job in the regions we work closely with.

Who funds the study?

Over the years, the study has been supported by a range of funders including Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, Power to Change, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Millfield House Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Charity Bank, Cumbria Community Foundation, Northern Rock Foundation, Economic and Social Research Council, Sport England together with several local authorities, combined authorities and NHSEngland .

Third Sector Trends is independent and impartial. As such it aims to provide objective interpretation of rigorously collected data to serve the interests of the voluntary sector, local public and health sector, the Lottery, charitable trusts and foundations and businesses.

What evidence does the study collect?

The survey has a core set of questions which never change to ensure comparability. But in each round of the research, there is space to explore contemporary issues. The 2022 survey has, for example, specific focus on the following issues:

  • The extent to which the Covid pandemic has reshaped and refocused VCSE sector activity.
  • The positive role the VCSE sector can play in ‘levelling up’, ‘localism’ and ‘community wealth building’ agendas.
  • The contribution the VCSE sector can make to public health and, specifically, healthy life expectancy.
  • How the VCSE helps to secure economic and social wellbeing in localities.

How are the findings used?

The study is widely used by local authorities, combined authorities, NHS partnerships and VCSE infrastructure organisations in their strategic work and policy formulation. For an example of the full set of findings from the 2019 study at a regional level, see this report:

Third Sector Trends in North West England 2020 – St Chad’s College Durham (

Data are also used for more in-depth work, for example, recent work in Yorkshire & Humber to show how much energy the sector has, where it focuses its activities and how much impact it achieved.

The difference the third sector makes – St Chad’s College Durham ( and The contribution of the VCSE sector to health and wellbeing in Humber, Coast and Vale – St Chad’s College Durham (,  

Data have also been used in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly to assess the strengths of the VCSE sector to support the development of strategies to align sector activity with NHS England priorities for Integrated Care Systems. The first of a series of reports can be found here:

Voluntary sector dynamics in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly – St Chad’s College Durham ( 

It has also been possible to do in-depth work on aspects of sector structure and activity  which  has previously been neglected. Including, for example, issues associated with diversity in sector leadership:

Diversity and inclusion in Third Sector leadership: why is it not happening? – St Chad’s College Durham (

and how the VCSE sector works with the private sector:

Going the extra mile, how business supports charities – St Chad’s College Durham (

The analytical approaches underpinning the study have recently been revised in preparation for the exploration of 2022 survey data. The latest version of the report can be located here:

To get access to all the study’s reports, visit this website: Third sector trends research | Community Foundation

For further information, please contact Professor Tony Chapman, Director of Policy&Practice, St Chad’s College, Durham University, Email:

The contribution of the VCSE sector to health and wellbeing in Humber, Coast and Vale

The VCSE Sector across Humber, Coast and Vale is diverse, made up of many organisations and people that deliver their services supporting a wide range of causes. The sector is a crucial element to support people with their Health and Wellbeing.

This report has been commissioned by the Humber, Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership and the VCSE Leadership Group to understand more about the sector and how our geography and the places that make up Humber, Coast and Vale are served.

Professor Tony Chapman, from St Chad’s College at Durham University has worked with the VCSE Leadership Group over the last year, completing an initial look at the size and scale of the VCSE sector, which showcased the value of the sector and contribution it can make to health and wellbeing of our people.

Following this report the group asked Tony to go further and look at how the sector is split across our unique geography that has a mix of urban and rural areas and a large section of coastal communities.

The findings within this report begin to plot the VCSE sector alongside the differences we see across Humber, Coast and Vale in terms of deprivation, health inequalities and our geography. The report provides a tool for strategists to think about the approaches to take ensure the VCSE sector can play its role in supporting the health and wellbeing of Humber, Coast and Vale residents.

The full report and a shorter summary report can be downloaded here:

Voluntary sector dynamics in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly

Policy&Practice has published a new report on the structure and dynamics of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly. The research builds on work from the Third Sector Trends study and draws on data from a wide range of sources including the Charity Commission Register and the Office for National Statistics. The study was commissioned by Voluntary Sector Forum Cornwall and NHS Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group.

This report shows that Cornwall and Isles of Scilly has a large and productive VCSE sector. The sector is comprised of around 2,500 registered organisations and there may be as many as 3,250 additional small, local informal unregistered groups working under the radar of official statistics.

The VCSE sector in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly has an income of about £219 million. This is drawn from a wide range of sources such as contracts to deliver public services, grants, self-generated earned income, gifts and donations, investments and subscriptions.

Organisations within the VCSE sector employ large numbers of staff. There are estimated to be over 4,500 full-time and 5,000 part-time employees – this amounts to 6,000 full-time equivalent staff. The VCSE sector comprises about 4 per cent of all employment in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly

Volunteers play a vital role in sustaining the activities of the VCSE sector – and especially so in smaller VCSE organisations. Over 70 per cent of volunteer time is delivered in small VCSE organisations (with income below £50,000). The biggest organisations (with income between £1m – £25m) only account for about 4 per cent of volunteer time.

VCSE sector activity is estimated to produce a multiplier effect of £387 million of tangible economic, fiscal and use value and £250 million of additional intangible value. It is estimated that the VCSE sector produces a ratio of 3.6 to 1 added social and economic value relative to the energy injected.

The full report is available to download here

There is also a shorter report which can be downloaded here

Telephone befriending during and beyond the coronavirus pandemic

The Bridge Project in Bradford appointed Dr Tanya Gray, Senior Research Associate in Policy&Practice to undertake a review of the pilot Together Talks programme. Together Talks uses volunteers as telephone befrienders to support people misuse to step away from intensive professional support and move towards independent lives.

This new approach to service delivery was forged to some extent from necessity. Recurrent government-imposed lockdowns made it impossible to deliver services in other ways. But the pilot programme was not devised simply as a stop-gap until things ‘got back to normal’. Instead, it was anticipated that elements of the delivery approach would outlive the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. The evaluation of the programme provides clear justification for continuing with the approach post-pandemic.

Together Talks was devised to tackle aspects of loneliness and social isolation which can often accompany the recovery process once intensive support comes to an end. But the pilot’s distinctiveness derives from the presence of a shared outcome – agreed with input from three specialist strands. This makes Together Talks a highly tailored scheme, focusing in on the need of an individual, whilst at the same time actively committing to collective need.

This review confirms that the project has remained personal and proximate to the needs of individuals, perhaps best illustrated by one of the volunteer befriender interviewed: ‘The best thing is how human it has all felt, very down to earth, very real and honest and direct.’

The full report is available here:

The contribution of the voluntary sector to health and wellbeing in Humber, Coast and Vale

Policy&Practice has been commissioned by the Humber, Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership to provide robust intelligence on the work of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE).

Its aim is to inform debate on how to enhance understanding of the impact the VCSE makes through formal partnership working arrangements, by delivering services under contract, and by undertaking activities of a complementary nature that sustain or strengthen the health and wellbeing of the local population.

The area studies includes the following unitary local authorities and county council districts: East Riding of Yorkshire, City of Kingston upon Hull, North Lincolnshire, North East Lincolnshire and the unitary authority City of York, together with six of seven North Yorkshire County Council Districts: Hambleton, Harrogate, Richmondshire, Ryedale, Scarborough and Selby.

The analysis builds on work published in 2021 for West Yorkshire Combined Authority, together with the Health and Care Partnerships for West Yorkshire and Harrogate, and Humber, Coast and Vale, Yorkshire Sport Foundation, Community First Yorkshire, and Two Ridings Community Foundation.

This research aims to dig deeper into the available data on VCSE sector activity in Humber, Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership area in order to explore the purpose and extent of support provided and to find out where such support is distributed. It is hoped that the report will help inform debate about the role the VCSE can or should play in supporting health and wellbeing in communities.

In area context, the final report will explore the extent to which VCSE organisations engage directly with local authorities and health organisations by delivering public services under contract and engaging in formal partnership working arrangements.

Early analysis indicates that formal contracts to deliver public services only represents the tip of the iceberg of the overall contribution of the VCSE sector. Consequently, the research will  also looks at less direct contributions that VCSE organisations make to public health and wellbeing by working on issues such as building people’s confidence to manage their lives, tackling social isolation and improving access to services.

The final report will be published in February 2022.

The Structure, dynamics and potential of the voluntary sector in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly

Policy&Practice has been commissioned to undertake a statistical analysis of the structure, dynamics and impact of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly by Voluntary Sector Forum Cornwall and the Cornwall Clinical Commissioning Group. The work is taking forward analytical approaches recently developed in a study in Yorkshire and Humber


The research. which is being undertaken by Professor Tony Chapman, provides an opportunity for comparative analysis with Cornwall’s proximate neighbours and also statistical neighbours in the North of England. This helps to show how the area is different or similar from other areas which share a range of characteristics.

The purpose of the work, from a commissioners point of view, is to examine the current capacity of the local VCSE, but also to look at its potential to engage further with the strategic ambitions of Cornwall Council and local NHS health and social care organisations.

The research will be published in February 2022 and will be followed up with an online event to debate the findings and their relevance to current and future policy initiatives with VCSE and public sector stakeholders.

Evaluating the Auckland Project

The Auckland Project is a remarkable culture-led regeneration project in Bishop Auckland, County Durham. It is undoubtedly an ambitious initiative, combining culture, tourism, economic development and, above all, community regeneration.  

The overarching aim is to revive the community by developing visitor attractions based on the town’s history and heritage – notably Auckland Castle, historic home of the Prince Bishops of Durham.  And it is a very unusual initiative, since it is largely funded by a philanthropist, Jonathan Ruffer who set up and financed a charitable organization to buy the Castle and its collection of Zurbaran paintings.

The whole scheme has expanded to include a heritage show (‘Kynren’), a Mining Art Gallery, a Spanish art gallery, the remains of Vinovium Roman fort and the Weardale Railway – all funded by Jonathan Ruffer.

Professor Fred Robinson and Ian Zass-Ogilvie from St Chad’s College have been commissioned by The Auckland Project and the National Lottery Heritage Fund to undertake an evaluation of the restoration and development of Auckland Castle. Work on the Castle, the associated Faith Museum and linked community outreach activities was supported by a grant of £12.4m from the NLHF.

The Final Report of the evaluation has now been submitted to The Auckland Project and NLHF. It tells the story of the challenges faced in delivering the project, and provides a detailed and informed account of what has been achieved so far. It is the only commissioned evaluation of the work of The Auckland Project.

Fred Robinson said:

“It’s been fascinating working alongside The Auckland Project and seeing this take shape. There have been lots of challenges and frustrations – as well as the problems and delays brought about by the pandemic. We’ve identified lessons from experience, while focusing on the substantial achievements of The Auckland Project. One thing that everyone has learnt is that it’s going to take a long time to revive Bishop Auckland – and it’s a complex process”.

The Report can be downloaded here