Category Archives: Current and Recent Research Projects

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

Entrepreneurial vitality and innovation in North East England

In reputational terms, North East England seems to live a double life. On one hand, the region’s distinctive political and industrial history, landscape and coast, culture, society and cityscapes are lauded and nationally valued. On the other hand, North East England has a reputation for ‘underperforming’ economically in comparative terms.

Statistically, the region does not fare as well as some other regions. Business density is more sparse, there are fewer business start-ups and productivity is lower than in many other regions. Furthermore, there are fewer jobs available per head of working population and the quality of those jobs tends to be lower than in other areas (using measures such as pay, security, skill and options for advancement). 

National measures of performance use standardized metrics irrespective of local circumstance. This can advantage some areas if they have a strong asset base. Places with fewer local resources may struggle to meet the same levels of performance – but this may not mean that they have not been successful relative to their assets.

This report looks at the situation in North East England through a more positive lens by making comparisons with other areas. It is argued that future research should avoid using ‘deficit’ models of economic potential and instead look more critically at what the region has to work with, and not what it lacks.

The research, by Tony Chapman, Tanya Gray and Sarah Green of Policy&Practice in collaboration with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership was funded by Research England.

The full report can be downloaded here: Business innovation in the context of place (July 2021)

A shorter summary report can be downloaded here: SHORT REPORT Business innovation in the context of place (July 2021)

And a presentation to the North East Economic Evidence Forum, 27th July, 2021. Enterprise and innovation in the context of place presentation 27th July 2021

New study to measure positive impact of charities and voluntary organisations across Yorkshire

Durham University research to measure the role charities play in improving people’s lives and wellbeing in the region. 

The positive effect of charity and community activities across Yorkshire is to be measured as part of a new study co-funded by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

The study will measure the size and effect of the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Sector, examining its economic and social impact on improving people’s lives and wellbeing in the region.

Throughout the pandemic, the VCSE sector has played an important and increasingly recognised role working in partnership with the public and private sectors, and is considered key to ensuring an inclusive economic recovery. Often also known as the ‘third sector’, it includes charities, community groups and associations, social enterprises, mutuals and co-operatives.

The research is led by Professor Tony Chapman of St Chad’s College, Durham University, an expert in the voluntary and community sector, who has undertaken similar research locally, nationally and internationally.

Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, said: “Throughout the pandemic, the third sector has been a lifeline for so many people both in our region and across Yorkshire. This research will recognise and celebrate the incredibly important contribution volunteers make to their local communities and economies. It will also help us understand where local leaders can work more closely with the voluntary and community sector to help improve people’s lives and wellbeing.”

Professor Chapman said: “Estimating the overall impact of the sector is undoubtedly the most challenging but also the most intellectually interesting aspect of the work to be undertaken. It also has potential to influence the way VCSE work is valued at a national level. Findings can be interpreted in the context of current policy debates around ‘levelling up’, the ‘Foundation Economy’ and community wealth building’.”

The study, which is expected to be published in the summer, will develop a fuller picture of the VSCE sector, including its size, turnover, assets, the numbers of people employed, the value of volunteering and impact.

The results will be used to better understand the scale of the social and economic value the VSCE sector creates, including cost savings resulting from improving people’s health and well-being, and improving their confidence and overall social mobility.

It has been commissioned by West Yorkshire Combined Authority in partnership with West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership, Humber, Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership, Yorkshire Sports Foundation, Community First Yorkshire and Two Ridings Community Foundation.

The study covers the geographic areas of:

  • West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield)
  • West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership region (Bradford district and Craven, Calderdale, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield)
  • Humber, Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership region (North East Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire, Kingston-upon-Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, York and in North Yorkshire – the districts of Hambleton, Harrogate, Richmondshire, Ryedale, Scarborough and Selby).

Going the extra mile, how business works with charities



The Law Family Commission on Civil Society has been established to do ground-breaking research to enhance the potential of civil society.  Unlike other programmes of research, the Commission aims to explore productive relationships between civil society, the state and the private sector and to find out how to maximise the benefits of current or future interactions.

Professor Tony Chapman of Policy&Practice was commissioned in January 2021 to undertake new analysis of Charity Commission and Third Sector Trends data to find out what kind, how much and where business invests in charities.

The relationship between the corporate social responsibility work of big business and the activities of major charities has already been researched quite extensively. This report does not concern itself with these major charities with annual incomes above £25m. Instead, it focuses on the third sector in more general terms – with a particular focus on small to medium sized organisations which generate the bulk of sector activity – especially at the local level.

Little is known about the volume of financial and non-financial support which business provides to the sector in general and how it is distributed across regions, amongst organisations, or within local areas with particular characteristics. Nothing much is known about the social purposes for which support is given, nor the extent to which this support is valued by third sector organisations.

The aim of this report is to begin to fill some of these gaps in our knowledge by drawing upon data from the Charity Commission register and the long-running Third Sector Trends study. Using these data, the report will offer the first substantive study of business and third sector interactions. It will explore the following issues:

  • The types and extent of business support: define what kinds of financial and non-financial support are currently provided and explore the characteristics of third sector organisations that receive support.
  • What issues does business support: to find out what issues business supports and determine whether businesses and third sector organisations share the same kinds of priorities.
  • The value of business support: reconfigure existing data to produce estimates of the financial contribution of business to third sector organisations and the proxy-values of non-financial support.
  • Regional variations in business support: present estimates on the distribution of business support regionally which takes into account variations in affluence and deprivation and the structure of the local third sector.
  • The quality of relationships with business: from a third sector perspective examine the extent to which businesses are accessible to organisations and invest time in understanding their work.
  • The extent to which organisations feel valued by business: finding out which kinds of third sector organisations are most or least likely to feel that business invests trust and energy in their activities.
  • What the future holds for sector relationships: the prospects for the development of productive relationships are considered from a third sector point of view before and after the Covid-19 pandemic began.

The original findings of this research will present a number of challenges to practitioners, commentators and policy makers in the public, private and third sectors that need to be addressed. The most important of which is the potential mis-match between the ethos, purposes and practices of sectors and how that may impede good working relationships.

It is expected that the report will be published in June 2021.



Business innovation in local context



Over several decades, North East England has borne the burden of a reputation of ‘underperforming’ economically. Certainly, in bald statistical terms, business density is more sparse, there are fewer business start-ups, and ambitions for business innovation, investment and growth are lower.

Laudable strategies and action plans have been produced over the years to tackle under-performance – but statistical indicators have proven to be difficult to shift. A problem with using national metrics is that they do not necessarily compare ‘like-with-like’.  But a risk remains that accepted narratives which point to failure and disappointment might dampen future potential in those areas which are performing less well economically.

If the use of national and regional statistical metrics represent something of a ‘blunt instrument’ when applied to areas which have particular characteristics, we need strong evidence to demonstrate that this is the case.  Certainly, the North East of England is a varied region with great expanses of rural areas in Northumberland, a major metropolitan area centred on Tyneside and Wearside and the mixed fortunes of towns on the former Durham coalfield.

This new study, to be undertaken by Professor Tony Chapman, Sarah Green and Dr Tanya Gray of Policy&Practice aims to help develop a deeper, stronger and sustainable culture of innovation in the ‘context’ of localities to ensure that achievement is fully recognised and built upon by:

  • Assessing contextualised starting points for businesses success, identifying factors which helped or hindered achievements.
  • Adopting open-minded definitions of ‘innovation in context’ (including invention, technical product/service innovation, complementary business interactions, repositioning business from client perspectives, etc.).
  • Exploring aspects of place-based entrepreneurial inspiration, the opportunities and support structures which facilitate business.
  • Recognising that area boundaries are permeable and that indigenous and endogenous growth drivers produce potential for serendipitous interactions if negative perceptions are challenged.
  • Understanding that places have different starting points and that success cannot be assessed with standard metrics and adopt an action-oriented outcome framework which learns from effective practice, locally, nationally and internationally

The first phase of the work will be funded by Research England and Durham University’s Strategic Priorities Fund. From April, North East Local Enterprise Partnership will continue support for the second phase of the project.

The project will conclude and report in December 2021.

Principles and pragmatism

How can Christian organisations obtain the money they need whilst holding on to their principles? How vigilant should churches and other Christian organisations be about the provenance of money which they receive through donations, grants or from investments?

Professor Fred Robinson of Policy&Practice has been awarded a Leech Fellowship to look at these issues, focusing on the North East. He’ll be finding out how Christian organisations think about money, particularly money that comes from sources that appear to have values that conflict with a Christian ethos.  Should they accept money from the Lottery, for example, given its association with gambling? Or from charitable trusts linked to particular business activities such as fossil fuels?  Thinking of historic benefactions, what should Christian organisations say or do about money they have received in the past that was earned through the business of slavery?

The problem of ‘tainted money’ has recently been generating a good deal of controversy in relation to the sponsorship of arts, culture and sport. There are also some lively debates about university endowments and the legacies of slavery. Christian organisations will get increasingly drawn into these issues — and they should have something credible to say about the positions they adopt and the actions they take.

Fred will certainly be exploring some difficult and controversial issues. He’ll be asking what we mean by ‘tainted money’.  Isn’t all money tainted? And he’ll be wondering whether good works cleanse money – or even help redeem the sinner who donates. Shouldn’t we be encouraging more philanthropy rather than discouraging it? Should Christian organisations refuse ‘tainted money’ — or even give it back?

Fred comments: ‘I am very much looking forward to thinking about all this and talking to people from the churches and other Christian organisations across the North East about these issues. I want this research to have a practical purpose – I think it can help clarify what the dilemmas are and how best to respond to them’.

Policy&Practice has been undertaking quantitative and qualitative research on the voluntary sector and this project builds on that work. This is a one year project, starting in January 2021. It is funded from the William Leech Research Fund, a charitable trust that supports research in the area of Christian social ethics and practical theology in North East England.

For further information, please contact Fred Robinson at

Third Sector Trends 2018-2020

Third Sector Trends is a longitudinal study which was established in 2008.  As such it is the longest running research programme of its kind in the UK.  The work continued from 2018-2020 thanks to the support of the Community Foundation serving Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, Power to Change and Garfield Weston Foundation and the work is now complete culminating in a series of reports.

The study has produced many reports which are available at this address:

Third Sector Trends Study 2022

The study will resume in 2022 across the North of England and will be extended across all remaining areas of England and Wales following a successful pilot study in 2019.

The impact of the Third Sector Trends Study is considerable as it informs voluntary and community organisations, cooperatives, community businesses and social enterprise about the wellbeing and direction of the sector.  Its results are also widely used by policy makers and funding bodies.

The original aim of the Third Sector Trends study, when commissioned by Northern Rock Foundation, was to examine objectively the structure and dynamics of the third sector in North East England. In 2015, the Community Foundation assumed responsibility for the study and its legacy and took it forward working with JRF, Garfield Weston, Power to Change and IPPR North.

The work has included both quantitative and qualitative analysis and in the early stages it also involved the Universities  of Teesside and Southampton.

The TSO1000 survey

The longest running aspect of the study is its biennial survey of the sector in North East England and Cumbria which entered its fifth iteration in 2019. The large scale study now collects data from right across the North of England allowing for in-depth analysis of more than 3,000 respondents.

In 2020 the study was extended across remaining areas of England and Wales.  This pilot study will inform the development of a nationwide survey in 2022 in addition to more intensive work across the North East England study, Yorkshire and the Humber  and North West England.

The TSO50 study

A second strand of the work is a longitudinal study of a cohort of 50 third sector organisations in North East England and Cumbria. This research began in 2010 and has continued to 2020.

The role and impact of charitable foundations

Additionally in 2019, a study of the third sector from the point of view of charitable foundations took place. This research, which included 25 charitable grant making foundations based in or beyond the North East region,  examined the approaches taken to funding and will paid special attention to its impact on localities throughout the region.


How do charitable foundations support North East England?

Policy&Practice has been commissioned by the Community Foundation serving Tyne & Wear and Northumberland to look at the way charitable foundations support the voluntary sector in the North East of England.  The research has involved in-depth interviews with 25 regional and national charitable foundations and is concluding with seminars in Newcastle and London to test the findings from the research.

In recent years funding for the voluntary sector has remained fairly similar but its composition is changing – with a lower level of reliance on local and national government sources during a long period of austerity policy.  Charitable foundations have often stepped in where social needs have been growing in areas such as homelessness, poverty, health and personal wellbeing.  Reduction in funding for youth services by local councils has also led to higher levels of investment by charitable foundations.

The research is not just about where money from grants is flowing, Instead it is focusing on how charitable foundations determine what issues they want to support, how they know  if their grant giving is making a real difference and how they work alongside each other to have a greater overall impact.  Another key purpose of the exercise is to feed new questions in the forthcoming Third Sector Trends survey across the North beginning in June 2019.

Charitable foundations involved in the study include all Community Foundations serving Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, County Durham Community Foundation, Tees Valley Community Foundation, The Ballinger Family Trust, The Barbour Foundation, Big Lottery Fund, Children in Need, Comic Relief, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, Greggs Foundation, The Henry Smith Charity, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Lloyds Bank Foundation, Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation, Millfield House Foundation, Northstar Ventures, The Pilgrim Trust, Power to Change, Sage Foundation, The Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, Sir James Knott Trust, The Tudor Trust, Virgin Money Foundation and Wolfson Foundation.

A report will be published in the late summer of 2019 on the research findings and further reports will emerge in 2020 using quantitative data from the Third Sector Trends surveys.  For more information on the project, contact

The Social Process of Supporting Small Charities

Small charities make a big contribution to wellbeing in local communities and as recent research has shown, they can be effective at supporting people who are hard to reach, hard to hear and hard to help than bigger charities or public sector organisations and agencies.

The Lloyds Bank Foundation ‘Grow’ project was devised to support small charities with income below £75,000 which were ineligible for support through the Foundation’s existing programmes. This research report explains how these charities responded to support offered to them by specialist consultants.

There have been several initiatives in the past to help small charities to become stronger, bigger and more sustainable, and to encourage them work together to increase their impact. These are all ‘big asks’ and charities often resist attempts by outsiders to change them. But there is little good evidence to make sense of the ‘social processes’ involved in providing such support and explanations for how charities respond.

This report attempts to help fill that gap in our understanding by exploring how the culture and dynamics of small charities affects their readiness to embrace change, to accept support act upon advice in several areas of development which may be important for their future wellbeing.

Small charities may lack structural complexity (unlike larger more formal organisations with a specialised division of labour and hierarchical command chains which are underpinned by bureaucratic principles and procedures) but this does not mean that their internal dynamics are simple.

The analysis hinges upon a recognition that very small charities are much more complicated social entities than immediately meets the eye.

The full report can be downloaded here:

 The Social Process of Supporting Small Charities (March 2019)

A blog on the findings can be found here:


Tackling barriers to young people’s aspirations and ambitions in County Durham

durham-county-council-logoMany young people in County Durham are not achieving as much as they should as they make their journey towards adulthood. While much support is lent to young people to achieve their potential, it falls unevenly – too often being focused upon those who already have many advantages.

Recognising that this was unacceptable, Durham County Council commissioned this research via the Institute for Local Governance in 2016 to start a debate in the County on how to achieve more for young people from less advantaged backgrounds.  There is widespread belief in the UK that young people from less-advantaged backgrounds are less likely to make successful transitions to adult life because they lack aspiration and ambition.

Over-simplified explanations such as these are readily backed up with examples, garnered from observation and experience, which serve to reinforce falsehoods. With sufficient repetition these falsehoods start to ring true. To instigate discussion across all sectors, this study was undertaken to  hold up a mirror to County Durham, and ask policy makers and practitioners  to look again at the situation of young people and challenge popular narratives about young people’s presumed lack of aspiration and ambition.

Policy makers and practitioners are encouraged to consider critically the differences between ‘aspiration’ and ‘ambition’; ‘attitudes’ and ‘behaviours’; ‘attainment’ and ‘achievement’, and most crucially, ask questions about what constitutes ‘success in life’ for young people from different starting points. By doing so, it is hoped that organisations in the education, public, private and voluntary sectors will be able to focus their resources individually or in complementary ways on those young people who are most in need of support.

Professor Tony Chapman, Dr Tanya Gray, Dr Stephanie Rich and Paul Braidford were commissioned by the Institute for Local Governance to undertake a project on young people’s ambitions and aspirations in County Durham.

The report was launched on 29th March 2019 at an event at Bishop Auckland Town Hall which was opened by the Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler.

A summary report on the project can be downloaded here: Tackling barriers to young people’s aspirations and ambitions in County Durham SUMMARY REPORT March 2019

The full report can be downloaded here: Understanding barriers to young people’s aspirations and ambition in County Durham (full report March 2019)

The event presentation can be downloaded here: Understanding barriers to young people presentation March 29th 2019