Category Archives: Research News

Community leadership in Malaysia and the UK

Left to right: Dr. Ahmad Aizuddin Bin Md Rami, Professors Sarah Banks and Fred Robinson

Dr. Ahmad Aizuddin Bin Md Rami, Faculty of Educational Studies, University Putra Malaysia visited members of Policy&Practice to discuss the role of leaders in the voluntary and community sector in the UK. Aizuddin is a visiting scholar in the Department of Sociology at Durham University for the whole of 2024 to undertake this comparative study of principles, practices and systems surrounding community development in the UK and Malaysia.

In a wide-ranging debate, focused mainly on County Durham, Professors Fred Robinson, Sarah Banks and Tony Chapman shared their observations based on many years of research work in the North of England with Dr Bin Md Rami – with a more specific focus on the way that voluntary and community sector leaders support young people from less advantaged communities to make successful life transitions.

This is the first joint meeting among academics at St Chad’s and the Department of Sociology on this study, but plans have now been made to explore the local situation in comparative context in the coming months.

Policy&Practice Annual Report 2023

The last two years’ research work has led to a lot of productivity with report writing on a range of projects.  We’ll be a lot quieter in 2024 as preparations are made in the run up to the seventh iteration of Third Sector Trends in 2025 and further analytical work on existing data takes place – especially in relation to the voluntary sector’s contribution to local health and wellbeing.  The Borderlands research project will continue into 2024 and it is anticipated that a report on the findings will be published in late summer/early autumn.

Here’s the link to our annual report on our work,  connections and publications in 2023:Policy&Practice Annual Report 2023

Debating the contribution of the Third Sector to local health and wellbeing

Findings from Third Sector Trends research on the role of the voluntary sector in supporting local health and wellbeing has been published in three inter-related reports by Dr Jonathan Wistow and Professor Tony Chapman (see further news stories below).

Analytical reports are the product of in-depth statistical enquiry and by their nature tend to be quite long. This limits the extent to which key messages are disseminated more widely. Interest in the research has, however, led to a number of opportunities to speak at events to debate key local findings.

In November 2023, Tony Chapman was invited to speak at three events. The first, in Highland, was hosted by Highland Hospice for the local thirds sector. The purpose of the conference was to critically explore the current extent of partnership working within the third sector and between charities, the local public sector and the NHS.

A second event took place in Chelmsford where findings from a discrete report on the situation of the third sector in Essex was commissioned by Essex Community Foundation. This well-attended event was the first major conference for the local Third Sector Forum on issues surrounding local health and wellbeing. The report can be downloaded here: The Structure, dynamics and impact of the Third Sector in Essex (November 2023)

The final event was held in Kendal, organised by Cumbria CVS. In addition to Tony’s presentation, speeches were delivered by public health directors from the newly established councils and chief officers from the two NHS Integrated Care Systems operating in Cumbria.

In the new year, further dissemination of findings is planned, together with an updated report on key messages for all local areas in England and Wales.

The Borderlands: project update

Over the past year Professor John Mawson (St. Chad’s College, Durham University) and Dr David McGuinness (Northumbria University) have been exploring how far, from a leadership and management perspective, a £350 million regional development investment was secured for an area straddling the Anglo-Scottish border referred to as Borderlands. This case study is an input into a wider international Regional Studies Association seminar and research programme on cross border development.

The current case study is seeking to shed light on these issues through an analysis of management, networking and local and regional leadership processes. To date, interviews have taken place with relevant Council Leaders and senior officers, politicians from the different political parties, civil servants from the Scottish and UK Governments and other relevant stakeholders. Attention has focused on how partners were initially brought together, common aims were established, agreed place based narratives were developed, key projects and programmes were identified and common negotiating positions were established for engagement with civil servants and Ministers.

Research has also focused on how the Partnership mobilised the support of national politicians and Ministers in focusing on Borderlands as a funding priority and exercised a degree of influence over the content of the final deal. Clearly in drawing wider conclusions from s single case study there can be no single best practice approach given geographical, structural and temporal variations in specific situations, rather the research has been to identify key considerations and issues which need to be addressed and could potentially be tackled.

The Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal is a negotiated agreement between two principal funders: the UK and Scottish Governments, and a local authority cross-border partnership. The Borderlands Partnership comprises: Dumfries and Galloway; Scottish Borders; Northumberland; Cumbria; and Carlisle councils. The Deal process was initially developed by the UK Government in England and transferred to Scotland in 2014, when it was gradually modified to accommodate the distinctive geography and policy priorities of the Scottish Government in the form of so called Inclusive Growth Deals.

The Borderlands Deal was one of the later versions and is unique in being the only rural cross border economic development programme in the UK. Covering the size of Wales with a population of around 1 million it comprises largely geographically dispersed market towns, former mining and industrial settlements, and coastal communities with a mix of agriculture, forestry, tourism, textile and other related industries.

This area suffers from an ageing population and a comparatively low skilled and poorly paid workforce. It experiences limited inward investment, new firm formation alongside pockets of severe deprivation in some towns and in Carlisle, the largest urban centre.

St. Chad’s research involvement in this policy issue began in 2012-13 when Fred Robinson and Jonathan Blackie, working with Keith Shaw (Northumbria University) and Frank Peck (Cumbria University) were commissioned to produce a report entitled: Borderlands: Can the North East and Cumbria Benefit from Greater Scottish Autonomy?

This provided an initial vehicle to foster collaboration between the 5 councils in developing a Borderlands Initiative and Partnership with the objective of securing for the first time, some long-term and large-scale regional development funding. The research was highlighted by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Affairs Parliamentary Select Committee and ultimately led to a successful funding proposal in 2021.

The formal process of negotiating the Deal with government departments and Ministers took over four years but when taking into account initial research, partnership building, strategy development and lobbying, nearly a decade. This challenge of developing cross border regional development in rural and more peripheral regions involving alignment of different geographical and funding arrangements is of increasing interest both in the academic world and in the fields of policy and practice.

Interim findings have been presented at two RSA national conferences in Newcastle and London with the aim being to produce a final report next summer once a further round of interviews have been completed.


Political pressure to stifle charity campaigning is unlikely to be effective

New report: Third Sector Trends in England and Wales 2022: shaping social change through campaigning and influencing

Following months of political controversy, the Charity Commission has clarified that charities are allowed to campaign robustly and engage in political debate providing that such actions align with their mission and has the backing of trustees.

This is welcome and reassuring news after a series of statements from prominent politicians and senior members of the Charity Commission earlier in the year that led many commentators to believe that challenging the right of charities to engage in political discourse could have a ‘chilling’ effect and stifle charity campaigning and influencing.

This report shows that many charities (73%) do ‘steer clear of political issues’, but this does not mean that they stop campaigning, participating in formal public consultations or debates or lobbying behind the scenes to effect changes in local social and public policy – indeed, only one fifth (21%) of charities abstain from all of these forms of influencing.


What are the characteristics of charities that campaign?

Some charities are much more likely to engage in campaigning and influencing than others – depending on where they are situated and what they do.

  • Organisations situated in the poorest areas are almost twice as likely to engage in political issues (39%) than their counterparts based in the richest areas (21%).
  • Micro TSOs are much less likely to engage with political issues (80%) than the biggest organisations (57%).
  • Those organisations which work only at a neighbourhood or village level are more likely to avoid political issues (81%) than those which work at a wider level (70%).
  • In metropolitan areas, only 65 per cent of TSOs avoid political issues compared with 77 per cent in town and country areas.
  • Organisations which work entirely on their own are more likely to eschew political involvement (82%) than those which work with others (70%).
  • Older organisations are more reticent about getting involved in politics (79%) than the newest TSOs (67%).

Those organisations which are keen to shape local social and public policy tend to do so using a range of approaches. For example:

  • 17 per cent of organisations campaign, lobby and engage in formal consultations.
  • 25 per cent of charities campaign and engage in formal consultations but do not lobby.
  • Amongst the 47 per cent of charities that do campaign, fewer than 10 per cent of them limit their activity just to campaigning.
  • 32 per cent of charities attend consultations or lobby behind the scenes but do not campaign.
  • Only 21 per cent of organisations abstain completely from campaigning, lobbying or engaging in formal consultations.

Why are politicians’ interventions unlikely to have much impact on campaigning and influencing?

The objectives of charities, this report shows, are usually achieved with a mix of practical action and influencing,  This strongly suggests that threats from politicians to limit the third sector’s campaigning and influencing activity is unlikely to impinge significantly on the way that local organisations make decisions about what they want to achieve, how they garner resources and how they work – it is just one factor amongst many other considerations.

As autonomous entities, charities enjoy a higher degree of autonomy than many other types of organisations, especially in the public sector, but this does not mean that they are free to act entirely as they choose in ‘an ideal world’.

Instead, their actions are constrained by their ability to attract trustees, volunteers, employees and beneficiaries; the requirement to raise sufficient funds to achieve their practical objectives and decisions they make about working alone or in a complementary or collaborative way with other organisations.

Keeping all these balls in the air requires dexterity and diplomacy – not least, because organisations work in a crowded social marketplace within which they compete for resources and attention. To do that, they must tell a compelling story about what their values are, what they want to achieve, for whom, and how they will do it.

In this sense, all organisations in the third sector are continually engaged in a campaign to champion their chosen cause and convince others that investing in them is worth their while. If they stop doing it, their chances of survival would be slim in a highly competitive civil society environment.

Political pressure at a national level on the way charities campaign or lobby has proven to be an unwelcome intrusion in established sector culture and practice. As the report author, Professor Tony Chapman, concludes:

“Future government ministers may tinker around the edges on the limits of charitable activity, but it seems unlikely that many would choose to mount a sustained political attack on the realm of civil society. To do so would be hard to justify, constitutionally, because civil society is so ancient and deeply rooted in our institutional heritage, culture and identity that its operation has come to be seen as ‘how things are’ – an inalienable right. To threaten that would bring some very unusual alliances out from the woodwork.”

“Because the freedoms to speak out, associate and campaign feel like they are such a ‘normal’ part of life in the UK, it is easy to forget that this is not the case elsewhere. In recent years, state actions in many countries have dramatically undermined democratic processes, civil liberties and civil association together with heightened state control over campaigning by NGOs, media autonomy and freedom of speech.  And so, even in the UK, it would not be wise to take our eye off the ball.”

Laura Seebohm, Chair Millfield House Foundation, commenting on the commissioned report  said:

“Millfield House Foundation believes strongly in the value of the campaigning and influencing work undertaken by charities large and small. We are reassured to see organisations continue to prioritise this critical role within their wider work, amplifying the voices of the people they work with. Charities campaigning and influencing work has been at the heart of social change throughout history and has never been needed more as we collectively grapple with the challenges of the 21st century. This thoughtful paper will generate conversations amongst both charities and funders.”

The full report can be downloaded here. Third Sector Trends – Shaping Social Change through Campaigning (November 2023)

A shorter summary of the findings published by Civil Society can be found here: Tony Chapman: Are charities feeling the political chill? (

Press stories on the report were published by Third Sector, UK Fundraising and Charity Times



Civil society in the UK and Japan

Policy&Practice continues to build its relationships with comparative researchers and policy makers working on the voluntary and community sectors in the UK and Japan. In October, this year, Kazuhiro Miyamoto was welcomed to North East England by Professor Tony Chapman.

Kazuhiro Miyamoto is currently working with the OECD in Paris on a study of non-profit organisations in the UK, France, Germany and Japan. Its purpose is to improve understanding about the comparative strengths of sectors and to glean clues about how to invest in sector capability and capacity. Mr Miyamoto has served three terms as Mayor in Moriyama-City in the Shiga prefecture of Japan.








Mr Miyamoto was introduced to local sector representatives and philanthropists at the Community Foundation’s North East Roots event at the Baltic in Gateshead and attended the Foundation’s Annual General Meeting. Kazuhiro Miyamoto and Tony Chapman shared their knowledge of sectors in the UK and Japan and plan to share learning in future based on their current research projects.

The first blog from Kazuhiro Miyamoto’s programme of work for the OECD on voluntarism in Britain and Japan can be located here: VOLUNTEERING FOR CHANGE: HOW TO MOBILISE VOLUNTEERS TO DRIVE LOCAL DEVELOPMENT

The prospects for Community Businesses

New report reveals that community businesses are more confident, diverse, and optimistic than other third sector organisations

Community business in England and Wales: new findings from Third Sector Trends is the latest instalment in the Third Sector Trends study which has been running since 2008 in the North of England. It is published by Durham University in collaboration with Power to Change, Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, Barrow Cadbury Trust and Millfield House Foundation. You can read the rest of the 2022 series of reports here.

This year, the report is based on over 6,000 responses from third sector organisations across England and Wales. The key highlights from the report are that compared to other third sector organisations, community businesses.

– Are more confident about increasing their earnings, growing their business, and working collaboratively.
– Are more likely to support minority ethnic communities.  
– Have stronger engagement with and commitment to local social and public policy development, especially in more economically deprived places.  
– Have more informal, complementary, or collaborative relationships   Have greater diversity of organisational leadership.  
– Are more optimistic about the future.  
– Are more likely to be investing in training, digital skills and staff development for staff and volunteers. 
– Achieve greater social impact by increasing employability, tackling poverty, improving access to basic services and empowering local communities.

Professor Tony Chapman, author of the report and Third Sector Trends said that one of the most positive aspects of the report findings isthe eagerness of community businesses to work with other organisations from within their own sector or with private firms and public bodies, in both structured partnerships and ‘complementary’ informal ways.”

He also reflected on community businesses strong investment in local policy and practice initiatives: Most join in with stakeholder events or respond to stakeholder consultations and enter strategic debates which are orchestrated by local public and health sector agencies. And many community businesses do not just react to local initiatives, they also commit to initiating debate or action to tackle local issues.”

In May, the Community Foundation Tyne Wear and Northumberland launched the Third Sector Trends 2022 report at an event in London. Stephen Miller, Director of Delivery and Impact at Power to Change sat on the panel. Reflecting on the discussion at the event and the report findings, Stephen shared that it was interesting and reassuring to see that a lot of third sector activity is correlated to levels of deprivation. We know from our own work that majority community businesses are also operating in the most deprived neighbourhoods.”  

Stephen also said, as entrepreneurial organisations, community businesses are also good at raising and managing their own income, generating wealth locally, and helping to retain it in their own economy. Community businesses are better positioned than many other third sector organisations in terms of their long-term resilience and sustainability”.

The report is available here:

This is the third report in a series of reports on Third Sector Trends for community business. The previous report in this series based on the 2019 Third Sector Trends study which was published in 2020 revealed that community businesses were more financially independent, generated more income and were more invested in shaping social and public policy to improve their local area than other types of third sector organisations. You can also read the first report in the series published in 2018 and based on 2016 survey responses here.





Making a difference to local health and social wellbeing in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West

Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West VCSE Health Alliance partners 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, which is published today, was 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 complements two other studies on the role of the VCSE sector in supporting local NHS Integrated Care Partnerships in 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. This report also provides data on London. the BOB NHS Health Alliance’s proximate neighbour.

Collectively, the studies present 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 shows that there are

  • 7,500 registered VCSE organisations. Sector income is around £1.9bn. 35% of organisations are employers. 44,500 employees in total: about 4.9% of total employment in the area.
  • There are 162,300 regular volunteers. The proxy replacement value of volunteers is between £115m (@ living wage) and £224.9m (@ 80% average local wage).
  • The VCSE sector produces £7.4bn of value in BOB: a ratio of 3.5:1. That is £4.1m per 1,000 resident population.

With comparative data to hand on statistical ‘neighbours’ and ‘strangers’ it has been possible to determine where VCSE sector operations are similar, irrespective of local circumstances and where they are different. This has helped to 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 the full report can be downloaded here:

A much shorter summary report can be downloaded here

The companion studies centred on Yorkshire and Humber; Cumberland and Westmorland & Furness can also be downloaded by clicking the title of each project.

The difference the VCSE sector makes to public health in Yorkshire and Humber

West Yorkshire Partnership celebrates role of charities and the work of 14,000 organisations across the area

West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership are celebrating the role of the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector (VCSE) ahead of the NHS 75th birthday on the 5 July 2023. This magnificent milestone is being celebrated by launching a new VCSE Yorkshire and Humber report, produced by Professor Tony Chapman and Dr Jonathan Wistow at Durham University, which demonstrates the tremendous work of the sector as well as the challenges faced.

The report highlights that the VCSE remain a valued NHS partner in the delivery of health and care services across the United Kingdom. 

In West Yorkshire there are an estimated:

  • 13,930  VCSE sector organisations (registered and unregistered)
  • 31,767  full time equivalent employees delivering 52.4 million working hours a year
  • 132,214  volunteers giving at least 9.5 million hours of work valued at between £94 million and £132 million a year
  • An economic value of £1.4 billon and estimated value of £5.18 billion when considering added and social value.

Local VCSE organisations, continue to provide a lifeline to people and communities at a grassroots level. Approximately a third of VCSE organisations deliver support in local neighbourhoods or villages with 70% working across their local authority area. 30% of VCSE groups and organisations work in the poorest areas of West Yorkshire – reaching people who may not be accessing other health and care services. They are connected and trusted yet remain financially challenged.

In 1948, when the NHS was established, charities received funding from hospital savings schemes and local authority grants etc. Hospitals were the focus for local charitable effort, run by leaders in local society and doctors’ wives.

Today, many continue to be self-financing through trading, fundraising, or receiving funding from local councils, national grants and/or NHS contracts.

In April, West Yorkshire Health Care Partnership allocated a further £2.8 million to support the vital work of voluntary, community and hospice care in West Yorkshire, on top of local funding routes.

Kim Shutler, Senior Responsible Officer for West Yorkshire Health Care Partnership’s Harnessing the Power of Communities Programme said: ‘This research highlights the great strength of the work of VCSE organisations in Yorkshire and Humber. The VCSE delivers huge impact and this comes from the diversity of our vibrant sector as well as the strength of partnership working. It is a challenging time for the sector but there is much to be proud of across our Partnership and we are working hard collectively to support the sustainability of the VCSE as well as ensuring that we continue to maximise the impact for our communities’.  

Nigel Harrison, CEO for Yorkshire Sport Foundation said: ‘We welcome this report that demonstrates the vital contribution that voluntary and community organisations make to people’s health across Yorkshire. We know that leading an active lifestyle leads to better health in a wide range of ways. Our sports clubs, other voluntary organisations and groups of people who come together to create opportunities for local people are trusted in their communities and are often the starting point for an active life for huge numbers of people.’

Professor Tony Chapman and Dr Jonathan Wistow of Durham University said: ‘The support that big, specialised charities provide for the NHS and local authorities across West Yorkshire is invaluable. But this report also shows that many smaller VCSE charities and social enterprises contribute to local health and personal wellbeing by keeping people socially connected, mentally acute, physically active and provide a purposeful and positive focus for personal development.

The prevention of illness isn’t all about specifics. Most charities do this indirectly, by providing opportunities for local people to keep busy and engaged, whether that happens in village halls or local community centres. Collectively, the VCSE sector in West Yorkshire provided around £5 billion in social benefit in 2022’.

Rob Webster CBE, CEO Lead for West Yorkshire Health Care Partnership said: ‘This report shows the fundamental value of the VCSE. I am grateful to partners in the sector for all the hard work that they are doing to help tackle inequalities and support people during these difficult times. As we develop our medium-terms plans we will continue to work closely with the sector, at every level,  on joining up care in communities as well as looking at how we create a sustainable sector in the context of the cost-of-living crisis. This report will helpfully inform all our work’.

You can read the full report or a summary on the WY HCP website at

The full report is also available here:

The difference the voluntary sector makes to public health and social wellbeing in Cumbria

The local voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) in Cumbria is largely a ‘home grown’ resource, formed of many organisations and groups which were set up to tackle a wide range of local social, environmental and economic issues. 

As independent minded and autonomous entities, VCSE organisations decide what their objectives should be, garner the resources to get things done, develop and use working practices that suit them best and develop relationships with other organisations as and when this helps them to achieve their aims.

Collectively, the local VCSE sector achieves a great deal for its beneficiaries by strengthening people’s resolve to tackle difficult problems or supporting them to achieve their ambitions. And when working in complementary ways with other organisations and agencies, it can help improve the social fabric of neighbourhoods and communities.

So it is not surprising that the VCSE’s contribution to local wellbeing is much appreciated by local public bodies, such as the police and fire services, local authorities, the National Health Service and combined authorities.

Valuing the work of the local VCSE sector is one thing, but understanding how that value is produced and for what purpose is another. So this research report was commissioned to find out more about sector structure, purpose, energy and impact at a local level.

To understand what’s going on properly, it is necessary to look beyond the boundaries of a locality so that comparisons can be made with similar or different kinds of areas. Otherwise it cannot be known which aspects of the work of the local VCSE sector are distinctive, effective or particularly challenging.

This report compares the situation in Cumbria with similar kinds of town and country areas which are relatively distant from major urban or metropolitan areas, including: Northumberland, Shropshire, Suffolk, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.  And to make sense of sector dynamics further – the report also compares with major urban combined authority areas.

Using comparative statistical analysis, this report builds a comprehensive picture of sector strengths in the newly established local authorities of Cumberland and Westmorland and Furness and its willingness to work alongside or in partnership with local public agencies, businesses and other VCSE organisations.

The full report can be downloaded here:

A shorter report is also available here:

The report forms part of a wider set of parallel studies on combined authorities (centred on Yorkshire and Humber) and the home counties (with a special focus on Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire).