From Pastoral Care to Public Health: An Ethnographic Case Study of Collaborative Governance in a Local Food Bank

Geoffrey Meads*
Health and Wellbeing Research Group, University of Winchester, Winchester UK

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© 2017 Geoffrey Meads.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the University of Winchester, Health and Wellbeing Group, Sparkford Road, Winchester, SO22 4NR. UK, Tel: 01962 826364; E mail:



Escalating urgent demand for subsistence, especially from young families, has been matched by the rapid increase in food bank outlets in the United Kingdom. The majority of these have originated in faith based initiatives, initially through small back street service outlets and, more recently as frontline social enterprises contributing nationwide to social security and welfare provision.


The article seeks to describe, define and discuss developments in collaborative governance from 2006 to 2016 in a local food bank. An established analytical framework for community services is applied to identify implications for public health.


An ethnographic approach is employed. Data sources include structured research diary notes, agency agendas, local surveys and stakeholder workshops, and participant observation. Key events are identified through five yearly time interval assessments of critical decision making between 2006 and 2016.


The local narrative indicates a progression towards wider representation in the collaborative governance arrangements, with a corresponding advance in awareness of food poverty and public health issues. Initially neglected, these emerge with the changes in organisational status from informal volunteers group to complex formal organisation with specialist management functions. Increases in scale and differentiation also apply to the broader profile of Christian agencies and shift towards control by those with stronger physical and institutional structures. However, although the local service has helped raise awareness of food poverty in civic agencies, scriptural sources remain more influential than secular strategies.


The local food bank experience points to basic changes in the relationship between church and state in social welfare, and highlights the challenge for faith based social enterprises of representing effectively increasingly diverse communities. For public health, led by elected Councils, there are opportunities to harness new resources and enhance public trust.

Keywords: Governance, Food bank, Faith, Collaboration, Food poverty, Social enterprise.