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

Geoffrey Meads, * Open Modal Authors Info & Affiliations
The Open Public Health Journal 19 July 2017 RESEARCH ARTICLE DOI: 10.2174/1874944501710010106



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.
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