Dr Heather Buckingham

Dr Heather Buckingham

Department of Theology and Religion
Director of Research and Policy, Church Urban Fund
Honorary Fellow, Edward Cadbury Centre

Contact details

My research career has followed both an inter-disciplinary and an inter-sectoral route, migrating from human geography into social policy and then public theology, and from academia into my current role as Director of Research and Policy at a national charity, Church Urban Fund. I am particularly interested in the learning that can emerge when concepts developed within different disciplines are brought into interaction with each other, as well as in the translation of practice and theory across different scales within social life, for example from inter-personal relations through to policy-making decisions and social structures.

At Church Urban Fund I oversee a wide range of research and evaluation projects on themes including social cohesion, homelessness, and faith-based social engagement. My work with the Edward Cadbury Centre has included contributing to the AHRC-funded project, Megachurches and Social Engagement in London, from a policy and public theology perspective. Prior to this, as a Research Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre, first at the University of Southampton, and then at the University of Birmingham, my research focused on exploring the changing relationships between civil society, the state, and the market.


  • BSc Geography, University of Southampton
  • MA (Res) Urban Economy and Culture, University of Southampton
  • PhD Sociology and Social Policy, University of Southampton


My interest in people’s wellbeing, particularly in urban contexts, and in a holistic sense, has led me along an inter-disciplinary route as a social scientist. My MA training in Human Geography gave me an interest in ‘geographies of care’ and the way in which ‘therapeutic landscapes’ may (or may not) be brought into being in urban environments. I became interested in the different roles that both the voluntary sector and the state play in facilitating wellbeing, particularly amongst vulnerable or marginalised groups in society. My doctoral research in Sociology and Social Policy explored the role of both faith-based and secular third sector organisations in supporting single homeless people, investigating the implications of differing levels of interaction (and contracting) with local government on the values and practices of the organisations concerned.

Since then, my research has included work on social enterprise, national level third sector leadership, and the relationship between the state, third sector and markets. I was particularly involved in the Third Sector Research Centre’s ‘Third Sector Futures’ series, which engaged practitioners, policy makers and academics in lively discussions about key issues affecting the third sector.

Joining the Department of Theology and Religion has enabled me to shift the emphasis of my research, allowing me to focus specifically on the significance of faith in relation to wellbeing, both with regard to people’s lived experiences within urban contexts and in terms of the relationship between faith and public policy and discourse. This includes working on the Megachurches in Social Engagement in London project, contributing to a Barrow Cadbury Trust funded study on social welfare and inter-faith work amongst faith communities in Birmingham, and developing further work around the theme of therapeutic landscapes, faith and urban communities.


My current research interests include:

  • Faith-based social engagement, and the associated theologies, practices and policy and societal implications
  • The contribution of local churches to the emergence of therapeutic landscapes in deprived communities
  • Relationships between the state, market, informal and third sectors in the welfare mix

Other activities

Associate Fellow of the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham


Book chapters

  • Buckingham, H. and Rees, J. (2016) 'The context for service delivery: changes in third sector, state and market relationships from 1997-2015' in Rees, J and Mullins, D. (eds.) The Third Sector’s Role in Public Service Delivery, Policy Press, Bristol.

Journal articles

  • Rees, J., Miller, R. and Buckingham, H. (2017) Commission incomplete: exploring the new model for purchasing public services from the third sector, Journal of Social Policy, vol. 46, issue 1, pp. 175-194.
  • Buckingham, H. and Jolley, A. (2015) Feeding the debate: a local food bank explains itself, Voluntary Sector Review, 6:3, 311-323.
  • Rees, J., Miller, R. and Buckingham, H. (2014) Public sector commissioning of local mental health services from the third sector, TSRC Working Paper 122
  • Buckingham, H., Ellis Paine, A., Alcock, P., Kendall, J. and Macmillan, R. (2014) Who’s speaking for whom? Exploring issues of third sector leadership, leverage and legitimacy, TSRC Working Paper 121.
  • Buckingham, H.(2013) Clarity, communication and reciprocity: key ingredients for productive relationships with voluntary organisations in the new health and social care commissioning environment, TSRC Working Paper 105.
  • Buckingham, H. (2012) Capturing diversity: a typology of third sector organisations’ responses to contracting based on empirical evidence from homelessness services, Journal of Social Policy, 41: 3, 569-589
  • Buckingham, H., Pinch, S. and Sunley, P. (2012) The enigmatic regional geography of social enterprise in the UK: a conceptual framework and synthesis of the evidence, Area, 44: 1, 83–91
  • Buckingham, H. (2011) Hybridity, diversity and the division of labour in the third sector: what can we learn from homelessness organisations in the UK?, Voluntary Sector Review, 2: 3, 157-175
  • Buckingham, H. (2009) Competition and contracts in the voluntary sector: exploring the implications for homelessness service providers in Southampton, Policy and Politics, 37: 2, 235-254


  • McCabe, A., Buckingham, H and Miller, S. with Musabyimana, M. (2016) Belief in Social Action: Exploring faith groups’ responses to local needs, Report for Barrow Cadbury Trust
  • Buckingham, H. (2015) Karis Neighbour Scheme’s Community Regeneration Project: An Evaluation
  • Buckingham, H. (2015) Who’s Enabling Whom? An evaluation of the impact of the Enabling Church Conference, Report for Diocese of Lichfield.
  • Buckingham, H. 2013 ‘Infrastructure Support Pilot Project: Evaluation’, Report for Birmingham Voluntary Service Council and Sandwell Council of Voluntary Organisations.
  • Buckingham, H. and Teasdale, S. (2013) Job creation through the social economy and social entrepreneurship, Report for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development LEED Programme, pp. 166.