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“Bringing heaven down to earth”: the purpose and place of religion in UK food aid

Madeleine Power (Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York, UK)
Neil Small (School of Health Studies, University of Bradford, Bradford, UK)
Bob Doherty (The York Management School, University of York, York, UK)
Barbara Stewart-Knox (Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Bradford, Bradford, UK)
Kate E. Pickett (Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York, UK)

Social Enterprise Journal

ISSN: 1750-8614

Article publication date: 7 August 2017




This paper uses data from a city with a multi-ethnic, multi-faith population to better understand faith-based food aid. The paper aims to understand what constitutes faith-based responses to food insecurity, compare the prevalence and nature of faith-based food aid across different religions and explore how community food aid meets the needs of a multi-ethnic, multi-faith population.


The study involved two phases of primary research. In Phase 1, desk-based research and dialogue with stakeholders in local food security programmes were used to identify faith-based responses to food insecurity. Phase 2 consisted of 18 semi-structured interviews involving faith-based and secular charitable food aid organizations.


The paper illustrates the internal heterogeneity of faith-based food aid. Faith-based food aid is highly prevalent and the vast majority is Christian. Doctrine is a key motivation among Christian organizations for their provision of food. The fact that the clients at faith-based, particularly Christian, food aid did not reflect the local religious demographic is a cause for concern in light of the entry-barriers identified. This concern is heightened by the co-option of faith-based organizations by the state as part of the “Big Society” agenda.


This is the first academic study in the UK to look at the faith-based arrangements of Christian and Muslim food aid providers, to set out what it means to provide faith-based food aid in the UK and to explore how faith-based food aid interacts with people of other religions and no religion.



The work was funded through a National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (NIHR CLAHRC) for Yorkshire and Humber White Rose studentship [grant number IS-CLA-0113-10020]. The funder had no input into the study design, content or submission of the article.


Power, M., Small, N., Doherty, B., Stewart-Knox, B. and Pickett, K.E. (2017), "“Bringing heaven down to earth”: the purpose and place of religion in UK food aid", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 251-267.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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