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Turning the tables: fighting furniture poverty through social enterprise

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  • Full or part time
    Dr P North
    Dr K Burrell
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

The Department of Geography and Planning, Liverpool University, supported by the ESRC North West Social Science Doctoral Training Partnership (NWSSDTP), invites applications for a funded 1+3 or +3 PhD project “Turning the tables: fighting furniture poverty through social enterprise”. The supervisors are Professor Peter North and Dr Kathy Burrell, Liverpool, and Dr Helen Holmes, Manchester.

This is a CASE studentship in collaboration with the current UK Social Enterprise of the Year, Furniture Resource Centre (FRC). FRC is a Liverpool-based social enterprise with a group turnover of over £10m that collects, recycles, repairs and redistributes unwanted furniture to those in need; sells new furniture to social landlords; supports people to move out of poverty with skills training; and campaigns to raise awareness of furniture poverty - the inability to afford or access the basic furniture and furnishings that facilitate a decent quality of life and the ability to participate in the norms of society. The project addresses how FRC as a social enterprise combats furniture poverty as a material dimension of austerity through which the concrete anchors of familiar, and necessary, furniture and furnishings that make a home are degraded or lost.

We have negotiated an exceptionally high level of access with FRC who have agreed support for this project and access to their staff and resources such that in the second year of the PhD the student will be embedded in FRC at their Liverpool base. The student will work from a diverse economies perspective using an embedded, ethnographically-informed ‘observant participation approach’ working alongside FRC staff to understand how FRC as a social enterprise manages competing pressures such as funder’s priorities, available resources and prevailing orthodoxies about how to meet needs and deliver services. In the current context, austerity has meant that more must be done with less, and trade-offs made. The project will develop an understanding of how social enterprises like FRC work as emergent or generative spaces, grassroots innovation niches, or ‘transition labs’ pioneering novel ways of delivering services and meeting needs – in this case providing furniture to people who don’t have it. The student will follow how ‘things’– in this case furniture - move through FRC from roadside collection to delivery to a household suffering from furniture poverty. What is the biography of the object in question? What are the practices it encounters along its trajectory? What is repaired, reused or discarded? Finally, the student will undertake semi-structured ‘object-focused’ interviews with recipients of FRC’s services and with FRC staff to explore the socio-material contribution of the furniture to making a ‘home’ in austere environments. What is the furniture, how did it get to recipients, how is it used, and what does it mean to them?

The project will commence in October 2020. Applications are invited from exceptional candidates with a first class or strong upper second class honours degree, or appropriate Master’s degree and who meet the relevant residential eligibility criteria for ESRC funding. The University of Liverpool values diversity and equality at all levels and we encourage applications from all sections of the community.

We welcome applications for both full and part-time study, and studentships are available as either ‘1+3’ (i.e. one full time year of research training Masters followed by three years of full-time Doctoral study, or the part-time equivalent), or ‘+3’ (i.e. three years of full-time doctoral study or its part-time equivalent), depending on the needs and qualifications of the applicant.

Applications welcomed by 20th February 2020 (12pm). Applications should be made by email to myself and through the University of Liverpool application system including the requested documents – letter of application, CV, transcript and references – specifying Professor North as the supervisor and the title of the studentship (Turning the Tables). Please use following link:

For an informal discussion about the studentship please contact Peter North on 0151 794 2949 or [Email Address Removed].

For more about FRC go to: For informal discussions about FRC please contact Claire Donovan, Campaign Manager on 0151 305 5212 or [Email Address Removed]


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