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Dr Alison Penn

Profile summary

Professional biography


I am an Honorary Associate in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) having retired as a Senior Lecturer and Staff Tutor  in Social Policy and Criminology.   I was the FASS Media Fellow from 2017-2023 and worked with Broadcasts & Partnerships and Open Learn to develop media projects and open educational resources.

I was a tutor in from 1994 to 2021 in Social Policy, Criminology, Social Sciences and Sociology.

A founder member and former Chair of the Voluntary Action History Society which runs a seminar programme at the Institute of Historical Research and also triennial international conference

Previously a Trustee for Impetus, Brighton and Hove

Former Research Fellow at the Health and Social Policy Research Centre, the University of Brighton and Research Consultant, Sussex Consultancy Services.  These roles entailed the design and management of research; the presentation of complex and disparate information in a co-ordinated and succinct format; and the development of evaluative frameworks. 

Research interests

These stem in the main from my PhD on the social history of voluntary organisations as well as from my background working in the voluntary and community sectors, as a paid manager, campaigner and trustee over 20+ years and as a professional trainer in Charity Evaluation and a Charity Assessor for The King’s Fund 1997-2017.

  • the social history of voluntary action (both philanthropy and mutual aid), primarily in Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries
  • the role of women as social investigators in Britain in the early 20th century
  • archival research into voluntary action for unmarried mothers
  • voluntary organisations and associational democracy
  • the use of evaluation in voluntary organisations.

Member of Women’s History Network and Social History Society.


Talkin’ ‘bout a revolution? From quiescence to resistance in the contemporary university (2020)
Bowes-Catton, Helen; Brewis, Joanna; Clarke, Caroline; Drake, Deborah; Gilmour, Alison and Penn, Alison
Management Learning, 51(4) (pp. 378-397)

From the Rescue of Fallen Women to the Support of Vulnerable Families: The History of St Michael’s Fellowship, 1903-2003 (2005-10)
Penn, Alison
ISBN : 955113202 | Publisher : St Michael's Fellowship | Published : London

Social history and organizational development: revisiting Beveridge’s Voluntary Action (2011-03)
Penn, Alison
In: Rochester, Colin; Gosling, George Campbell; Penn, Alison and Zimmeck, Meta eds. Understanding Roots of Voluntary Action: Historical Perspectives on Current Social Policy (pp. 17-29)
ISBN : 978-1-84519-424-6 | Publisher : Sussex Academic Press

Reflections on an evaluation of partnerships to cope with winter pressures (2005-01)
Balloch, Susan; Penn, Alison and Charnley, Helen
In: Balloch, Susan and Taylor, David eds. The Politics of Evaluation: Participation and Policy Implementation (pp. 153-174)
ISBN : 9781861346063 | Publisher : Policy Press | Published : Bristol

Understanding the Roots of Voluntary Action: Historical Perspectives on Current Social Policy (2011-03)
Rochester, Colin; Gosling, George; Penn, Alison and Zimmeck, Meta eds.
ISBN : 978-1-84519-424-6 | Publisher : Sussex Academic Press | Published : Brighton, UK

Women’s Voluntary Action: Social Investigations into Poverty and health 1900-1940 (2018)
Penn, Alison
In : Voluntary Action History Society 25th Anniversary Conference (13-15 Jul 2018, University of Liverpool)

Understanding organisational tensions in voluntary action: National-Local relations in the Simon Community and the Cyrenians (2018)
Penn, Alison
In : Brighton Voluntary Sector Research Forum (19 Jul 2018, Brighton)

The fellowship of St Michael's and All Angels: 1903-1925: Rescue work for upper and middle class unmarried mothers (2006)
Penn, Alison
In : Voluntary Action History Society (3 Oct 2006)

Every voice counts: community empowerment research project (2008)
Simpson, J.; Penn, A.; Farenden, C. and Johnston, R.
Community Development South East

A carers service in East Sussex (2006)
Balloch, S.; Fyvie Gauld, M.; Kocher, P. and Penn, A.
Health and Social Policy Research Centre, University of Brighton

Evaluation of the Altogether Programme (2004)
Lawless, S. and Penn, A.

Evaluation of three homeless projects in West Sussex (2003)
Penn, Alison

An evaluation toolkit for use in the NHS (2003)
Penn, A. and Balloch, S.