Online Discussion

Last online discussion:

1 February 2012, 2pm – 4pm
Below the Radar and the unintended consequences of voluntary sector reconfiguration.
Organised in partnership with Big Lottery Fund. 

An introduction from panel members is below. Scroll down to see all discussion comments.  
More discussions are being held on the Globalnet21 website. See home page for details.

Panel members:

Sioned Churchill, Director of Special Initiatives and Evaluation, Trust for London

Sioned has worked for Trust for London since 2001. The Trust is an independent funder of community and voluntary sector groups tackling poverty and inequality in London and distributes approx. £7 million annually. 
Over the past 25 years the Trust has established a particular interest in funding small and emerging grassroots community groups, as it believes these groups are often in the best position to identify needs and find possible solutions.  During this time, many new communities have settled in London and therefore the Trust has had a strong emphasis on supporting refugee and migrant communities, who are often the first access point for information and support.
Prior to working at the Trust Sioned worked for 20 years in community development in King’s Cross, London.  Her experience included managing three community centres, co-ordinating the local community safety and health partnerships, supporting tenants’ and residents’ participation in Estate Action and Regeneration programmes as well as organising a range of community projects. Sioned continues to take an active interest in the voluntary and community sector, and was a Trustee of Voluntary Action Camden from 2001 – 2010.


Angus McCabe, Senior Research Fellow, Below the Radar Research Stream Lead, TSRC

Angus is currently seconded to the Third Sector Research Centre and the Centre of Excellence in Interdisciplinary Mental Health at the University of Birmingham and leading a longitudinal study on Shelter’s Children’s Services in England and Wales with Merida Associates. He is a Board Member of the International Community Development Journal, an Associate of the Federation for Community Development Learning and has been involved in training and development work with non-governmental organisations in Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

“One of the assumptions underlying the Big Society agenda is that larger charities in the sector will bid the capacity of community groups to engage in service delivery. Yet there is very little evidence that this has happened in the recent past: and even less evidence that ‘below the radar’ groups are interested in ‘scaling up’ to deliver public services. Indeed, in the current competitive commissioning environment there is some suggestion that those very groups are losing out to larger voluntaries as they become preferred sole providers.”


Debbie Pippard, Head of Programmes, Barrow Cadbury Trust 

Debbie Pippard is Head of Programmes, with overall responsibility for both the Trust’s grass-roots grants and policy work and for making sure those two aspects of our work complement each other to improve social justice. Debbie joined the Trust in May 2010, having spent seven years as a grant-maker with the Big Lottery Fund and prior to that holding senior management posts in the voluntary and health sectors.


Alison Seabrooke, Chief Executive, Community Development Foundation (CDF)

Alison has been the Chief Executive of the CDF since 2005. She spent a year on secondment to the Home Office and DfE and prior to this was involved in her community, setting up a range of local organisations. As a volunteer and later chief executive, she initiated and led a project which raised funds for a new community facility. She cut her enterprise teeth on managing a 15300sqft building, setting up new businesses and community services. The award-winning centre is still in business, 12 years later.
CDF is a social enterprise that has over 40 years experience of brokering relationships between communities and government, on a range of policy areas. It has delivered grants to 1000s of grassroots organisations, advised on policy and conducted research; currently CDF is managing the Community First programme for OCS, setting up the new £200m Local Trust on behalf of Big Lottery Fund and delivering the Community Action Against Crime; Innovation Fund, for the Home Office and Active at 60 for DWP.

“I remember, around 2004/5 being part of a working group looking at the potential catastrophic effects of the demise of SRB and ESF funding. Many people in the sector described this as the knife-edge group. However, the sector didn’t disappear, as feared, not will it in the current economic circumstances.
In some respects CDF reconfigured early – in May 2010 we were still a public body and were subjected to government freezes on recruitment, communications, use of consultants (aka CDF associates) We were not allowed to spend on these items and we found creative ways to meet the same goals, whilst saving a lot of public money (it wasn’t without its challenges). The second unintended consequence is that we have found we are working with lots of new partners and  increasingly with the private sector. This has been partly driven by new tendering processes, but also a genuine climate of people wanting to do things differently.”


Peter Wanless, Chief Executive, Big Lottery Fund

Peter Wanless has been the Big Lottery Fund’s Chief Executive since 1 February 2008. He has overseen development of “Big Thinking – a strategic framework to 2015” and the five funding portfolios within it (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and UK-wide). During this time BIG has also become an increasingly significant distributor of non-Lottery funds. He has championed the importance of effectiveness, efficiency and quality of customer experience, describing the role of the Lottery distributor as being about much more than getting cash out of the door.

Peter was previously a senior Civil Servant at the Department for Education, specialising in schools’ reform.
Between 1987 and 1998 Peter worked at the Treasury, operating in a range of roles including Head of Private Finance Policy and Principal Private Secretary to three Cabinet Ministers.


167 thoughts on “Online Discussion

  1. I am trying to raise funding for community projects but it seems that unless you are a registered charity or company you don’t qualify. I feel beyond the radar and would like to know how I can be seen and my community projects worthy of support. Despite no funding I have decided to go ahead with a project, working with carers and family members with memory loss/dementia, using creative reminicence to enhance relationships and feelings of well-being. This is very short term and need finacial support for any long-term development of the programme.

  2. We have been delivering a range of services to our community for the past 20 years. Money has been withdrawn from our community escorted shoppping scheme, from our elderly lunch club and now our day care programme looks in danger of having to close.due to cuts.
    We applied for lottery money to fund an alternative care at home project which would support people who up to now have been referred to our day care centre. We were unsucceful in our application. What fundin g is available to small voluntary organisation like us.

  3. Keen to learn more in order to continue aiding the development of the Eltham Town Centre Partnership which is a community led unfunded enterprise of 6 years standing.

  4. We are a small village of 412 houses, but it is in an area designated as NOT disadvantaged. The village hall is still in the 1970′s and we want to add disabled access to it outside and disabled friendly inside as well as re-wire, insulate and make the kitchen big enough. We are fundraising and will soon we hope be able to pay for Quantity Surveyors to cost out the plan we had had drawn. But where do we go to get help by grants? There are many older people who rely on the village hall as the only outlet for community projects. have plans to increase the use for youngsters as well.

  5. We have seen a marked reduction in small grants schemes – both in number and amounts available. There is a touch of schizophrenia about all this, starting with the Labour administration and carrying on under the coalition, on the one hand organisations are being urged to merge or form consortia yet there is also a move towards very localised geographical service provision. Tender exercises are the flavour of the month at County but these aren’t accessible to the very kind of groups that might be able to deliver at a very local geographical level. Local hubs are being set up but these replicate the old County level thematic partnerships, which undermines the point of those hubs, which is to work in a cross thematic manner at a local level. Confusion all round. Multiple local partnerships that don’t change the system but replicate the system at a smaller local level. I’m confused, everyones confused, and the groups I support can longer access funding unless they go straight to the individual or can participate in tendering exercises (always, always, as an afterthought and as junior partners).

  6. Like so many of us working in local authority, my sports development service and team were cut in 2011, but have been lucky by being employed in the private sector to reinstate some of the sport, health and physical activity programmes we ran in our deprivied areas. Although we are now delivering some of the public services we are not eligable to apply for funding. We offer many opportunities of training and employment but find it increasingly difficult to apply for funding to enable ‘development’ of programmes. We are doing our utmost to work and help our communities but do feel disadvantaged and marginalised when it comes to funding/resource opportunities.

  7. It wil be interesting to monitor the reduction in services when funding runs out at the end of March this year. No doubt much will continue but at a rate affordable. In our area the CAB has had to shut some offices.

  8. We have a very busy Village Hall and appear to fall between two stools as far as the Lottery Reaching Communities initiative is concerned. We wish to extend our hall to provide additional meeting / lecture rooms for the use of the whole community. We do not organise the functions ourselves. Our remit is to provide and maintain a facility available for use o by all members of the community. Our “outcome” is additional bricks and mortar at a total cost of £126000 for which we have been turned down by the lottery. the extra rooms will serve the community for the next 50 years. This is not recognised as an outcome by Reaching Communities, despite it representing an improvement in community facilities in an area where there are no similar facilities available. Could the basis for assessment of suuitability for grant support be reconsidered please.

  9. We have a very busy Village Hall and appear to fall between two stools as far as the Lottery Reaching Communities initiative is concerned. We wish to extend our hall to provide additional meeting / lecture rooms for the use of the whole community. We do not organise the functions ourselves. Our remit is to provide and maintain a facility available for use by all members of the community. Our “outcome” is additional bricks and mortar at a total cost of £126000 for which we have been turned down by the lottery for a grant of £50000. The extra rooms will serve the community for the next 50 years. This is not recognised as an outcome by Reaching Communities, despite it representing an improvement in community facilities in an area where there are no similar facilities available. Could the basis for assessment of suuitability for grant support be reconsidered please.

  10. Pingback: Below the Radar « Peter Wanless CEO of BIG

  11. Susan, if you’re running a community project, then it’s probable that it’s a small charity (it depends how your objects are phrased and what form of governing document you’ve got). As soon as its income is £5,000 a year or more, you are obliged to register the charity. One reason why certain funders and public sector purchasers prefer incorporated structures (i.e. companies) for contracting with, is because the company legal structure is stronger and safer to do business with than an unincorporated structure. So you need to be getting some proper advice about the best legal structure for your project, and whether or not it is charitable and must be registered.

    One way to keep above the radar is to be sure you’ve got the right legal structure for what you’re doing, and comply with whatever regulatory requirements you need to (i.e. register with the Charity Commission if your organisation is charitable).

  12. I run a Big Lottery Funded funding advice project, my funding ends June 2012. My concern is that what I do “infrastructure support” as we call it, is off everyone’s radar, but reading some of the comments above, it’s still crucial and vital.

    People working in the VCS information and guidance roles such as funding advice are disappearing really quickly! All their experience and knowledge is being lost to the sector. Yet organisations are still crying out for funding advice in particular, and whether they know it or not, still need help with governance and other organisational matters.

    I’m involved in a couple of funding advice networks where we’ve been having some big debates about the nature of funding advice, and what it is in this changing world. We know we have to adapt to keep pace with the changing environment, but we are very worried that in a very short space of time we’ll all have been lost through redundancy, or changing job roles.

    We know grant funding can’t sustain us – but we also find that we’ve often the luxury extra attached to the core work of our agencies, and so not perhaps the priority we ought to be.

    We’re not below the radar, just off it altogether!

  13. I’m in a similar position to Jane. The smaller “Below the Radar” groups are the ones that need (and receive) our help the most. Future Lottery policy looks like money going straight to organisations so they can purchase in support. If they are below the radar then they can’t purchase in that support. It’s another example of a policy that looks good in principle (and is hard to disagree with) but in practice might exclude the very people/organisations it is designed to support, personalisation, big society, open public services etc..

  14. It is an assumption that “Below the radar” issues and the “Reconfiguration of the voluntary sector” is strongly linked. Where is the reasoned argument, much less the evidence?

    The explanation for “Below the radar” issues includes such facts as

    1. The amount of the tax funded pot for discretionary and community services has been dimminishing since the late 1990′s though ameliorated by Lottery funds.

    2. The growth of public sector delivery charities but on unfavourable financial conditions alongside impairment of their campaigning capacity and independence

    2. The distance between segments and objectives in the sector e.g. the wars waged between the now defunct Community Empowerment networks and the CVS’s, the difference and continued lack of synergy between public sector delivery charities and community service organisations

    And it is a case that consultation and discussion are not substitutes for a proper analysis of the issues.

  15. WELCOME to this webinar, I am part of the Knowledge Exchange Team at TSRC, and will be hosting this webinar. Thank you to the Big Lottery Fund for proactively promoting this webinar and to all the panel members for agreeing to participate.

    If Panel members can start by introducing themeselves and maybe reflecting on some of the comments already posted on this page ? If you have joined us, thank you, we look forward to hearing your questions and ideas

  16. Hello, all – pleased to be taking part in this discussion. I empathise with all of the comments above – in both a professional and personal capacity. At CDF we work really hard to ensure that we can distribute funds at a very grassroots level. The type of funds available will mainly be determined by the body on whose behalf we are distributing funds, but we emphasise the different nature of the groups – registered and unregistered charitable organisations that we work with and how to balance the percieved ‘risk’ or working with groups that are only just setting out and managing their money. Personally, I have been involved in setting up many community organisations and know how hard to know where to start and to keep a track of all the available (although diminished) sources of funding. Throughout this discussion hopefully I can point people to some programmes and evaluation which will either support them through funding, or provide evidence to support their cases for funding.

  17. Hi all. I’m one of the panel members and on the advisory group of TSRC’s Below the Radar work stream.. I work for the Barrow Cadbury Trust, which is a charitable foundation set up and still run by the Cadbury family. We’re a fairly small fish in the overall funding picture, although quite big for a family Trust (our annual grants budget is just under £3m). We work both at the grassroots level, funding a range of organisations many of which are in Birmingham and the surrounding conurbations, reflecting the origins of the family money which of course came from the Cadbury chocolate factory, and at the national level. We are a social justice foundation and aim to influence policy and practice in the fields of migration, criminal justice and poverty and inclusion.

  18. Hello – I’m Angus Mccabe from the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham – working on ‘below the radar’ community groups and activities.

    An interesting debate so far – but one that focuses mainly on funding. What we are finding in our work with community groups is perhaps even more complex. It is not only the loss of (small) grants – but also access to affordable (no or low cost) meeting places (the library used to be free but is now charging a commercial rent – for example) This is coupled with increased pressure on volunteers in work – who in some cases have substantially less time to offer and less disposable income amongst members to support/join in activity. So a picture is emeging for some of what could be called compound disadvantage

  19. Carl, I’m interested in your comments regarding the distinction between “below the radar” (BtR) activities and the wider voluntary sector. We’d agree that the two are not synonymous – and perhaps BtR are more resilient in the current climate when funding is so difficult to obtain. What do others think and what would help the BtR (by which I mean very small unfunded or modestly funded groups) to survive and strengthen?

  20. We are about to close (March end) as our former Capacitybuilders £ runs out. Looking through your comments it still seems that infrastructure support is not engaging sufficiently effectively, is not imagining its role very well, and of course is not favoured politically – this needs radical attention: I.S. is still essential (ask any new group, and there are loads), though in a different, more encompassing manner – why not include private sector involvement? – to cope, to nurture and bring the smaller groups up to scratch in terms of being able to compete for bids and tenders, etc.

  21. In terms of strengthening below the radar groups one key element is recognising/acknowledging the value of these activities/groups within and too communities. All to often groups are ‘dismissed’ as being purely social or leisure orientated – whereas, talking with members, they have a huge value to a wide range of policy agendas – not least the promotion of mental wellbeing

  22. Hello Everyone – I’m Peter and I’m the Chief Executive of the Big Lottery Fund. The National Lottery raises around £30 million a week for good causes and we distribute 40% of that to communities and people most in need, throughout the UK.

    Our main small grants programme Awards for All operates in all four countries within the UK – £46m of awards of up to £10,000 were made to support bright ideas across England alone last year via this route.

    Of course there are many more bright ideas and good causes than there is cash available, but the success rate is very good when groups are clear what it is they want to achieve and how thery will know.

    So my first questions to those looking for funding would be

    a. do you know about Awards for All? Susan, you are probably eligible if you are looking for up to £10K, why not give it a go?
    b. have you tried applying recently and what was your experience?
    c. have you not applied because the scheme doesn’t work for you and if so, what’s the problem?


  23. Andy, yes we are here, a number of core themes emerging so far include support for non registered charities, funding for previously statutory funded projects, building repairs and improvements for non deprived areas, county level confusions, local authority officers and mutuals access to funding, whether groups need to stay above the radar to survive and infrastructure support – comments from the panel welcome….

  24. Interesting comment on infra-structure support David – again our findings suggest that there has been very limited contact between small community groups and these bodies – where they exist. This is in part due to a lack of capacity to develop outreach strategies/services. But is there also an element on needing to re-think what is delivered? A lot of capacity building in the last decade focused on individualised and formal training – an this is not really the way people learn for collective organising or action

  25. Hello there – I’m also pleased to be part of this discussion. Many of the comments so far relate to real concerns about how small groups will get the advice and support they need during a period when this support is being hardest hit. As a funder of small groups, and although we are as supportive as we can be, we often refer these groups for additional advice from local support agencies to help them make better applications. We need to be constantly aware of how these changes will impact on who and how we award our grants.

  26. Hi, I am a fund-raiser for North Avenue Youth Centre, a small local charity in North West Chelmsford. It has been running club sessions for young people aged 8 – 16 since it was built in 2000. We currently run 4 sessions a week.
    We are facing the issue of increased costs and I am finding it very hard to find the funds to match.
    We are also wanting to increase the size of our shared kitchen and provide separate toilets as these are currently shared with the adjoining church, which causes issues when both building are in use.
    I would be interested in finding out any information or advice you could give regarding raising funds for either of these.

  27. Picking up on one of Razia’s points – will the voluntary sector look like the social housing sector in 5-10 years – eg services ‘stock transferred’ from Local Authorities etc to ‘quasi-voluntaries’ consisting of staff from ‘old’ LA service areas?

  28. I work for a council for voluntary service (Voluntary Action North Lincolnshire) and most of the questions above are exactly what we do – we offer help and support to get your governing document right, plan your project, help you to find funding and suggest alternative ways of doing that, right through to when your service is no longer needed and you want to close down. As someone said above, small voluntary groups are usually charitable and should qualify for at least some grants.

  29. We find small groups the most time consuming but that is where we would like to concentrate our support. Formal training often doesn’t work.

  30. Angus I wonder if you could expand on your comments regarding learning and development of BtR groups. Picking up on the i/s comments, we know htey are under enormous pressure and are often the ones to be cut. Are there other ways in which funders and others can promote learning between small gruops if i/s services aren’t avialable locally?

  31. Debbie/Angus
    One significant threat to BtR groups occurs when the facilitation (not the direct funding) of such groups comes under attack.

    Thus the loss of free meeting places and the rise and rise of the two working parents family threaten the numbers, scope and effectivesness of current and potential BtR groups.

  32. Another thought – if you’re providing a service for people with adult social care needs: socialisation, shopping help, transport, lunch clubs, and so on, you fall into the group expected to offer services under Personalisation. For that, you should be charging a reasonable rate which will enable you to cover your expenses, as the customers will be funded through the normal social care channels.

  33. Viven the previous comments – would be interested to hear from other panel members – is there an increasinly important role for grant making trusts (especially the larger ones) to adopt a both a pro-active ‘funder plus’ model – and to highlight what is happening based on the grant application data held?

  34. We work with small community groups and organisations in one of the largest thriving cities in the north of England, there are 140 countries represented in our local communities. Funding has always been difficult to get for a lot of groups and organisations due to their size or the nature of their governance and have had to settle for small short term pots of money with no real future sustaniability but are simpler to apply for. With the impact of the budget cuts on larger frontline support organisations, support locally is on the decline, what chance do these smaller community groups and organisation have to compete in the market place for funding from the Big Lottery fund or other larger funders with all the work that is required to apply to the Lottery in the first place?

  35. Don asked a question about why our Reaching Communities programme would not support “bricks and mortar” as an outcome. Angus has noted that people “below the radar” are saying that they lack facilities or meeting space to support their efforts.

    Our mission as a funder is to support communities and people most in need. It is not our mission to build buildings. Drawing together what Don and Angus have observed, we are interested in supporting outcomes that enable more people, particularly the disadvantaged, the disconnected, the seldom heard, to achieve more and enjoy a better quality of life in their local community. Securing cash from us, therefore, needs to focus on the capital facilities as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. Up to £50k capital is available within Reaching Communities alongside up to £500k total project cost but frame what you want to achieve in terms of impact upon communities and people most in need.

    One of my favourite projects was cash for a disabled toilet and a new fuse box. We funded it not because our Board is passionate about loos and electrics but because these were the essential facilities without which a host of community groups were going to be unable to flourish.

  36. A few things, looking at the comments. Yes I agree that infrastructure support is important – I tend to bang on about the different types of advice, support and signposting needed a different stages in a group’s evolution. From the individual who has an idea, who gets a few people together, then decides that they need to be incorporated all along the path to employing people and managing buildings. I think the issue has been – and a focus of government attention – was that there are too many organisations (and all the associated management and admin costs) across a patch, making it look duplicative and costly to funders. I am not saying whether this view was right or wrong, just adding that this is why the focus has shifted. I think that one of the issues for the BtR groups and those working with them, is that they are so busy ‘doing’ and on a shoestring, and with so many emotional commitments to the communities they serve, being able to reflect on their role and make some really tough decisions is very hard.

  37. Responding to Debbie – what we are finding is feedback from those active in community groups and activities (and these are successful ones) is that they learn, develop skills/knowledge and share resources through peer and informal learning – and networks. It’s a seeing and doing rather than a ‘taught’ process. This assumes at times that, where needed, there are those arround that can broker networking opportunities.

  38. Many grant-making trusts are undertaking funder-plus work and this can provide bespoke, tailored support to small groups but this is often expensive and usually for groups that are already ‘in the club’ i..e receiving funds. However, a lot of money is being spent usually through individual consultancies, I think there may be scope for local second-tier agencies to develop new models of delivering bespoke support to tap into this funding…

  39. I think lots of people in very small groups get frustrated at funders’ and others’ obsession with structures and governance, when they just want to get on and get stuff done.

    Is this unreasonable?

  40. Peter,
    We have applied for Awards for All a couple of times. Once we were successful and once we were not. Could you tell me how long we need to wait between applying? How long does the process take?
    I would like to request for money towards activities in the holidays to give young people something positive to do and let them try new challenges instead of getting frustrated with nothing to do.

  41. “Funder plus” can be very useful (many interpretations of what it means but in this case I’m referring to non-financial support) and its something we do. Being a funder that does much of its work in a relatively small geographic area sometimes we can help smaller groups by bringing them together to share experience or for specific events. Trust for london does this lot i know, and of course Big Local (which Alison knows a lot about!) will also be thinking a lot about support for small scale voluntary activity.Waht do others think funders shoudl be doing? What would work, bearing in mind that funder-plus takes staff tiem and could draw resources away from grants?

  42. Oxfam’s Routes to Solidarity programme supports BME women’s groups in the North of England. Our aim is to help these groups increase their confidence and ability to influence and campaign on the issues that have the most negative impact on their communities. We support these groups because they represent and work with some of the most deprived and vulnerable people in the country.

    Whilst our work intially focused on training and support on influencing relevent policy, legislation and decision-making, we now find that the BME women’s groups we work tell us they are struggling to survive, and so engaging in campaigning, advocacy or policy work is very hard. We are therefore spending more time supporting groups on fundraising and building sustainability.

    Social enterprise and winning contracts are offered as ways forward for voluntary and community sector groups, however the groups we work with are often unsufficiently developed to compete in these fields.
    It’s hard to see, therefore, how these vital grassroots groups will be able to continue their valuable work when grant funding becomes harder to secure, and the field increaslingly competitive.

  43. John – I understand your frustration with what seems to be an obsession with bureaucracy! Funders have a duty to be proportionate and to take things on a case by case basis depending on the size of the organisation asking for a grant. But unfortunatley most of us have harsh experience of grants going horribly wrong when proper processes are not in place, so I wouldn’t support funders ignoring goernance or financial probity issues.

  44. Thanks Debbie – sorry to come back with a question – but is there greater scope for collaborative work between grant making trusts to network groups and share intelligence on what is happening in and to below the radar groups in policy arenas? A sort of strategic funder plus model?

  45. yes I agree with Angus and this is why CVSs and the whole capacity building industry has been so unsuccessful – professional, top down, and almost entirely devoid of content, as in the issues that the groups are active around.

  46. We get two extremes with everything in between
    From small very focussed groups that are excellent at delivery but hopeless at governance and procedure to large professional groups where the complete opposite is true.

  47. Thanks for the tip about Personalisation investigations, Razia.
    I find that the most below the radar are the groups who offer a much-needed service, such as transport for elderly disabled people, but they’re not ‘pretty’, they don’t want bricks and mortar, they want running costs, and no-one seems interested in funding them to keep going. They can’t charge their users because the users don’t have any cash, so what are they to do?

  48. In response to John’s comment – I can sympathise that sometimes it can feel that funders are putting up hurdles for small groups who just want to get on with things, but somebody has to be accountable for how the money is used and we try to keep this to the minimum requirement of a constitution and a bank account with two signatories.

  49. Sorry Andy, I think that may depend on which CVSs you’ve dealt with. Some are very good at advising these groups, though the groups don’t always appreciate the advice they’re given.

  50. Yes, I understand that governance is important, Debbie. But I think that funders need to treat it as proportionate to the risk involved, i.e. be more relaxed the smaller the grant.

    We also need to get away from the fear of failure. No one successful has ever got there without taking risks, some of which fail. We need to treat failure as a learning process. Otherwise we risk constantly repeating it

  51. Hi Annette

    I agree with you that, as demand rises, there is a risk that smaller groups lose out if a funder like BIG manages that demand by requiring more and more from the applicants. This is a clear and present danger we must be alive to. We must be proportionate in what we expect of applicants. We need to be able to distinguish the quality of an idea from the ability to write an excellent application.

    A couple of ways in which we have sought to go the extra mile here, would be:

    1. Our award to the Big Local Trust where we are giving money to neighbourhoods that have previously been unsuccessful in accessing Lottery cash, so they can work to determine how that cash can best be spent themselves;

    2. Making awards to intermediary groups like Well London who work directly with local people to determine their local needs.

    There may be other ideas!

  52. Responding to Maya – good to hear of this initiative and yes – advocacy roles suffer when the pressure is on to survive and deliver a service.

    Social enterprise/bidding for contracts is indeed seen as a way out for some – but many groups do not want to ‘scale up’ beyond their locality/cause – and then the commissioning process is risk averse and the evidence from the new Employment Programme is that there will be fewer and bigger contracts – on a scale that excludes even medium sized voluntaries – never minf community groups in terms of financial pre-conditions.

  53. Anna asked about how long you have to wait to apply for Awards for All. You can only have a maximum of £10,000 a year via this route (might be more than one project). You can apply as often as you like – but if we’ve turned you down it would be wise to reflect on the feedback before submitting again! Good luck.

  54. replying to John Hayes – just a quoute from a community activist – in the voluntary sector never confuse the level of organisation with the amout of activity!

  55. There are a couple of opportunities for small amounts of funding for local people who come together to get a project going. We are running the Community First programme for the Office for Civil Society which is an £80m programme split into two bits – £30m small grants and £50m in endowment match. Each bit is potentially relevant here. The first part is the Neighbourhood Match Fund which will work across 600 wards in England. It’s quite different as it shifts the priority setting and decision making down to a very local level. The selection of the wards and how the £30m grants can be accessed can be found on our web-site This isn’t a general application programme and the small grants need to be matched in ‘in kind’ time, services, expertise. You need to follow the link on the home page to Neighbourhood Match Fund and put in your postcode to see if you are eligible and whether a panel of local people has been registered to start this process. I think it is interesting as it starts to incentivise and value the contributions of volunteers. It is also interesting because I think it provides a mechanism whereby other potential funders (say, a local authority, health body, community safety funder) might want to allocate small amounts of money for a particular local opportunity or issue. Local projects submit their ideas via CDF and we can do the ‘due diligence checks’ – we are keeping it as simple as possible and hope to take away all the admininstrative burden at a local level. That detail is on our site and its development is early as we are only getting this off the ground (so I might not have all of the answers here).

  56. Good point Andi on public servies – but what an awful lot of community groups do is deliver services for the public – which is slightly different to public services

  57. thisis too much about funding and money. The topic is the ‘unintended consequences etc etc’ and we haven’t got to that. I want to hear about independence, autonomy, activism, dissent, pressure to conform, state co-option, the arrival of the private sector corrupting our values and our approaches etc etc…..

  58. Just catching up iwth comments – Angus yes there is a real role for below the radar groups to have a voice in policy and that’s one thing we try to encourage. A few years ago there was a welcome encouragement by Govenment for “voice” projects. I fear that in the struggle for survival this is now being lost again. how can we support it (we do by our grants, but how can the sector encourage others?)

  59. The option of devolving a pot of money for local awarding is one where funders could do with getting cleverer: at utilising advisers’ networks, or CVS’s (though our experience is variable, at best), or other local networks – or even to encourage the development of networks’ abilities, to compete with the national groups that so often dominate in managing ‘new’ funds.

  60. Andy and Angus – I’m coming to the opinion that nobody could do public services as badly as they have been done at times, so perhaps the voluntary sector SHOULD take them on. Provided the funding comes to them, of course.

  61. Thanks for refocussing us Andy! the impliation of my last comment is that an unintended consequence is likelyt o be a focus on service delivery at teh expense of advocacy.

  62. Apologies for the long description above … and I haven’t responded anyone in particular as it seems to hit a lot of questions. I am also trying to set out a shift in funding distribution to provide an insight into the policy landscape. The second half to Community First is the Endowment Match Challenge … Community Foundations have been set the challenge to raise £100million by March 2015, when the programme ends. Government will match this with £50million pounds. Again, this is interesting as the money will be held centrally and the yield – the money raised from the investment – will be distributed in small grants, England-wide, through the Community Foundations from 2013. The aim is to provide a sustainable source of funding across England. So with the Neighbourhood Match Fund there is potential to encourage other funders to see this model as co-production (as opposed to simply grant-funding) and with the Endowment, we start to see government matching and investing money levered from individuals and businesses for long-term benefit.

  63. Replyin to Andy – perhaps one of the unintended outcomes of re-configuration in the sector – a growing divide between the ‘have’s and the have-nots’? There is also a rhetoric around of ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ up against a reality of fewer ‘flowers’ in terms of service delivery, advocacy etc

  64. David. One idea we’re thinking abuot at the moemnt is devolving small grants to local experts for furhter distribution in micro-grants (£50-100) for below the radar activiites. Do you think this would be useful?

  65. Hi All, I am a fundraiser from a national charity that has projects at national, regional and local levels. My question is for Peter Wanless. Mr Wanless is there any new grants programmes that the BLF are planning to launch in the next year, and if so will they be more strategic ones like BASIS?

  66. What I hear is that groups are being told that social enterprise / delivering public services will replace the traditional grant funding that is disappearing or getting harder to secure. Personalisation also is talked about, but I would argue that it won’t fill the gap.

    I find that many groups are diverting their limited time and energy into exploring these (often unrealistic) possibilities, and as local infrastructure services are increasingly limited in the support they can offer, groups struggle to know where to focus their attentions.

  67. There has always been a tension between the campaigning and advocacy role of the voluntary and community sector but it feels that this is now tipping over and really constraining how far groups will go to speak out, especially about local authorities, when they are receiving funding from them. It seems that many established groups are now supporting ‘action groups’ that have been set up at arms length to avoid this but it will be interesting to see how this develops and if and how they get funding for their activities.

  68. Angus and Andy. has it ever really been possible for 1000 flowers to bloom? It seems to me that we’ve had a prevailing myth that small organisations all can and want to grow. It doesn’t make economic sense in the world of limited resources and in many cases there’s been a brief flowering followed by a crash. how can we create a more sustainable sector in circs where that limited cash is becoming more limited?

  69. When it comes to small grants for local people, I’d be very interested in what others think the minimum requirements should be when the Lottery gives someone up to £10,000 of good cause cash? If and when we take risks we have to recognise that some projects will fail (and maybe some people will rip us off!) What do you think it is acceptable to tolerate here? For me your views (and support) could be especially important since I’m the one who ultimately has to explain the outcome to Parliament when money is not well spent or goes missing.

  70. Debbie – I think this is an intended consequence. The aim of the government and the last one is to dismantle the welfare state and farm out what they can’t shut down to ‘any willing provider’ – this is as plain as the nose on your face. There is little or no interest in any but service-providing vol agencies and even these are now found to be too small to cut the mustard – hence the work programme scandal, predicted by many of us. So our position is that vol groups that happily embrace this agenda are to be persuaded otherwise…. meanwhile the renaissance of proper independent action will have to take place amongst OTR groups and that is why this discussion is important. Personally I think tht the support that these gorups need – indeed it is what they already go for – is peer support. And for the professionals to join in this they also have to be activists themselves….

  71. Hi debbie – I did say the 1,00 flowers was the rhetoric – and in terms of ‘re-configuration’ many (perhaps most) below the radar groups operate outside government/policy agendas and have no intentions of ‘scaling up’ to compete for/deriver services or seek funding

  72. Intrigued by Andy Benson’s comment – Andy, what do you see as the main unintended consequences and is there anything the Big Lottery Fund needs to consider or prioritise as a result?

  73. Okay Andy! That is where my comments are leading … at the grassroots we need to repackage what is happening / funding, differently. Co-production might be a buzz word, but matching and valuing the volunteer time of a BtR group and their ability to identify what is needed locally and resourcing them is a different way of looking at grants. Also, I doubt if anyone read my blog last year, but I also think the work of BtR is often peripheral service delivery. So why aren’t we making a bigger play of the fact that in an age of personalised services, the groups who possibly run their neighbours to hospital, or provide informal respite care for families and so on, are an essential part of this. The small grants pay for small direct costs (transport, a hall etc) but the whole is about a community (place and interest) coming together to support its own, saving the state £ms and providing user-led responses.

  74. No not >£100! Real money, subject to the usual controls, but available to frontline groups on more relaxed, outcomes-based terms, enabling co-production of local services.

  75. Maya from my perspective there will always be a role for grants. But its clear that public sector grants have been a dimininshing resource for many years. And many independent funders are getting more focussed on doing a limited number of things. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing – some sectors will benefit from that although others will lose out and of course there’s always the rise and fall of fashion in the big funders that causes boom and bust. So a strategic approach would be for (say) the women’s RAS sector or the women’s sector more broadly to continue to develop and publicise the impact of their work.Impact is going to be a stronger and stronger theme in coming years – another by product of reducedd resources (although a positive one in my view).

  76. Hi All
    re angus @ 2.35. theres a not irrelevant distinction btwn public and social here; some thing like public = people as a whole; social = mutual interaction. Comm grp often does stuff that is social ; less commonly public.

    re funder plus; really important way of supporting orgs that have got as far as securing funding; but theres a need to be clear as to what the difference is between empowering additional support and inappropriate meddling !

    re Infrastructure. the ‘resource to front line and let them buy’ model has been about since change up white paper. its clearly crackers (how will market principles work for orgs premised on addressing market failure? -if you buy that description ). but equally clearly theres a huge range of qualityy in CVS provision, and all the £ from the past N yrs hasnt made that much impact on that reality. anybody got any alternative models?

  77. I think the main issue here is that the criteria for most of the big funders excludes small groups and organisations from the onset and the pressure on some groups just to survive is immense, they are not in a position to spend the time doing the applications as most of them are volunteers anyway.
    There needs to be a simpler way for groups who lack the capacity to apply to these large grants and a better system of support, we need to keep hold of support organisations who work locally as they are often the bridge for local communities to access funding of any calibre.

  78. Based on the experiences of the grassroots groups I’ve worked with, I don’t think many expect to receive public money with no requirements on their part.

    A number of these groups wouldn’t meet some funders’ requirements, but with a bit of nurturing and support could easily do so. So if a funder has a requirement that groups have a child protection policy for example (very reasonable!) but can provide support and guidance to those that don’t have one, that can work really well.

  79. By way of note, a body of learning on BtR and reduced funding can be had from the BME sector … experts by experience in what to do and what not to do.

  80. Debbie: devolving small grants to local funders would be really good if it could be done. There are very limited amounts of very small grants in my area (North Lincs) and very small local groups struggle to find grants of a size they can handle.
    Peter: £50 to £500 can often do it for a brand new group.

  81. In the current climate I understand the focus on problems in this debate – but want to strike a balance. There is a role for celebrating below the radar activity – just thinking of the shere diversity and level of activity within refugee and migrant communities in this city – groups who do things despite all the difficulties.

    And on a lighter note – I notice my spelling/grammar is getting worse as the debate progresses – can anyone recommend a good dyslexia service?

  82. Peter – depends whose intentions you are focussing on. Our intentions (i.e. are to try and persuade the sector – and any of the rest of you who are interested – to back off from sub-contractor relationships with anyone and get back to the knitting – deciding for yourselves and with your users and communities what you are there for and how you want to do it. For the government – or more broadly the state – the intention is maintain the status quo of the establishment, shut down the klnd of public serivces they think we don;t deserve, contract out the rest and in the process further impoverish the poorest adn most vulnerable amongst us. This is outrageous and has otbe reisisted. In other words any discussion about the role of voluntary action has to be placed in the political context of the times we live in and right now the direction of travel is very clear

  83. Peter – regarding proportionate requirements and acceptability of risk. Its likely that the nearer the fund-holder is to the reciepient, the better intelligence they have.Its incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for people based remotely to assess risk without asking for lots of information. But if the fund-holder is very close to the potential recipeint (knows them personally, is based in the adjacnet office, has met with them etc), half the due diligence is done already. So I wonder if there is a case to make for devolving smaller grants programmes locally (as you have effecilvey done in many of your strategic programmes). Its bad on all sorts of levels to set up a sytem that enables fraud or misuse of grants – bad for you when you’re hauled in front of hte public accounts committee, bad for the sector if word of misuse gets out, and potentially putting temptation in the way of those who are temptable. From an accounting point of view a %risk is a sensible management option, but from the reputational perspective its tricky.

  84. For all those who think there haven’t been small grants before, check the recent Grassroots Grants evaluation. We only put it out there last week. 19,000 groups received funding in 2.5 years years – 7,000 of these had never received public funds before. It’s a huge testament to a) the need and b) the ability to stimulate local activity with small investments. The range that could be applied for was £250 – £5000, but the average was around £2500. The groups we distribute funds to are registered and unregistered charities and we don’t expect them to grow, if they don’t want to. However, that brings me back to my first point .. when they do want to they need all sorts of support. The evaluation report is here, if anyone needs to use it to make their case or see a gap for funding;

  85. Hello Maya

    I sympathise with your observation about apparent flight from grant funding. I am as excited as anyone by the theoretical possibilities of social investment and the ability of VCS groups to deliver public services better than those who have run them up to now. However, much of this is a million miles away from local people, passionate about a cause, wanting to do good in their area or about the interest they care for. A bit of grant funding can often be the crucial boost to confidence or lubricant to move things from the kitchen table to the centre of the community. The Big Lottery Fund wants to help more of this to happen. So please tell us if and how we might do it better.

  86. I agree absolutely with the importance of small grants – provided these are not ‘ strategically over-egged’ (so to speak). That idea that in the 1990s/early 2000′s seed-corn grant could lead to sustainable and growing community organisations was never really the case.

  87. Just wanted to pick up on Debbie’s point about risk and proportionality. I absolutely agree that by involving people locally then the risk tends to get managed – people know what is going on. However, we have managed 1000s of grants – and in case anyone didn’t realise, CDF was a public body from 1967 – 2011, like Big Lottery is. We have been handling public money and distributing it with proportional requirements (basically because most of our staff have been at the sharp end in the community and know how to balance it) for years. It can be done. And yes, there have been instances of fraud, misuse, reputation management but these have been miniscule in the context of the £millions of funds we have distributed. To give some idea we distributed over £80m a year in public money between 2008 – 2011. Most of it in small grants.

  88. aaaahhgggg this isn’t about money!!! It’s about the role of voluntary action in a democratic society (one that is fast becoming less democratic). It’s also about equality, social justice, redistribution of wealth, civil liberties and, in relation to all those…. who side are you on?

  89. Hi Debbie – yes localising the intelligence has a logic, though there’s also the question of balance between cash spent administering assessment and decision making on the one hand and cash to fund the good cause activity itself on the other. Government is requiring us to reduce “overheads” to 5% of what we distribute.

  90. Another issue of concern to Oxfam – in our UK poverty work – is the extent to which the localism agenda is geographically focused – with no regard to the importance of communities of interest- so BME women’s groups are being pushed further and further off the Radar – how can independent funders redress this problem with government funding

  91. Peter – happy to have an off-line discussion to contribute any experience I can from a small funder contrasted dto BIG.

    Andy. Yes! Useful to think for BtR of funding as the petrol, not the car…

  92. Picking up on Andy’s point about voluntary action being about change etc and not just the money. A real issue we are hitting in the BTR work can be put into the shorthand of places, spaces, faces and time. The closure of places where people can meet. The closure or colonisation of (neutral) spaces where different people/groups can come together. The faces (or people) that can make this happen are fewer between. And all of this takes time – something not recognised in the Localism Ast etc – and all of which impacts on community/group advocacy – to the detriment of democracy.

    A second ‘trend’ in ‘reconfiguration’ we are noticing is even active groups disengaging from the whole debate – the language etc is too remote and bears little resemblance to lived experience.

  93. Andy, I agree it isn’t about money – but perhaps I have been too subtle whilst trying to be helpful about potential sources!. This is about repackaging what is happening to reflect a very difficult environment and change in politics. If BtR groups could be supported to see that their activities should actually be valued as part of the shifting services picture (personalistion / user led / holistic community approach), if they realised that they have an active role (co-production instead of passive grant recipient), if national funders demonstrated that the level of risk vs value of investing locally was valid, then there would be investment.

  94. To pick up on Julie’s point about localism and empowered communities – every time I hear the rhetoric of localism and devolving power to the lowest level I think of High Speed 2 Rail Link. 92 local protest groups – so localism in action, but…….

  95. Julies point – perhaps that is an unintended consequence, communities of interest and specialist support services losing out in the drive to geographical localismf

  96. Julie. Communities of interest and lack of focus on them is a real concern, I agree. It might be worth contacting the OCS strategic advisors. Voice4Change has been doing work in this area as well.

  97. gotta go I’m afraid – actually to a meeting in Hackney to discuss how local groups can resist the pressures of council commissioning that are opening the door to outside national predatory corporate voluntary agencies (in this case POhWER and Voicability if anyonme is interested) sniffing around to pick up erstwhile local grants, and closing down the established local agencies in the process. This is the reality of lifeon the ground right now and it’s a crying shame.

    keep on keeping on,


  98. I agree with Julie’s comments regarding the problem of Localism and the emphasis upon geography rather than communities of interest. Many of our (the Women’s Resource Centre’s) members who are BME women’s organisations are not being commissioned at a local level or severely impacted by reductions in funding. Localism also does not acknowledge that issues such as Violence Against Women and Girls aren’t contained within geographical boundaries. For example, when a women experiences violence in one area she seeks support in another, thus women’s service need to funded on a regional basis to ensure comprehensive support is available.

  99. Peter – we will read with interest the BLF paper on infrastructure support and respond to the consultation. Changes to this sector have been fast and furious – so how do we expect BtR groups to access/keep up to date – many have no or very few staff and need proactive outreach. Oxfam is not an infrastructure support organisation in the traditional model but we do work to support BtR groups – especially on voice and policy/advocacy work – and of course really struggle to get our own work funded.

  100. We really must stop the cycle of having to re-establish the important idea of the beneficial relationship between public sector services and community sector services.

    BtR groups deliver arguably most of the community sector services while the part of the voluntary sector that delivers public sector services have been busily engaged in such argumnents that include comparable management compensation packages with the private sector and the unattainable utopia of a level playing field while begging for mercy having signed bad contracts.

    In these circumstances, we still find ourselves arguing about the role of grants and contracts. after some 15 years.

  101. Angus … I have looked at the exam question ‘the unintended consequences of voluntary sector reconfiguration’ and I guess that is what I am trying to say. There are ways in which the voluntary sector can reconfigure what it is about to reflect the environment. This isn’t just about fitting into a new political dimension … I think this is a general direction of travel over the next few years … the value of local action is pretty much undisputed. It isn’t something that is just ‘nice’ if it happens – it is essential to community wellbeing etc.

  102. I agree that there needs to be certain requirements about evaluating how the money has been spent and maybe this could be given in simple English.
    I do feel that so much information is being asked even at the first staging of a Lottery grant application (apart from Awards for All). These take a long time to complete, provide a lot of stress and then it seems very quick to throw it away with an unsuccessful letter.
    I think that a consequence of these sort of difficult applications may cause smaller charities and community organisations to collapse leading to a downward spiral within communities where these services would be no longer met.
    On the point about micro grants, I think these are helpful to some very small organisations and every little does mount up. I think that all funds are useful but the larger ones are the ones that will keep organisations from closing.

  103. Thanks for the link Rebecca – as TSRC Below the radar will be bringing out a paper soon which includes material on the impact of change on the equalities agenda

  104. Alison. I agree about the essential role of local action. Do people think the “value” clause currently being debated will have a real impact on how contracts are let?

  105. Angus – great on the paper on change and equalities. Oxfam has just finished the Law into Practice project across UK looking at how VCS can use Equalities Act to support their work – and the answer is that many small groups working on equalities issues are closing down due to lack of any funding

  106. Happy to help Angus, that’s great- I look forward to reading TSRC’s paper. I think there’s definitely a need for more analysis from an equalities perspective.

  107. Hello Julie

    I don’t think we can or should expect BtR groups to keep up with this debate. They’ve got better things to do with their time. I think the onus needs to be on us proactively to seek out their perspective and understand the implications and consequences of actions that might impinge negatively on their ability to add value, in the way this research has been attempting to do.

  108. Another issue we have come across is that local authorities are cutting spending so much that their capacity to consult with smaller BtR groups is diminishing – so it is not only money and income being affected – their Voice and access to decision making is being undermined

  109. Thank you Peter! I was wondering whether a transcript for this discussion will be avaliable? There is a lot going on and I would like to read through it properly another time.

  110. The discussion will remain on this site until the summer. And we are planning to produce a report analysing the conent of the webinar discussions we have been having over the past 6 months.

  111. Peter – I absolutely agree that the onus is on us to reach out to BtR groups. My point was that resource for this outreach whether from the bigger strategic voluntary sector, or the infrastructure support groups is increasingly difficult to access.

  112. Thanks Anna. I see the risk you describe. Larger sums of money require proportionately larger evidence of impact, given the competition for funds. We are trying to make the initial filter for accessing funding lighter touch and focused on the quality of the idea and outcome to be secured, rather than lots of other stuff, so that people are only put to more detailed work when there’s a decent chance of success. Always open to ideas and examples of excellent practice from elsewhere though.

  113. Odd thing. Before equality legislation, there was a strong civil rights movement in existence and then there was an overdependence on the various equality commissions and legislation.

    Same observation for BtR mainstream community groups placed in their own context.

    So back to basics?

  114. Bit concerned about this emphasis on ‘value’ – especially if it simply becomes cost benefit type analysis (which most service evaluation seems to be at the moment). How/can you for example place a ‘value’ on the Occupy Movement to use but one example – and is there a real danger potentially in the current climate (and in some of this debate) that when it comes to BTR groups the Government gets (Substantial) Social Return on (Virtually No) Investment?

  115. Btw, in the hope that Andy comes back to the discussion later, I agree entirely about the predatory nature of organisations that don’t have the same local knowledge muscling in. It’s happening both locally and nationally. And unfortunately in spite of communication that social value is important, the reality is that contracts to deliver (dare I say, money and support locally) are explicitly judged on management fee, not complexity or support needs. It is incumbent on national organisations to shout about this as well as helping small local groups to. CDF has lost several tenders where we have scored extremely highly on our knowledge and expertise, only to be knocked out on cost where the score is also weighted. Does this sound familiar? And there are impossible fee caps, well below the figure Peter mentioned earlier. This means the organisations who have demonstrated their ability to work with the BtR get knocked out of the game. The unintended consequence is, of course, that the programmes will possibly not reach the groups that need it the most. There is no money for support to BtR groups at all, which we all know is absolutely critical with all small groups – for us this is as simple as being able to provide a member of staff to be available to answer questions, provide support and signpost.

  116. I think it is also a doubled edged sword, smaller BtR groups also have limited capacity to engage in decision making. Our membership is mainly comprised of small grass roots women’s organisations and they are reporting that they are struggling to continue-let alone have the capacity to engage with decision makers, or make the case for what they do. I think that funding for capacity building and one to one support is essential to ensure that can survive and to build partnerships which can help respond to the changing landscape

  117. Parish/town planning has valuable information of a communities assets and proof of community engagement. Funding these communities to enable action plans to begin, would have very positive and quick outcomes.

  118. A quick comment on the added value of small grants – Oxfam gave £3K to Westwood and Coldhurst Women’s Association to pay their rent at a time of immediate cash flow squeeze – but also de-moralisation. This had huge positivie knock on impact which was little to do with their rent – all to do about trust in them, and self-belief. They went on to get a good grant from BLF. Core lesson: flexible and FAST funding was crucial for them. Added package of training, mentoring and media training added to value of grant.

  119. Agreed Rebecca – but maybe something more than/different to (formal) partnerships? The importance of building strong and new forms of alliances? Some interesting stuff happening here between tenants and residents groups and young people (not historically natural allies) around the impact of changed to Local Housing Allowance and Wefare Benefits

  120. Peter, hope this doesn’t sound like self-publicity, but CDF was the winner of the Directory of Social Change Great Grant Giving Funders award in December last year, for all the reasons you mention above. Public voted on it :-)

  121. Alison. I think there’s a real issue of the large national service providers displacing small local ones with expert knowledge – and in the case of Suffolk Council’s drug project I see that Nick Hurd agreed. Clearly there’s a balance to be struck and as has been covered here already, many small orgs dont[ have the capacity or desire to compete for services. But we need to guard against loss leading contracts being brought in, strangling local orgs iwth expert knowledge and then sweeping up. Commissioners shoudl be alert to cost bases being too good to be true.

  122. I am sorry but I have come into this a bit late and have not had time to keep up with the discussions so I apologise if these points have been made already. One of my main gripes as founder of a domestic violence support agency using volunteers and chair of a local vol/community sector support agency are:
    Lack of real funding to support grass roots volunteering – we are a small organisation with some 30 volunteers, 20 who are actively helping us to improve the organisation as well as acting as mentors for victims of DV. We are in danger of losing them all for lack of funding – so much for the Big Society.
    It also seems that if you are a cash rich organisation you can pay for high level help from organisations with major contacts in the funding and philanthropy fields which I think puts less well off organisations at a disadvantage when they are the ones that probably need the greatest help to me more competitive and self-sustaining

  123. Julie. the Oxfam programme seems from whwat I’ve heard to be a really good example of a local expert funder which knows its groups intimately being able to take managed risks and make rapid decisions to help a whole sector. I’m sure there is a lot that other larger funders can learn from your experience.

  124. Hi Angus, I completely agree. I think there is lots of room for innovation in the partnerships and alliances formed. Even in WRC’s former work around the Localism Bill/Act, we were in talks with orgs such as Friends of the Earth regarding the limits of a localised approach. I think there are a lot of synergies in the work being doing done by grass roots organisations and across their communities generally, I think there is definitely a role for infrastructure to develop work this.

  125. Good point made by Debbie on cost cutting – in some ways this has also moved on. I can think of places where local addiction agencies have been undercut – only for the new/bigger provider being unable to meet contractual requirements and losing the contract fairly rapidly. So much for continuity of care.

  126. Losing the thread a little here, but to try and sum given this is continual assessment, Angus (!): yes, support (infrastructure or whatever you might want to call it) is disappearing nationally and locally. Nationally for those supporting groups (okay, through funding programmes) because there is absolutely no slack to provide this essential support; locally because the types of posts that might have been able to do this have disappeared in huge numbers (something we are finding on the Community First programme) and because of the requirement for infrastructure orgs to look across their patch.

  127. A closing remark Razia – apart from my typing finger hurts. Its always dangerous to predict the future in the voluntary and community sector. Think of the rhetoric and worry in 1945 when the welfare state would wipe out voluntary action! However, I do think we are, and will be, living in a period (for some time) where the relationship between the state and citizens will change profoundly. If I’m right (not common) the real question will be where is the voluntary sector and community activity/action in that reconfiguration?

  128. Summing up such a varied discussion is a real challenge! There’s an understandable gravitational pull towards discussion of lack of funding, but we covered a lot of issues relating to the importance of the BtR sector, as well as touching on unintended (or as the cynics among discussants suggested, intended) consequences such as loss of advocacy and the risks to local organisaitons with specialist skills. There’s a clear need for continued grant-making and I found the discussion about micro and local grants particularly interesting.

  129. Debbie – yes the value element is really, really problematic. I have a slight allergy to Social Return on Investment – too complicated for most organisations and certainly for BtR groups. Certainly public servants(central and local) really struggle to grasp this. And I have sympathy for them – if you are being told that your body has to save money then the easiest thing to do is to look at the immediate figures. I believe in having to cut information in different ways – some people like pictures, some like stories etc., but most in the public sector like numbers, because these are easy to pick up and communicate quickly. Small local groups are not sophisticated enough to do the number-crunching (and nor should they be). So, back to my earlier points – how do we nationally start to communicate the value of local action in a way that can be communicated effectively?

  130. Interesting debate. Thanks for hosting. Worth doing although a little frustrating not to be able to follow threads very easily – especially early on when it was moving very fast.

  131. We will be launching a Community Voice panel in the near future – as an opinion poll – and I would love it we could get some really focused discussion on some of the points here. Open to discussions with others if it would be of use as commissioned research.

    This discussion has certainly focused my mind – thanks for inviting me TSRC

  132. Thank you to everyone who joined us, and thank you to the panel for participating in the discussion. You can continue to add comments, but the discussion will no longer be ‘live’ in real time.

  133. I agree with Debbie’s closing comments regarding the need for continued grants making but realistically we also need capacity building support to help small BtR organisations to engage in commissioning (as this is the way things are going). I would also add that the equalities impact of the changes need to be analysed and specialist infrastructure support, particularly on issues such as gender, funded to ensure that these brilliant BtR organisations continue. There is room for exciting new work around partnerships and alliances but also more work on supporting and empowering specialist organisations and ensuring their survival. Without this the face of the voluntary sector will change irreversibly and specialist expertise and essential community work around equalities will be permanently lost.

  134. Thanks everyone – plenty to reflect on. Agree debate was more difficult to follow than if we’d all been sat in a room! Best wishes. Peter

  135. The specialists and infrastructure have had both time and funding but the resuts have been disappointing in many if not most instances.

    Perhaps it is not a case for their disappearance but a case for a clearout.

  136. “The specialists and infrastructure have had both time and funding but the resuts have been disappointing in many if not most instances.”

    What would success have looked like?

  137. 1. I think non infrastructure orgs have a lot to offer BtR groups (the national trust in my case) in terms of networking, support, physical tools, knowledge exchange etc that mainstream infrastructure cannot and does not offer.

    2. Reducing costs is as important as giving grants. How can we reduce the need for £10,000 but make it much much easier to have £300 and loads of help?

    3. Lastly I’m a big fan of micro-grants. We tried to do £50 prepaid credit cards as participatory budgeting for our local authority – instead the councillors got scared and we ended up with a bog standard small grants programme that attracts the same groups doing the same thing – and then disappointment from them about the lack of innovation.. I appreciate major funders like those here can’t do it, but giving circles may do if we use money existing in the system differently I think BtR can meet the challenges of independence, autonomy, activism & dissent that andy benson rightly points out..

  138. I had to dip out about half way through just as I was getting my head round the many and somewhat confusing threads. I hope the following information is useful.
    Funding – Grassroots was the most acccessible and flexible grant scheme I’ve seen for a number of years. No obsession with innovative new projects or meeting a central perception of local priorities or need. Small local groups who had no other route to funding were rewarded. More of the same please. Currently our local authority grant schemes look less transparent as they are subject to greater political control (the removal of the predetermination rule doesn’t bode well).
    Localism – If this means locally controlled cross thematic budgets with local service design and management then this is positive – particularly for small local groups. In practice it doesn’t. Small local groups, including older people’s lunch clubs, are being asked to become approved providers (electronically) then money is allocated by a statutory run local hub with little or no participation by local people. Larger organisations register once then approach the local hub (they have the time and capacity). There is a far greater emphasis on geography. The biggest losers (for geographical reasons) are communities of interest and specialist service providers who need numbers to demonstrate need. The biggest losers (for governance and procedural reasons) are independent local groups who are not IT literate and are suddenly confronted with a mountain of bureaucracy. Liability is shifting from the Statutory to the Voluntary sector.
    Commissioning – Is becoming generic. Procurement exercises arrive on the next available desk. Specialist commissioners who knew their local markets and subject have disappeared. This works against small groups. The local statutory authority no longer perceives itself as a service provider, where possible services will be procured. Inevitably larger groups skilled at tendering mop these up. Inevitably the services provided will be to a specification based on an outside perception rather than actual local need. Infrastructure support – Yes this does vary in quality. I work for an infrastructure support organisation for which I make no apology. There are good ones and there are bad ones. It’s very simple, support the good ones, but don’t make the customary mistake of assuming that merger and rationalisation is the answer. That merely dilutes the good work of the good ones. Good ones will support small local groups as a priority and provide quality. Bad ones won’t. Charging will disadvantage smaller groups. As infrastructure organisations search for income they are bound to dilute their attachment and support to a locality. Small local groups make up and take up the vast majority of my time. It is an investment worth making – they are flexible, hard to pigeonhole (a strength not a weakness) and respond directly to actual rather than perceived community needs. They do need support. Funding is the primary issue with governance being the major hurdle. You either soften the governance requirements for funding or provide support to the group to develop their governance. That Ugandan Women’s group that looks like a knit and natter session and textiles project on a Tuesday and Thursday is actually a mutual support group for refugees who have suffered extreme trauma. To survive they need the governance and language skills to articulate that in a funding application and someone to submit that application to. Start with the group and work up – don’t design a system and work down. Talk to the groups. They’re not hard to reach. They’re on every street corner and in every community centre.

  139. Hello everyone. I am sorry I was not able to join in the ‘live’ debate. My name is Pauline Whitehead and I am the clerk to Cranleigh Parish Council. I am trying to ascertain if there are an Below the Radar groups in Cranleigh and what they can offer the ‘Big Society’ as part of my dissertation for a degree in Community Engagement and Governance, and as a ‘tool’ for working with my community in my role as Parish Clerk. I appreciate that I’m perhaps coming at this topic from ‘the dark side’ as I am looking at it from the view of the local parish council, but I think that Town and Parish Councils (T&PCs) will become extremely important in helping communities to provide services for their communities in the future. T&PCs are the only tier of government that can actually raise local taxes to provide the services that their communities need. T&PCs have local knowledge and can forge partnerships with BTR groups to promote finding solutions….the ‘Vicar of Dibley’ image of Town and Parish Councils is a gross misrepresentation of the tier of government which is closest to the community and to the councillors who have been elected to and who want to make a difference.

  140. Having re read, perhaps I need to add that T&PCs are more proactive and better equipped now than ever before to work with community groups and to think more inventively about making a real difference. It can be simply suggesting or providing venues for meetings or activities. It can be putting key people in touch with each other. Do voluntary groups actively engage with their T&PCs? Are there more problems in unparished areas where councillors are more remote?

  141. Interesting questions Pauline – and I’m not sure that there is an easy answer as the picture is pretty uneven. The key perhaps is the combination between a local authority (from Town and parish Councils through to Unitaries) that are serious about community engagement and communities with a history of activity/activism.

  142. The sustainable success of seven years of plenty is found in the preparedness for a period of lean.

  143. Pingback: Using social media for knowledge exchange Beyond the Radar | Beyond the Radar

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