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Responding to the Ebola outbreak

24 February 2015

In August 2014 the President of Sierra Leone declared a state of national emergency as a result of the Ebola outbreak which had also spread to Guinea and Liberia.

Projects awarded funds under the International Communities programme were being severely disrupted and it was clear the outbreak was impacting on their delivery and finances.

Prince Tommy talks with a quarantined woman.

Prince Tommy talks with a quarantined woman.

In October the Big Lottery Fund decided to support these projects giving those affected the option of applying for up to 10% of their original grant. So far seven projects have received this top-up funding amounting to £276,000 in total.

Lifeline Network International used its top-up grant to carry out Ebola awareness-raising, education and prevention work in Wellington and East Freetown, Sierra Leone. They received £407,988 from the Big Lottery Fund in 2012 for a five year project to support young jobless adults.

When civil war in Sierra Leone ended in 2001, much attention was given to restoring education and training the 10,000 child soldiers. However there was a hidden group of children, who didn’t fight but whose lives and education have been drastically disrupted. The project has been helping support these young adults to find employment, or set up small businesses and cooperatives, but the Ebola outbreak put this work in jeopardy.

Jamie Singleton, Development Director at Lifeline Network International said: “In our first interaction with beneficiaries we were shocked that even educated people questioned whether Ebola was real.

“In early July, Prince Tommy, the Deputy Director of our local partner Lifeline Nehemiah Projects (LNP), was in hospital for malaria treatment when another patient on the ward fell from their bed and started to bleed out. The medical staff wouldn’t treat him, suspecting Ebola, and other patients fled the ward. A few hours later the hospital was in chaos with family members coming to collect their relatives. This fear was heightened by inaccurate information as to how the disease could be transmitted and significant gaps in people’s knowledge which allowed it to spread.”

“As Ebola spread through Freetown, it became particularly prevalent where LNP is based. On a daily basis people were dying within a stone’s throw from the LNP.”

Phillip Cole

Phillip Cole

Philip Cole, LNP Executive Director, spent months on the ground in Freetown battling against the virus.

He said: “People were dying left right and centre. They were hiding dead bodies in their houses – but that’s exactly when the virus is most contagious. We toured communities educating the public about the dangers of the virus. We run a home for boys, set up by my father as a shelter for child soldiers. As the virus spread it reached about five minutes away from where the home is – suddenly people all around were dying. We started taking in Ebola orphans too.”

Jamie Singleton continued: “Instead of pulling up the drawbridge, LNP reacted by interacting with the community.

“LNP designed their own complementary Ebola awareness-raising programme and started presenting in communities, responding to unanswered questions and busting some myths.

“By using videos about Ebola, stories of survivors and performing dramas, we have tried to empower people to identify symptoms and know how to keep safe and hopeful. One young man admitted that before the presentation he didn’t believe Ebola was real. Since January the team have been going door to door, which helped them get a clear idea of the community’s understanding of the disease.

“After our initial Ebola education work, the Big Lottery Fund awarded £41,000 to expand the awareness-raising programme. Before the funding we had reached 3,000 people over three months. After the award, 18,000 were reached in one month alone. The figure currently stands at more than 36,700.

“Without the grant we wouldn’t have a team who we could respond to Ebola or the level of profile and trust with the community through our vocational training project.

“LNI and LNP have looked to respond to this current crisis but have never taken their eyes off the future because there is life post-Ebola which will be filled with other opportunities and challenges. We are committed to rebuilding Sierra Leone for the long term.”

Cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone are now falling and the government is planning this month to reopen schools which have been closed for eight months.

Ebola outbreak top-up grants to date

Action on Poverty – Sierra Leone – £49,937
Act On It – Sierra Leone – £10,134
Concern Universal – Guinea – £50,000
Health Limited – Sierra Leone – £48,583
Lifeline Network – Sierra Leone – £40,786
Plan International – Sierra Leone – £49,923
Ycare – Liberia – £26,595

Funders’ collaboration forms an exciting approach to Early Action

23 February 2015

In this blog Dawn Austwick tells us about how UK funders’ are working together to pilot the Early Action Neighbourhood Fund (EANF). Launched last week the Big Lottery Fund, alongside the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and Comic Relief are investing £5.3m in three projects that put early action at the heart of their approach – supporting people to be ready to face future challenges.

Dawn Austwick

Dawn Austwick

This is an exciting moment, building on 12 months’ work amongst funders to design a targeted programme to provide evidence for the value of early action and prevention. David Robinson, co-founder of the Early Action Taskforce, believes it is better to build fences at the top of the cliff rather than running ambulances at the bottom and I completely agree. As a group of funders we noted that we fund about twice the number of crisis management projects as those focussed on early action. This discovery led to a desire to build an evidence base that could inform the choices we make, and ultimately increase the impact of our funding.


So what are we funding? The three projects all aim to make people’s lives better, but in very different ways. Changing Futures in Hartlepool is the very definition of early action. Starting life as a group of parents and young children who got together to meet up and socialise, the project has now grown into an organisation that helps children and families across the Tees Valley through a range of services and the EANF support will help them continue the good work.

For young people further along life’s journey there is the Mancroft Advice Centre in Norwich, which will work with three schools to improve education, employment or training opportunities in the local area and help young people who may be getting left behind to get back on the right track.

Finally, the Coventry Law Centre focuses on how the legal process affects the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of the local community. Their Ignite project will help people in Coventry to resolve their own problems by building legal knowledge, confidence and skills that they will be able to rely on throughout their lives.

Three ambitious projects which will make a real difference to people in their local communities. But our collective aspirations for the EANF are wider – we want the learning and experience from these projects to help develop improved practice around early action and prevention right across the UK. It’s an opportunity to back people who are trying to move “upstream” towards prevention.

In 2011, the Early Action Funders Alliance was founded by nine funders, working with David Robinson’s Early Action Task Force. Together, the proposals for the EANF have been developed, drawing in learning and experience from all the partners, we have all been exploring this area. Early intervention and prevention are not new areas for the EANF partners – for example the Big Lottery Fund’s £25m Realising Ambition programme supports 25 interventions aimed at preventing children and young people from entering the criminal justice system while Improving Futures helps families with young children that are struggling to cope with a range of problems such as poor health, unemployment or housing problems.

One Improving Futures family to benefit from this early action approach lives in Hertfordshire. Two of their three children were experiencing significant emotional problems, for example refusing to speak. One Herts, One Family worked with her family, all three of the children began taking part in play therapy while their parents participated in a parenting course. They have been on days out together and now spend more time together as a family group.

So early action theory improves people’s lives in real time. Sometimes it feels like common sense when you strip away the ‘funder speak.’ Perhaps it is, but if it helps and we can work out between us all what works best then we will have provided a little bit of added value along the way.

Understanding what makes the difference for vulnerable families

19 February 2015

In this blog, James Ronicle, Senior Research Manager from Ecorys UK, discusses lessons learnt from the Making a Difference for Vulnerable Families: Evidence into Policy and Practice event, which was partly funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

Delegates at the Making a Difference for Vulnerable Families event

Delegates at the event

In my last blog I highlighted the work Big Lottery Fund, and others, are doing to help vulnerable families. I also looked at how do we know what works? And once these programmes have finished, what should we expand on?

We held an event to bring together practitioners, researches and policy-makers to answer these questions. It was hosted by Ecorys UK, Big Lottery Fund, University of Nottingham, Parenting UK and Ipsos MORI

Some of the great speakers, who are leading the way in this area, included:
Naomi Eisenstadt, describing the biggest challenges facing vulnerable families.
• James Ronicle from Ecorys UK, discussing the latest evaluation from the Big Lottery Fund’s Improving Futures programme.
• Miriam Minty from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), providing an update on the government’s Troubled Families programme.
Saul Becker, raising people’s awareness of young carers.

On the day projects had the chance to showcase their work to delegates.

Four main ideas arose from the day:

1. It’s all about love and money
Naomi Eisenstadt summarised that the key drivers for achieving change within families are “love and money – the key risk on everything is not having a job, not having money – and the key protector on everything is having friends and family”.

2. Vulnerable families’ lives are complex, and there is large degree of unmet need
Research presented on the day highlighted the range and complexity of help still needed. As work with families in adversity has gathered pace so we have started to understand the scale of the problems facing families and the challenge in making a lasting change.

3. Relationships are key
Building respectful relationships was key to many of the approaches discussed. Listening to families, involving them in planning their services and respecting their strengths while understanding their needs were a common theme. Research highlighted how the key worker role was vital in achieving this – coordinating all their support, helping them gain access to other services and acting as an advocate for the family.

4. A lot has been achieved, but more needs to be done
Research highlighted the positive change that has been achieved within families, including better wellbeing, closer relationships, improved parenting skills and increased school attendance. However, a common message of the day was that less progress had been made in other areas, especially in supporting mental health problems.

There is much still to learn, but the day made an important contribution to ensuring knowledge and best practice is shared and developed.

The event learning booklet includes videos of the keynote speakers and slides from the workshops.

Involving the public: it’s not a question of how? It’s a question of why?

18 February 2015

Simon Burall, Director at Involve, shares his thoughts after attending a round table discussion at the Big Lottery Fund.

The Big Lottery Fund wants to be able to fund worthwhile projects in every community in the UK. However, like any big, national organisation, it finds it hard to be connected to enough people from the UK’s diverse communities.Simon Burrel

I went to their recent roundtable that aimed to tackle this challenge head-on by asking, ‘How can we involve the public in decisions about Lottery funding?’ The discussion, which ranged across a lot of issues, was useful because it brought together people I’d never met or heard of before.

For example, we heard about Crowdfunder, which is using the power of the internet to connect different networks, to help thousands of community projects raise funds from funders they could never access alone.

Livity drew on their work to highlight the importance of going to communities and engaging on their terms rather than designing the purpose and structure of the engagement on your own terms.

While all the examples we talked about were inspiring, they also highlighted the danger of starting with the ‘how to involve’ question; it can lead you to focus on process before you’ve got some of the basics right. This led a number of us in the group to start exploring the question of why the Big Lottery Fund might want to involve the public. We identified a number of different reasons, not all mutually exclusive. For example, does the Big Lottery Fund want to involve the public in order to:

  • Be held more accountable to those who buy tickets?
  • Identify new ideas and requests for funding?
  • Make better connections to communities it can’t reach?
  • Get public input into funding guidelines?
  • Hear more authentic stories about the impact that Lottery funding can have?

As the discussion developed it was clear the Big Lottery Fund is concerned about digital exclusion and finding ways to reach out more widely, to scale-up, particularly to communities that it currently doesn’t fund but probably should.

The discussion helped me to clarify a switch in perspective I’ve been making over the past year, particularly as we develop NHS Citizen for the Board of NHS England. I’m beginning to learn that reaching out to communities that are rarely involved requires a switch in mindset towards understanding and working through networks. Who is in your network? Who are they connected to? What might motivate them to bring their networks into conversations that you want to have? How might they help you access conversations that their networks are having?

The discussion provided far more questions than simple answers, and I thought it was a good sign that the Big Lottery Fund is willing to think about them with a diverse range of people openly and honestly. It’s the first step towards engaging with the public and communities in a more authentic way.

Village SOS – A Beginner’s Guide

3 February 2015

Chris Cowcher, the new Community Manager for Village SOS (VSOS),‘How-to-create-a-sustainable-community-enterprise-book’ discusses the campaign’s new focus and how your project can get involved. 

Let me introduce myself. My name is Chris and I’ve just started as the new Community Manager for Village SOS (VSOS) working for Action with Communities in Rural England.

We are relaunching the VSOS campaign and this time round the sole focus is on promoting and linking up like-minded projects so they can learn from each other’s experiences.

I’m really excited about being involved with the campaign as I’ve had the pleasure of working with community projects in the past, through my roles at Gloucestershire Rural Community Council and South Gloucestershire Council and it never fails to amaze me how much is achieved by volunteer community activists.

Are you involved with an innovative or enterprising project in your community? Or have you got an idea for a project you’d like to start? It would be great to have you on board because VSOS is a campaign that focuses on you and is a resource for you to use however you see fit.

We know every community project is different and the idea is that VSOS will guide you through a process of deciding on the next steps that are right for you. You’ll also get support to make progress because it’s about action not just about writing plans. Although not an exhaustive list, through VSOS you may get support related to;

  • Promoting your project better – Have you got a website? How good is it?
  • Raising the money needed to complete an action – What investment opportunities/funds are out there?
  • Community consultation – You’ve got to get people on board locally
  • Becoming more professional – Do you need to refresh or develop a business plan?
  • Considering new activities for your project – It’s always beneficial to get more people involved

At the heart of what we’re doing with VSOS is ‘community-to-community learning’ – it may very well be that one project is put in touch with – or will visit – another to learn how they are doing things. We’ve also got a network of VSOS Mentors, with skills and expertise that could be used as a resource in your action plan.

Go on, get involved – sign up as a member here. You will hear about events and campaign updates, receive a fortnightly e-news feed straight to your email and be sent the Monthly VSOS Campaign Newsletter. All members will also get a copy of the ‘How to Create a Sustainable Community Enterprise’ (pictured).

The Big Music Project Competition

2 February 2015

The Big Music Project is an initiative funded by the Big Lottery Fund, harnessing the power of music to engage 14-24 year olds and help them take their first steps towards a career in the music industry. Tens of thousands of young people have been involved over the past year and The Big Music Project Competition is just one part of it.

The competition final is taking place at The Big Music Project Celebration Event at the Indigo at the O2 on Thursday 19th February. We chatted with Gemma Bradley, one of the finalists, who is in with a chance of winning the opportunity to record at the infamous Abbey Road Studios, along with some other amazing prizes.

Gemma-Bradley-2Gemma, 18 from Draperstown in Northern Ireland, started learning to play the guitar at primary school and says she first realised she wanted to be a musician when she was just nine years old. She soon combined that with her passion for singing and along with support from local organisations she has become the talented artist she is today.

“I have had great backing from Glasgowbury at the Cornstore Creative Hub in my hometown of Draperstown, as well as other brilliant opportunities with the Nerve Centre and Youth Action”, explained Gemma. “I have played at local festivals and entered various competitions, but this is the biggest opportunity I have had so far.”

Speaking about her challenges, she said: “I’d say my biggest challenge in pursuing my music is the lack of performing opportunities in my local area, which is very rural.  I’ve had to really push the boundaries and travel to the cities, and these performances have really built my confidence.”

The Big Music Project is delighted to give Gemma the opportunity to perform at an iconic London venue alongside 12 other talented young performers, in front of a panel of music industry judges. You can find out more about all of the finalists and the competition here.

Improving the future for families with domestic abuse

29 January 2015

In the fourth of our series of Improving Futures blogs, David Taylor, Knowledge Manager at the Big Lottery Fund, discusses the impact on domestic abuse victims in the programme, which recently published its year two evaluation.

Domestic abuse is an issue that has recently affected 17% of Improving Futures participants, with another 7.9% affected within the previous 12 months – making it nearly four times as prevalent as the British Crime Survey’s estimate for the UK.

David-TaylorDomestic abuse damages victims’ long term physical and mental health and appears to be as harmful for children witnessing it as it is for the victims, placing them at increased risk of behavioural problems, emotional trauma and mental health difficulties in adult life.

The Improving Futures projects adopted a whole family, early intervention approach to tackle the issue from multiple angles which also aims to raise each family member’s awareness of how their own circumstances affect other family members.

Specific approaches have included:

  • Tackling Domestic Violence, Belfast, is bringing multiple agencies together by having Women’s Aid workers with Health and Social Care Trust professionals as a Gateway Support Team at a range of locations.
  • Brighter Futures, Wandsworth, runs a 12-week course supporting mothers and their children in separate groups run in parallel. The course is about healing from abuse and safety planning. Outreach workers support people before and after the course as a family.

The projects have also learnt a lot about the most effective approaches for tackling domestic abuse. At a learning event in February 2014, Improving Futures projects identified the following pieces of learning:

►  Use of language can be important, e.g. using ‘application’ rather than ‘referral’, to make families more likely to seek the support services on offer

►  Flexibility of funding is key, e.g. one service offered driving lessons to some women which helped boost their confidence and offered them greater freedom

►  Giving families a sense of empowerment, i.e. supporting them to help themselves once the service is no longer supporting them

►  Power of learning – benefit to families when offered courses that boost confidence, skills, employability and gets them out in the community

►  Safeguarding– social workers were an important element within projects, specifically supporting families experiencing domestic abuse

Across the 26 projects, the Year 2 evaluation report has identified clear improvements for families with domestic abuse. Despite not being a specific aim for most projects, the whole family approach has reduced child harm by domestic violence by 43.4% and adult harm by 29.5%. The Belfast project, with its focus on domestic violence, reduced adult harm from 83% at entry to 43% at exit.

The evaluation shows that the programme has been particularly successful in reducing domestic abuse in lone parent families. The most effective domestic abuse interventions are those that have worked with families for more than 12 months. The evaluation will continue to look at common factors in the most effective approaches for reducing domestic abuse as the programme continues.

More information about this and other aspects of the Improving Futures programme can be found in the year two evaluation report and the executive summary.

You can also visit for the latest information about the programme and findings or contact


Sobar – A Bar without the Booze

26 January 2015

Sobar-Nottingham-2As we enter the last week of January, many of us are struggling to maintain our healthy New Year’s Resolutions. Luckily as this Lottery funded project shows, being healthy doesn’t have to be boring. 

Sobar, in Nottingham, opened last year and is an alternative cafe-bar venue right in the city centre. Run by local drug and alcohol recovery charity Double Impact, it offers great local food and non-alcoholic drinks in a vibrant and welcoming environment. In doing so it also provides employment experience and opportunities to people in recovery to help them find work, a stepping stone back into society.

“We’re trying to ensure we’re using local produce and fresh ingredients,” says James McGregor, the general manager at Sobar. “We do all of our own baking. The freshness of ingredients goes hand in hand with the quality of what we’re trying to achieve.

“The challenge in being alcohol-free is that customers tell us they don’t like Coke or Diet Coke – the standard drinks you get everywhere. So we’ve been exploring other options, even our cordials are quite premium flavours, things like rhubarb and rosehip or blood orange. As soon as you say that it gets people’s interest. It’s about trying to get people to try new things and offer alternatives – most people are pleasantly surprised by that.”

For anyone not passing by Sobar, James has given us a recipe for your own ‘mocktail’. Here’s the Nottingham Punch:

50ml passion fruit juice
50ml guava juice
50ml mango juice
1 teaspoon brown sugar
15ml orgeat (almond syrup)
15ml lime juice

Crushed ice to fill the glass


Put all the ingredients in your cocktail shaker with ice and shake for 10 seconds. Strain over ice into a glass. Garnish with slice or orange, lime or a cherry.


Sobar funding facts:

Double Impact received just over £340,000 from Reaching Communities in 2013 to set up and run Sobar as a social enterprise.

Sobar, Friar Lane, Nottingham, NG1 6DQ




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