Last week, the Public Accounts Committee published their review into the case for shifting government spending to Early Action. This review was something which the Big Lottery Fund, as members of the Early Action Task Force, have been calling for, and we are delighted to see the recommendations which the Committee reached. In this guest blog, England Director Dharmendra Kanani explains why Early Action is so important to our work as a funder.
I strongly welcome the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report published last week in support of Early Action. The report calls for an imaginative response “to the challenge and opportunity of early action and to adopt an integrated, long term, preventative approach to public spending for the benefit of society as a whole.”
This report reflects our own commitment to the Prevention agenda. Two years ago, the Early Action Task Force, a group of experts which we are a funder and founder member of, called for the Public Accounts Committee to carry out this review in the Triple Dividend report (PDF).
Of course there is a need for attention to be given to the immediate needs of vulnerable people, whether that be children damaged by poor upbringings, teenage suicides or tragic cases of elderly people being forgotten and neglected, but how much better would it be if we could address the causes of these problems at an earlier stage?
Our traditional funding programmes, through which we award funding for projects run by community groups and charities to help communities and those in need, remain important. In 2013-14, we expect to hand out over £250 million through these open programmes. But we are also breaking new ground by making long-term investments in new ways to deliver services which support Early Action across England. We are investing over £500 million to tackle some of the most stubborn social problems in the country.
Through our portfolio of funding in England we will aim to improve the outcomes for about 10,000 of the most vulnerable babies and families, supporting them to lead fulfilling lives through our ‘A Better Start’ programme.
Too many young people struggle to find employment. In response we are investing £100 million to support young people into work through our Talent Match programme.
We are committing £100 million to supporting people with multiple and complex needs to become an asset to society rather than a pull on the public purse.
And we are investing £120 million for our ageing population through our Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better initiative to help them to keep contributing to society rather than feel like a burden.
I would again commend this report from the PAC and strongly welcome its arrival. We must continue to focus on early intervention if we are ever going to break cycles of need and find a way to support people to lead strong, fulfilling lives.
Dharmendra Kanani is England Director, Big Lottery Fund
The Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) project received a grant of £11.75 million from the Big Lottery Fund in 2007 to develop a wide range of local and national programmes encouraging people from all backgrounds to get back in touch with nature. Earlier this month OPAL received further funding to extend its work into Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland.
In this guest blog, OPAL’s Sarah West explains more about its Tree Health Survey which comes to a close at the end of September. So far nearly 1,000 people have submitted feedback from hands-on experiments and there’s still time for you to get involved too.
There’s an autumnal feeling in the air with dew on the grass in the mornings, garden spiders appearing everywhere and leaves starting to turn brown.
The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that the leaves on some horse chestnut trees have been brown all summer. If you look at these leaves closely you may see evidence of a fungal disease called leaf-blotch, or leaf-miner, a tiny moth whose caterpillars live between the surfaces of the leaf.
Trees are a vital part of our environment, providing homes for wildlife and cleaning the air we breathe. They also give us shade and shelter and are an important visual aspect of our landscapes in both rural and urban areas. It’s really important, therefore, that we monitor their health.
All across the UK, people have been going out to inspect their local trees, using free resources developed by the OPAL project. We’ve produced a wall-chart and mobile phone app which people have found useful for identifying the tree varieties, and instructions on how to measure a tree’s height using only a piece of paper and a 1m ruler!
Hundreds of people have received training from OPAL Community Scientists in how to do the Tree Health Survey with groups, and nearly 1,000 people have uploaded their results. Many have commented on how useful the resources have been for helping them to look more closely at the trees in their local area, and have enjoyed learning about some of the other organisms they support.
Many of the common pests and diseases affecting trees will not damage the tree significantly, but some are more worrying as they can weaken or even kill the tree. You may have read in the news about some of these serious pests and diseases, such as Chalara Ash dieback, Oak decline, and Oak and Pine Processionary moths, as many people are concerned that they could do significant harm to large numbers of trees.
The good news is that we can all do something to help stop the spread of these pests and diseases: we just need to go out and look for them! You can download your tree health survey pack from the OPAL website and submit your results to us until the end of September.
It’s really important that after you’ve done the survey, you upload your results to the OPAL website or send them back using our free-post address. Even if you didn’t find a pest or disease, this will help us to map the health of trees across Britain and track any future changes. So go on, what are you waiting for?
Sarah West is Community Scientist at OPAL project
What do you think of Sarah’s guest blog? Have you taken part in the Tree Health Survey?
Leave your comments on the blog below or join the conversation on Twitter using #biglf
Today the Big Lottery Fund can announce findings from research into our £160m Well-being programme which aimed to improve the well-being of groups who experience high levels of need.
Projects we have funded have achieved a one third reduction in significant depressive symptoms, physical activity has increased by one third and healthy eating has increased by 17%. In this guest blog, Gillian Halliwell explains how funding has helped her project provide a range of interventions reaching out to vulnerable people.
In 2007 we received £7 million from the Big Lottery Fund for our well-being portfolio in North West England. As a group of healthy living centre managers working independently across the region, it’s an understatement to say that we were delighted.
What started out as the chance to share learning became a fantastic opportunity to work together and improve the health and wellbeing of vulnerable communities. Six years on and having just received another two years’ funding, we’re excited to build on our success.
To date, 80,000 people have benefited from a wide range of interventions such as cookery clubs, bereavement support and exercise programmes. Allotment and growing activities have also been effective in reaching out to those most in need.
Stephen O’Brien, 31, was referred to us by Sefton Alcohol Services. He has been attending our ‘Healthy Beginnings’ project at the May Logan Centre, Liverpool, for the past three years. Since deciding to join the ‘Roots’ gardening initiative he’s never looked back.
“I’d had trouble for years with my health, mainly related to drinking,” says Stephen. “I was referred to the project and now attend the Roots garden group once a week where I pick and grow vegetables. We’ve spent lots of time creating more space to grow things and the work can be very physical so my fitness has really improved.
I eat much better now thanks to cookery sessions I attended. I’ve gone from eating ready meals every night to making my own dishes from scratch a couple of times a week. I’ve also cut down on salt which has reduced my blood pressure and pleased my doctor.
The biggest achievement since attending the project is that I’ve not touched alcohol in a year. I never thought I’d be able to do it but this is the healthiest I’ve been for a while. I’ve made friends and don’t feel isolated anymore. I’m looking forward to my future.”
There are many stories like this from our portfolio as we know the value of hearing first-hand the impact we’ve been having on the lives of the people we engage.
We continue to use this funding to help ensure that we all learn from each other and to understand how best to manage and deliver projects that can make a lasting impact. Following our initial funding we produced an ‘Impact and Insights’ report which can be found on our website www.healthylivingnorthwest.org.
Gillian Halliwell is Wellbeing Portfolio Manager, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council
What do you think of Gillian’s guest blog? Leave you comments below, or join the conversation on Twitter using #biglf.
London Youth’s Volunteer It Yourself (VIY) programme – funded by the Big Lottery Fund and delivered in partnership with Cospa, Wickes, RMT Training and City & Guilds – gives young people the chance to renovate youth clubs and community buildings whilst learning skills from older mentors. In this guest blog, National Youth Partnerships Coordinator, Rachael Bemrose, explains the difference VIY has made to date.
One year into delivering VIY, we’re beginning to see the impact it makes on the young people who volunteer for the programme. And the outcomes aren’t always what you might expect.
Recently I met one VIY graduate, Lucy, who had volunteered at a project refurbishing a community café at the Islington Arts Factory. Lucy got involved because she wanted to develop her DIY skills in order to be self-sufficient as well as wanting something to occupy her time.
After completing VIY, Lucy gained the confidence to bring some of her own drawings to show the arts project manager. They could see Lucy had a talent, and as a result Lucy has attended art classes and hopes to take part in the centre’s Young People’s Exhibition this year.
For many young volunteers VIY has been a springboard to go onto further training, work experience and apprenticeships that they may not have otherwise thought of doing. For example, Kayode has progressed onto a Level 2 apprenticeship, after completing a six-week traineeship that he heard about whilst volunteering as a VIY peer mentor.
VIY sparked his interest in DIY and construction and he volunteered for two projects; in the first he gained accreditations in carpentry and painting which led to him volunteering as a peer mentor on the second project.
So far we have run 15 projects, across London, Birmingham, Nottingham, the Welsh Valleys and rural Gloucestershire. Over 300 young people have taken part, and no two projects are alike, each one is tailored to the young volunteers and the building they refurbish.
Following a busy and exciting summer programme we will continue to expand VIY. We’ll be holding an intensive renovation weekend for 30 young people at an outdoor education centre and working with a mums and babies group in Newport to refresh ‘The Bunker’.
Meanwhile, we’ll support young men in Liverpool as they construct an innovative gazebo-type structure for their centre; and in Swansea, help hearing impaired young people to work with other youth groups in the city.
It’s been a great year so far, and we’re excited to see what the future holds. But there’s one thing we know for sure: if young people are given the right tools to make change in their local communities and their own lives – whether these are physical tools for repair or the support and relationships they’ll build with peers and trusted adults – positive change can be achieved.
Rachael Bemrose is National Youth Partnerships Coordinator at London Youth.
What do you think of Rachael’s guest blog? Have you delivered a project giving young people practical, hands-on skills?
Leave your comments below or join the discussion on Twitter using #biglf.
Last week, we announced improvements to our Reaching Communities England programme, making it more flexible and responsive to people’s ambitions. In his second guest blog, England Director Dharmendra Kanani explains how the changes are part of wider improvements to the way Big Lottery Fund works in England.
One of my primary focuses when I became England Director three years ago was to look at how we could be organised to give us a greater connection between the people and areas most in need and the funding decisions that are made.
I had a vision to create even better networks purposed around impact and influence to improve the chances of people and communities who are most in need but who currently aren’t accessing the Lottery funding that will benefit them. We are now building our new locally focused teams, which will enable us to work more closely and effectively with VCS groups and communities across the country.
This local approach will see us providing advice or support to those who want to apply for our funding from the very beginning of the journey. We will also work with our stakeholders to plan, design and evaluate our investments.
The recent improvements to Reaching Communities is another of the changes that we are putting in place as we further develop our approach to being simpler, faster and better as a funder.
I want to provide greater clarity to organisations submitting applications so they understand upfront the information they need to provide and their chances of getting funding.
We want to reduce as much as we can the critical time spent on applications that for various reasons are unlikely to succeed. Our focus will be on supporting projects with great ideas that are clear about the difference they will make to their direct beneficiaries and the communities they serve.
Also, and importantly, it is about how we can create a single funding platform in the longer term and an approach in England that is more agile, easy to navigate, and enables us to spot emerging needs earlier. My ambitions are that we will be able to support projects that can scale up and share the learning and impact.
I want to be able to shine a torch on great projects so that others can use that learning and guide the development of policy to improve things for the better. Our new structure will enable us to use the vast range of intelligence we gather more effectively to inform policy and practice, both within Big Lottery Fund and beyond.
Voluntary and community groups have received over 90% of our funding so far. It is often these groups that are the closest to communities and people most in need. But we know that it is only by working together with the VCS, public services and business that we can tackle the most entrenched social problems to achieve lasting and significant impact. All of this is underpinned by our philosophy of People Powered Change.
It’s the test we apply to our thinking and approach – people and communities are not a barrier or cause of need, they are the source and strength through which positive social change takes place. It’s quite simple really, and a useful discipline to apply and remember that it’s the folk we fund that bring Lottery funding to life. Our job is to make sure that process is credible, relevant, accountable and shares the learning and impact from the projects we have funded.
Our flagship Reaching Communities programme has recently undergone some improvements. In this blog The Fund’s England Director, Dharmendra Kanani, explains the changes and the reasons behind them.
Each month in England, the Big Lottery Fund awards around £12m through our flagship demand led offer – Reaching Communities. It has become an important vehicle for the voluntary and community sector and the people they support. Whether it’s Teesside, Salford or Brighton – it does ‘what it says on the tin’. By spring 2014, we will have invested £1 billion since 2006 across England – a significant amount straight into the heart of local communities.
Three years ago, when I became England Director, I wanted to ensure that our funding was simple, that it made sense, was easy to access and was underpinned by a clear narrative.
We’ve asked ourselves some searching questions about why our funding takes the shape it does; what processes are necessary and whether we were clear about our purpose and the impact we want to achieve.
As with any change, we focussed on our England narrative before confirming our commitment to demand led funding and our targeted investments such as early years and older people.
For Reaching Communities, I knew from my visits to projects and meeting with sector leaders that it is often seen as too complex, having a low success rate and a demand which far outstripped funds.
So today we are announcing a raft of Reaching Communities improvements responding to your concerns. Building on our learning from our first eight years of Reaching Communities, we will be making the programme more flexible and responsive to ensure the funding stream can meet everyone’s ambitions.
We will say no earlier… We are asking you to set out more in the initial Stage One ideas and concept part of the process so that we can assess early and judge your potential success or otherwise. This will mean we can give you an early answer. We want to ensure the best ideas get through.
Talk to us… Please contact Big Advice early. We want to have a much better view of your ideas, to get a stronger sense of your project so that we can give you the best guidance. This will mean fewer applicants will be invited to submit Stage Two applications, but those that do will have a much greater chance of success.
We’ve also increased the decision making to fortnightly, so projects won’t have to wait as long to hear about their bid. We are placing a greater premium on learning across all of our funding and this includes asking those applying to Reaching Communities to set out more clearly how and what learning and impact will take place throughout the life time of the funding.
No limits… The upper grant limit you can apply for has been removed creating flexibility to support larger projects. The deal is you call us and speak to Big Advice first if you intend to apply for more than £500,000 or have a buildings application.
Importantly, we now offer feasibility funding of up to £10,000 through Awards for All. And we are now supporting buildings projects with grants from £10,000 upwards and offering revenue funding to help new community building projects through the early stages.
Just this month we awarded over £8 million to organisations such as the Enthusiasm Trust, which received just over £227,000k to reduce the risk of offending and social exclusion of young people; and the National Association for People Abused in Childhood with £480,000 to expand its telephone support service. This is what it’s all about.