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Improving Futures – the journey so far

11 October 2016

Today sees the launch of a new evaluation report on Improving Futures– a £31m programme to improve outcomes for children living in families with multiple and complex needs. James Ronicle, Senior Research Manager at Ecorys UK, summarises the main findings from the report.

James Ronicle

James Ronicle

Last year Professor Kate Morris (University of Sheffield) and I traveled to Manchester to meet some of the families involved in Improving Futures.

There are 26 projects across the country, from Portsmouth up to Dundee via Cardiff and Belfast. We spoke to families who had traveled to Manchester from a range of projects. For one parent it was the first time she had been on a plane and the first time she had left her son at home, so it was quite a nerve-wracking affair!

Many of the families we met, and many more supported by the Improving Futures projects, live difficult lives. We have collected data on 4,000 of the families supported (over 7,000 have been supported in total). This shows us that:
• Around three out of five families are headed up by single parents.
• Nearly four out of five receive free school meals – often a sign that a family is struggling to make ends meet.
• Nearly two thirds of the children, all aged under 10, have behavioural difficulties.

So it didn’t come as a surprise to hear about the stress and anxiety some of the parents, and children, experience. But perhaps what is surprising is that many of the families had previously received very little support; they were families that were ‘getting by’. As one parent said to us, “We thought we were normal – it was my normal”.

And this is where the Improving Futures projects have really helped. Many have set up in universal services, such as schools, GP surgeries and children’s centres, and offer the support to these families that they have never had before. This could be parenting advice, emotional support or help in accessing other services that they need.

And our evaluation has found what a difference this has made. The number of families with children with persistent, disruptive and violent behaviour has halved, and the number of families with parenting and anxiety and frustration has fallen by a third.

One family we met described how much value she got from visiting the project and meeting other families in a similar situation to her:

“Sometimes being a parent can be very lonely. Some of these parents – the people they communicate with in the service – are probably the only people they come into contact with. And they go back to their private and lonely living, but they have actually taken away some energy with them…A happy parent makes a happy child. And you look forward to coming back.”


The Improving Futures programme has been set up to run for five years to test approaches to tackling specific issues. Therefore, as the five years are coming to an end, the projects are now making plans for their next steps. Some have already received further funding for some parts of their projects.

The big question for all early intervention projects like these is, to what extent do these changes continue once the support has ended? We have been following over 150 families for 2 years since their support began, and in March next year we can share how they have done over this time. If you’d like to come to the launch of our final report next year to hear more, email us at:

Find out more about Improving Futures.

If you’d like to know more about the Improving Futures programme you can visit the website.

A snapshot of International Day of Older Persons

7 October 2016

At the start of October, people across the world celebrated International Day of Older Persons. Over on the Big Lottery Fund Twitter account we were sharing some of the images of the huge array of activities that were taking place across England.

One group who were very active was our Ageing Better projects. Part of our strategic investments, we have invested £78 million to reduce social isolation, support a good quality of life in older age and promote the benefits of an ageing society.

Below, we go on a whistle-stop tour of England to check in with the projects to see what they got up to.

Down on the Isle of Wight, Age Friendly Island held their second annual ‘Celebrating Age Festival’. The residents spent a day rambling across the island along the River Yar, while Men in Sheds threw open their doors to visitors and Sandown Library delved in to the past with a Family History Drop-In. On Thursday, older people took part in the Celebrating Age Awards event to mark the contribution older people make to the Island.

Ageing Better Middlesborough

Ageing Better Middlesborough

Further north – 131 miles north to be precise – Bristol Ageing Better have revealed the secret to ageing well. Working with local older, the group have created ‘The Little Book of AWE – Ageing Well Everyday’ with tips and information on activities older people can do in Bristol that would boost their wellbeing.

In the capital, Ageing Better Camden are having double the celebration. International Day of Older Persons coincides with the 50th anniversary of Age UK Camden’s resource centre. Throughout October residents can visit a photo exhibition looking back over the last 50 years locally. There are also Get Active yoga and dance classes while the tech fans can try out some gadget clinics.

As part of the work in East Lindsey to combat loneliness and isolation, The T.E.D (Talk, Eat, Drink) in East Lindsey project held a ‘virtual crowd funding’ event to enable the local community to invest in the ideas they think will most benefit older people in the area.

Heading west to Sheffield, and a selfie booth with costumes and props was created by Age Better Sheffield to celebrate older people. Further west to Manchester and the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation have started to shape their work for local older people with the first meeting of their Equalities Board.

In Leeds, Time to Shine Leeds encouraged older LGBT people to come together and participate in a storytelling workshop and have a go at creative writing and storytelling. Meanwhile, following conversations with 200 older people across Leeds, Time to Shine have unveiled their Age-Friendly Charter which people and organisations across Leeds are encouraged to sign up to and take the pledge to make Leeds a better place to grow old in.

Time to Shine launch event 2016, Leeds’ Age-Friendly Charter

Time to Shine Leeds launch their Age-Friendly Charter

And further north again in Middlesbrough, Ageing Better Middlesbrough celebrated their first anniversary with afternoon tea with old acquaintances and new friends at the Dorman’s Museum.

This is just small snapshot of the great work being carried out by projects across the country. To see some more images of what our projects did during International Day of Older Persons, check out our Storify.

Working on …Go-karts, windmills and Vines, oh my!

22 September 2016

In the second of a series on our London Smart Futures’ work placements we hear from eighteen year old Sanjida Akther – the greatest go-kart builder you’ll ever meet!


Day 1: Building go-karts with 9 year olds!

Left to right Sanjida, Abi, Dave, Helen, Baba and fellow Smart Futures' student FatimaMy name’s Sanjida Akther. I am an Ernst & Young Foundation Smart Futures’ student, who was lucky enough to be working at the London offices of the Big Lottery Fund (the Fund).

It’s hard to think that I went to a project visit on the first day. Trust me, when I say it was a ‘fun’ visit I mean it. The day started off with meeting the London Play team at The Childhood Museum. And the day was not just a face-to-face meeting in formal clothing, but turned out to be a ‘get stuck in’ adventure. Where we were building go-karts with the children in Weavers Field Adventure Park. The highlight of this project visit was witnessing the creativity and smiles of the children we were working with.


Day 2: Spammer busting!

Sanjida from behind sitting at a desk working at PC

Hard at work!

A Friday, and my first full day at the Fund, I was given an assignment, where I had to create a report on spammers and research the methods on how to prevent them joining website forums.

By networking, I was able to listen in on staff’s experiences in presenting to large groups. This is the main skill I aim to improve during my experience with both Smart Futures and the Fund.


Day 3: All about comms, and a Vine?

A Tuesday, after the Summer Bank Holiday Monday, I was given presentations on what Comms (communications) and strategic funding are.

I also got to produce a report on how the Fund can use WhatsApp to communicate with their customers. I have learnt that social media is a key communication method which

Two young women holding up bunting

Bunting ready to use!

most organisations use. I have also learnt that having an online personality is key to being effective on social media. The Big Lottery Fund use an enthusiastic and informal tone, they try to use the tone and style of language of the channel or app they are using.

I had an exciting experience in creating a Vine for the ‘Celebrate’ campaign with Farzana. This included creating a fun video of a step-by step guide to creating bunting.


Day 4: Talking youth engagement

Note pad with notes on it and a pen beside it

Don’t forget to take notes!

Wednesday, during a brainstorming session on youth engagement with the Fund’s interns, we shared our own experiences of helping youth. We also discussed the changes between youth ‘back in the day’ and youth now. We talked about the barriers which stop people from participation or carrying out these actions and came up with ideas, that can help encourage and motivate young people in participating more in carrying out social action.

Later in the day I got to help with document design by selecting pictures for case studies in an annual report.


Day 5: Charities, windmills and the end of my experience… for now!

My last day, I’ve been trying to jam-pack my brain with knowledge and facts about the Fund. There’s only a little amount my brain can take until it explodes but it’s worth it. Today I had a look into the charity sector, and helped with a windmill campaign, where I helped a colleague make an Instagram story of making a spinning windmill.

I have had an amazing experience at the Big Lottery Fund, learnt and developed new skills I didn’t think I actually had in me. I have also met many people, and found out their career pathways into the Comms team. It has really widened my aspirations in working with charities and youth. It has also inspired me to look into a career into communications. All thanks to the Big Lottery Fund.


It was great having Sanjida with us this summer. Have you read the story of another of our Smart Futures’ placements Farzana Begum’s day of avoiding chickens and more.

Does your organisation offer work placements? Any stories you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Helping young people find space to create

20 September 2016

In this blog we hear from Ben Colclough, Head of Marketing & Communications for somewhereto_, which helps young people achieve their career ambitions by providing access to free spaces to develop their creative and enterprising projects.

capturesomewhereto_ has been operating with the support of Big Lottery funding for four years, and in that time has found free space for 20,000 young people and engaged with 300,000!

It has been an amazing journey, with some amazing people. Like Amir, who went on to found Your Bike CIC, a social enterprise that turns young people at risk of offending into qualified bicycle mechanics. somewhereto_ found Amir a fantastic space for 12 months when he was setting up the company. He says, ‘The space they offered us was about 1700 square feet. They gave us a an incredible opportunity’. Your Bike has now moved to a permanent space and is fixing more bicycles and training more at risk young people than ever before.

Then there’s people like James, now co-owner of Mous Case, an innovation led company that strives to take the humble phone case and make it perfect. After winning a somewhereto_ startup competition, and receiving mentoring from somewhereto_ staff, James and his colleagues have secured funding, produced their first batch of products and are being stocked in Urban Outfitters and Amazon. James told us, ‘It might seem like a fun idea at the time to use your bedroom as an office but if your business is going to be a success you are setting yourself up for problems. A better idea is to call somewhereto_!’.

somewhereto-blogWe’ve also worked with artists and creatives like Abbie, a trained dancer from Scotland. Since accessing free space Abbie has set up her own dance studio, The Grit. The Grit aims to provide young dancers with the skills and experience they need to progress into professional dance careers. Abbie says ‘Holding performances at somewhereto_ venues enabled the project to hold an intimate sharing of work, giving people a chance to grasp their ambitions’.

It’s been our privilege to work with young people on projects that have had such an impact on their lives and their communities.

For more information, visit 

A cause for celebration

14 September 2016

We hear from Lorna Forrest, senior programme manager: UK programmes, on the latest Celebrate news.tyne-gateway-the-childrens-society-12
In early July we launched Celebrate, a funding programme offering communities the chance to hold one off events or activities which celebrate their local community.

We have been overwhelmed by the popularity of Celebrate. Since it launched we’ve received over 1,300 applications across the UK already.

Due to the huge success we have allocated an extra £4.1 million of funding to give even more local communities the chance to come together and celebrate.

Lorna Forrest

Lorna Forrest

As we enter this final phase of funding; to build a spread of activity, we are going to be prioritising applications in England which will bring together different communities and generations, are people led and from schools and academies.

Each country is taking a slightly different approach to Celebrate, so please check our website for information relevant to the country you are in.

The type of projects we want to support might celebrate something from your local community’s history or a local hero. Or maybe it’s a chance to bring people together to get to know their neighbours better.

The final deadline for all completed Celebrate applications in all countries is noon, Friday 21 October 2016.

Good luck with your application!


Working on The National Lottery Awards, social media and with chickens!

8 September 2016

In the first of a series of blogs from this summer’s London Smart Futures’ work placements at the Big Lottery Fund we hear from eighteen year old Farzana Begum whose first day with us saw her mucking out sheep pens and avoiding chickens!


I am Farzana Begum from the Ernst & Young foundation Smart Futures programme doing a week’s work experience at the Big Lottery Fund (the Fund) and the National Lottery Promotions Unit (NLPU) who promote the good causes funded by the National Lottery.

Spitalfields City Farm – day one

three chickens in a barnOn the first day of my work experience I went on a project visit to Spitalfields City Farm in Whitechapel, East London. This is a Big Lottery Fund funded project and we were able to go and see first-hand how the farm uses their grant. It was incredible to see the impact that the grant has on the farm and also all the work that the farm does with the local community. The farm involves local primary school children by inviting them to come and do some gardening or help with feeding the animals. It also caters to the local community by having produce, fruit and vegetables that are suitable to buy by the local community which is mostly populated by Bengalis. They grow vegetables such as the ‘Kodu’ which originated from Bangladesh. This told me that the farm does think about their local community and provides for them.

Students and Big Lottery Fund staff standing in from of phone box

Work placements and staff, ready to muck out at Spitalfield’s City Farm!


Learning about the National Lottery Promotions Unit (NLPU) – day 2

Before I started at the NLPU, I had no idea how much work went into an awards show (the National Lottery Awards), and now seeing it, made me realise that it isn’t as easy as it looks. Also learning about how many charities that the Lottery funders help and how they are able to get coverage of a specific project in order to let the public know all the good things that National Lottery funding is doing was amazing.


Making a Vine – day 3

Two young women holding up bunting

Bunting ready to use!

The communications team at the Fund are working on promoting Celebrate funding. They want to involve the public by showing them different, yet simple ways in which they can celebrate, in this case making their own bunting. We did this by creating a Vine on bunting making, as Vines are quite easy for people to watch and learn from. I loved making the Vine as it was a new skill that I learned.



Youth engagement and meeting the interns – day 4

I spent most of my day speaking to some of the Fund’s interns, picking their brains on how they got to be interns and any advice they have for us. It was wonderful to speak to people who were in our shoes not that long ago and hear how they got through college and university. It allowed me to realise that you can always change your career path if you don’t want to do it anymore and how important it is to do something you love instead of just settling with a job. We also had a conversation with the interns as they wanted our thoughts and input on how the Fund can engage and attract youth to do more social actions. The fact that they wanted our views made us feel needed and more confident as they actually wanted our thoughts and ideas.


The National Lottery Awards on social media – day 5

I also assisted some of the Fund communications team with social media promotion of their Celebrate funding. I was able to make an Instagram story for the Big Lottery Fund Instagram which I had so much fun with as my creative side came out.

I got to see how the NLPU uses social media to get as much reach as possible for the National Lottery Awards. I learned many new skills whilst working at the NLPU & the Fund. Before this placement I had no idea how many charities in my local area the Lottery funders fund and how many well-known charities they fund, as well as funding so many of our Olympians and Paralympians!.

National Lottery Awards logo with Myleene Klass

So much work goes into an awards event!


It has been an amazing experience and I have learned many skills that I will use in the future. Throughout the whole week I spent a lot of my time networking, finding out what people do and how they got into their current jobs. As I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do at university and as a career, it was eye opening to get different views from different people about what they did and how it opened doors for them. Speaking to so many people allowed me to realise that there are many options and opportunities out there for me and it helped me a lot in the sense that I was able to calm down and not stress out about what I want to do in the future as there are many options for me.

I loved every bit of my placement from actually doing pieces of real work, networking and writing this blog. It has opened my eyes to all the different career paths that there are out there and I would urge anyone who is lucky enough to have the chance to do work experience to go right ahead and do it, as with the Fund and the NLPU it has been the best work experience I have done so far.


You can see the National Lottery Awards on BBC one, watch the trailer.

Smart Futures is run by the Ernst & Young Foundation.

Read more about the Celebrate fund!

Loving food, hating waste

2 September 2016

FoodCycle was recently shortlisted to win the Charity Times ‘Community Award’, which will be announced at the end of September. In this blog, FoodCycle’s Clare Skelton reveals how their From Farm to Fork project is helping to reduce food waste and food poverty, building skills and communities, and even getting people dancing! 

Clare Skelton

Clare Skelton

Food sits at the centre of many parts of our lives: it gives us energy, it nourishes us, it makes us happy (anyone else suffer from ‘hanger’?!), it’s part of our culture and it connects us as human beings. Sadly, millions of tonnes of food is wasted every year in the UK, at the same time as millions of people are going hungry in our towns and cities. From Farm to Fork aims to do something about this.

Run jointly by campaigning organisation Feedback and national charity FoodCycle, From Farm to Fork aims to save food that is going to waste – and put it to good use. Young people across the country go with Feedback to farmers’ fields where they reclaim unharvested fruit and vegetables through an activity called ‘gleaning’. They save fruit and vegetables which are rejected because they don’t meet supermarkets’ strict rules. These vegetables might be a bit wonky or misshapen, but they are still perfectly good to eat.

Across the country Foodcycle volunteers then cook the reclaimed fruit and vegetables into tasty, healthy three-course meals which are served to homeless people, older people and refugees. Everyone sits down to share the meal together, and to enjoy a good chat about everything from the weather to politics to football!

Making a difference

Brassica-gleaning-8By the middle of the summer, seven gleaning days across the country saved over 5 tonnes of fresh produce from going to waste. Over 700 young people had registered as new FoodCycle volunteers and the charity had opened seven new projects in Peterborough, Birmingham, Exeter, County Durham and three in London. Volunteers at FoodCycle served over 16,000 community meals and gave away over 3,000 takeaway meals for guests to eat during the week.

Some of the most fun events were disco soups in London’s Kings Cross, Borough Market and the V&A Museum. Volunteers slice and dice surplus fruit and veg, they then cook it into free community meals at the same time as dancing to bands and DJs. They are a lot of fun and a great way of getting people together to learn about food waste and what can be done to fight it.

It helps the volunteers as well. In a recent survey, 90% of 18-24 year olds say they have developed a better understanding of people from different backgrounds, cultures and age groups since volunteering with FoodCycle, 80% have made new friends and some have already set-up and started their own community project.

Want to get involved?

Strawberry-gleaning-15Does this sound up your street? There are lots of ways you can get stuck in and make a difference with From Farm to Fork. We’re always looking for more young people who want to get out in the fields and into the kitchen.

You can get involved by saving food from fields (it’s super fun, read some experiences here), then following it on its journey by volunteering to cook and serve meals at your nearest FoodCycle project.

Farm to Fork volunteer Katherine said: “My favourite part of volunteering with the Gleaning Network was meeting like-minded people and working together to complete an invaluable task. I helped make a difference to the food waste scandal.”

Check out the From Farm to Fork project page:

Sign-up to go gleaning:

Register as a FoodCycle volunteer:


Top tips for running a community event or celebration

18 August 2016

As we start to make awards through our Celebrate programme, the Community Outreach team at The Big Lunch share some of their top tips for running and promoting a community event.

Jocelyn’s tips on contacting the local media
Jocelyn, Junior PR Executive

“Speaking to the local media is a great way to get the word out about your event or celebrate your achievements. Decide what outlet you would like to speak to or search for British media contacts online.

Make sure you give journalists plenty of notice—aim for at least a week before the event for local newspapers and radio—and explain clearly and concisely why your event is noteworthy. If you’re using a press release template, copy the text into the body of the email and make the subject line eye-catching so it stands out in a journalist’s busy inbox! And don’t be afraid to chase them up if you don’t receive a response—one email may not be enough!”

Grainne’s tips on social media
Grainne, Northern Ireland Country Manager

“While I don’t rely on social media alone, it’s helpful to raise awareness by creating a Facebook event or Eventbrite page, and inviting people you know (make it public so they can invite their friends) and sharing the event on other organisations’ walls. Create a hashtag for the event so people can easily follow discussions and photos from the day.

Invite local organisations to participate in your event and get them to use their social media to reach their audience too. Also, respectfully ask local VIPs to also talk about it (online and in person)—especially if they are going. I find this more useful in advance.”


Big Lunch staff from top left and clockwise: Emily, Peter, Gwion, Sam, Jocelyn, Grainne

Peter’s tips on safety and insurance
Peter, England Country Manager

“Health and safety sounds scary, but it doesn’t have to be. We all risk-assess situations unconsciously, as the vast majority of it is common sense, so writing it down doesn’t need to take long. In fact there are loads of templates online you can use.

According to national government policies, small street parties should not require fees, insurance or complex forms, and most councils understand the need for simple and sensible application processes. Some local authorities may ask for insurance or other fees due to their existing systems. If this is the case in your area, it is always worth talking to the council staff responsible and explaining the situation, including the national policies mentioned above.”

Gwion’s tips on film and photography
Gwion, Wales Country Manager

“The most important thing to remember about your event is to enjoy it! But it’s always nice to capture a few memories with a couple of photos or a little film. A picture tells a thousand words as they say! These days if you’ve got a camera phone you’ve got all the kit you need and by following a few basic rules you can end up with some lovely images—my 4-year old daughter shared her photo top tips for the last Big Lunch.

Think about scenes that capture the essence of the day, and of people in the thick of having a good time. You can send your best high resolution pics to local media. If you’re planning on sharing the photos/videos on social media it’s a good idea to use a hashtag as Grainne explains above, and tag people you know in the images. For Celebrate projects, use #BigCelebration.”

Emily’s tips on inviting you MP and other VIPs
Emily, Scotland Country Manager

“Community events are a great way to create or boost local pride so if you’re proud of what you’ve all achieved and want to invite a local MP or other VIP, go ahead! You can find out who your MPs are at The best way to approach them is to drop off a friendly invite at their constituency office or place of work and follow up with a phone call.

Treat them just like another neighbour because MPs and VIPs are people too and if they live locally, they may well be your neighbours! Try to give them at least six weeks’ notice if you can as diaries get very busy!”

Sam’s tips on getting your local community involved
Samantha, Wales Community Network Developer

“The best events are those that feel owned by its community; involving people means there will be a greater variety of activities and ideas on offer, tasks and responsibilities will feel shared and the event will be really well supported.

Start a conversation with the members of your community, either online through email/Facebook/Twitter or local websites (e.g. councils, Eventbrite), or face-to-face at informal public meetings. Explain what you’re hoping to achieve and actively encourage input. You’ll find people who have all sorts of skills or resources to offer; like producing posters, face painting skills, running a stall or performing music.

Give as much notice of your event as possible by sharing your posters/flyers online, on town notice boards, in local shops and in the local newspaper. Let people know where to get in touch if they can help. This will help you keep up momentum, get new ideas and inspire people to spread the message.”

If you’ve had an award from our Celebrate programme, check out this resources page to help make your celebration a success.

If you want more general support on publicising your project, visit our grant holder resources page.