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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.

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