Making its application process more flexible and proportionate and enabling communities to have the tools to solve their own problems will be the top two priorities of the Big Lottery Fund over the next six years, its chief executive said today.
The funder set out its new approach in its strategic framework for 2015 to 2021, called People in the Lead.
It replaces the BLF’s 2012 strategy, Fresh Thinking: the next chapter, which set out the organisation’s priorities until 2015.
Dawn Austwick, chief executive of the BLF, said the "people in the lead" concept is based on the notion that people in communities should be given the equipment and money they need to seize opportunities for themselves.
She said the BLF planned to customise its application process according to the programme, the applicant and the type of work being funded, and enable online applications to improve accessibility.
It has also been piloting face-to-face grant-making in the midlands, Austwick said. In an attempt to reduce paperwork, she said, the BLF grants team had been meeting members of the community and conducting due diligence on projects in situ.
"We want to concentrate on a greater variegation in how we approach funding, so we’re thinking about issues of proportionality and appropriateness," she said. "It might mean that in some instances we’re simpler in what we ask; it might mean that actually we’re more complex if we’re dealing with complex funding programmes."
She said the BLF was piloting a more streamlined application process for its Awards for All England programme. A BLF spokeswoman said the pilot would be open for applications next week and that more details would be available on the BLF website then. Funding would be available for 100 organisations, she said.
Austwick said the BLF wanted to experiment with new approaches and help the sector carry out more experimentation itself.
Austwick said that rather than having a leadership role in the sector, the BLF wanted to be seen as a catalyst. "We sit in a number of different networks and an amazing array of knowledge and data comes through our doors on a regular basis," she said. "We want to make that available and share that."
One way the BLF planned to do this, Austwick said, was through an online community that would enable current and past grant-holders to communicate with one another "with the minimum amount of curation on our part". A BLF spokeswoman said the funder had been piloting the community since the end of 2014, when it began inviting grant-holders to participate.
The BLF is also running a pilot for a programme called Accelerating Ideas, which Austwick said could be seen as a replacement for BLF’s "single awards" practice – it was suspended last year. The pilot will focus on projects dealing with the opportunities and challenges presented by the UK’s ageing population, but Austwick said the BLF planned to extend the programme to other cause areas at a later date.
Asked if the BLF planned to provide more core funding for organisations, Austwick said the grant-maker already provided a lot of full cost recovery and continuation funding, and that its Reaching Communities programme routinely provided long-term grants, often for five years.
She said the BLF was constrained by legislation from providing direct core funding but that it was considering launching a pilot scheme for organisations with limited reserves. Under the proposals, they could be given expendable endowments, which could be spent over a period of 10 years.
Austwick also said that it did not plan to increase funding for community centres because it already strongly supported these through existing programmes such as Awards for All and Reaching Communities. She said the BLF planned to get closer to communities through initiatives such as Big Local and work more effectively with other local funders, such as community foundations.