Funding story: Allen Lane Foundation

The foundation established by the man responsible for Penguin books provides help for groups shunned by other funders.

In 1935, Allen Lane, one of the directors at publishing house Bodley Head, launched a series of quality paperbacks that cost the same as a pack of cigarettes and could be picked up at railway bookstalls. Thirty-one years later - by which time millions of households had titles with the distinctive logo of his Penguin Books - Lane set up a charitable foundation. At the end of March 2007, the Allen Lane Foundation had awarded grants totalling more than £725,000.

Based in York, the foundation targets unpopular groups and has done so since the 70s, when this was a much less common funding trend. Grants range from £500 up to £5,000 for a year, and each applicant must have an income of less than £25,000 a year. Some organisations get repeat funding for up to three years. The foundation's current priorities include some groups that are extremely unpopular, even with funders: gypsies and travellers, transgender people, people who have reached the end of the asylum process and are destitute and groups such as the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

"A lot of the funding we provide aims to lessen people's exclusion and isolation," says Gill Aconley, grants officer at Allen Lane. "For instance, practical therapeutic support to people with mental health problems, such as work on allotments or volunteering, enables them to move back into the community."

That support can include working in quite contentious areas. The foundation has funded work with perpetrators of domestic violence and with former sex offenders, as well as work with people who have experienced violence and sex trafficking. Aconley and her colleagues are considering expanding their funding areas to cover the needs of young white men.

However, the foundation will not fund groups whose beneficiaries are based in London.

"There is a great deal of money in London, more grant funding available and more press coverage too," says Aconley. "We have limited funds, and for the past 10 years we've felt that by excluding London we could concentrate on regions and needs that are perhaps not so easily addressed by other trusts."

Allen Lane was instrumental in putting affordable books on people's shelves. His other legacy supports people who will struggle to find help anywhere else.

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