Paul Streets: Who to fund is full of tough choices

The decision-making meeting for funders is typically difficult, writes the chief executive of the Lloyds Bank Foundation

Paul Streets
Paul Streets

At the foundation, we make grants three times a year, and there’s always more worthwhile work to fund than money in the pot. Yet far from feeling bleak, the decision-making days are uplifting, because they’re about more than sums. The fierce board table discussions among our staff connected with charities on the frontline day in, day out reveal a great deal about the state of the sector, and why local charities remain so worth fighting for.

Our latest decision-making meeting was typically difficult. Long after we had sifted out ineligible charities, we were left with 106 applications to consider, which between them needed £6,274,492. We had just £3,551,262.

As our regional staff presented their strongest charities, it was clear that they were already emotionally invested in the difference funding could make. Having visited, spoken with staff and met people each charity could help, they fought hard against their critical peers, aware all the while that every win was a loss for another charity somewhere else.

The 106 applications reflect the frontline of disadvantage today: helping women in abusive relationships; refugees; young people leaving care; people escaping mental health, drugs, alcohol, homelessness, prison and more. What’s less obvious at first glance, but abundantly clear from our discussions, is that charities come to us to fund an issue but it’s never siloed in that way. One problem layers on another and another.  As do their responses. But it’s this devotion and depth of intervention that makes small and local charities unique, and grant-making decision days so motivating.

They bring into focus a world that can look bleak at a distance; illuminating a rich picture of determination to tackle the intractable. 

Fighting against the tide of homelessness are small charities such as Emmaus North East, which has just two staff and 20 volunteers in Gateshead. It is responding to homelessness levels that are twice the national average and has seen the steepest increase in deprivation in the country in the past five years.

They are charities such as Kent Refugee Action Network in Dover, which offers help to young unaccompanied asylum seekers and whose numbers have increased by 250 per cent in the last year, and organisations such as Action Foundation in Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland, which supports those given refugee status.

Our grants are also supporting new and emerging issues. For example, in Kensington and Chelsea, London, we’re helping the Cara Trust to support the first generation of older people living with HIV find suitable housing. And we’re funding innovative approaches like that of Recovery Cymru, which launched a pioneering addiction aftercare programme: the first of its kind in the UK.

So, what does this snapshot tell us about the sector? Isn’t this a typical grant application portfolio? Maybe – but perhaps that’s the point. Every grant-making day leaves us certain that small and local charities remain at the cutting edge of tackling disadvantage. We’re consistently presented with charities who, because they’re agile, can respond to socio-economic issues as they arise. Who, because they’re community focused, are the first port of call for people in need, and who stay with them even when other service providers have given up on them.

Even as they fight harder for funding in the face of rising demand and massively reducing income from local and central government, they continue to provide hope, for those they reach and for society. As one door closes, they find another; bringing fresh initiatives and energy to generate new income and provide for those they serve.  

That’s why when I’m asked whether it matters whether the smallest are swallowed up by larger counterparts my answer remains resolutely in the affirmative.

It’s a privilege to support some, and heart-rending we can’t support all. We awarded 58 grants totalling more than £3.7m. We went over budget. Wouldn’t you?

Paul Streets is the chief executive of the Lloyds Bank Foundation. @PaulStreets_, @LBFEW

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