Akiko Hart: The link between the NLCF and the government's racism report has repercussions for charities

The involvement of the chair of the National Lottery Community Fund with the controversial Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report sends a troubling message

The past year has seen a reckoning in both the philanthropy sector and the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector in relation to racism and how it manifests in our work and processes.

The campaigning work of collectives such as CharitySoWhite have brought to the fore the institutional racism inherent in the charity sector.

The Acevo/Voice4Change Home Truths report highlighted the actions charities could take to create true culture change. 

Funders such as Lankelly Chase have released statements about their commitment to racial justice, and others like Comic Relief have shared the work they are doing to tackle racial inequality. 

This is the context in which the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report was published yesterday, to widespread criticism from campaigners.

Amidst the furore, something which has received less attention is that Blondel Cluff CBE, the chair of the National Lottery Community Fund, is a co-opted member of the report’s commissioning team.

This is surprising, to say the least. The NLCF stipulates that its grantees do not engage in “political” work or lobbying.

But this is a report which is at the very least controversial, and which reads to many as having a specific political perspective on this issue.

It raises uncomfortable questions about the disconnect between what the NLCF asks of its grantees, and the standards it sets for its own staff and governance.  It also sends a troubling message to the wider VCSE sector.

The NLCF is the largest funder of communities in the U.K. In 2019/20, it distributed £588.2 million, or 14,003 grants.

As far as size goes, it is one of the most powerful funders in the UK. As the chief executive of an organisation which is currently a beneficiary of the NLCF, I’m aware that it’s not easy to speak out about this. But if we don’t, who will? 

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report is at the very least divisive. It has caused anger and pain among communities and organisations funders like the NLCF are committed to supporting.

It reads to many, including myself, as a political report, as in one which is motivated by a specific political purpose and which comes from a specific political viewpoint.

For many - including myself - it stokes division between white working class communities and working class communities of colour.

For many, including myself, it erases lived experience (one of the areas the NLCF has been keen to fund and develop), and it sidelines and denigrates the collective knowledges and scholarship built in this area.

This is particularly hard to witness, as amplifying the voices of our membership and advocating for lived experience to be valued as knowledge is at the heart of NSUN’s work.

Anyone is free to write or sign off this report as an individual: that is fine. And no charity or funder, including NSUN, has a perfect record when it comes to tackling racism.

But the NLCF’s name on this report has repercussions for the sector.

It sends an erroneous message to other grant making trusts and foundations who might be looking for leadership in this area, that the lived experience of people from racialised communities is not borne out by the evidence.

It filters down to organisations like mine applying for funding - do we now need to follow the report’s line on what racism means (and what it doesn’t)?

I urge other funders to respond to the report, and I urge the NLCF to listen to the pain and anger the report has caused amongst so many of its stakeholders, and reconsider its support and association.

Akiko Hart is chief executive of the National Survivor User Network

Third Sector update 22 04 2021: The National Lottery Community Fund has asked Third Sector to clarify that Blondel Cluff was invited to serve as a co-opted member of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities in 2020 in her capacity as chair of a sub-group of the Windrush Cross Government Working Group. She was not an author of the report.
She was not appointed chair of the NLCF until February this year.
Her work in respect of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities is therefore unconnected to the NLCF.

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