Sukhvinder Stubbs is the first woman director of The Barrow Cadbury Trust, founded by the Cadbury family in 1920. She is also a Sikh appointed to run an organisation set up by a family of Quakers. "It's very bold of the trustees to put in a Sikh director," she says.
Despite the charity's line of white male directors, it is not the stuffy, conservative institution you might expect. "The style is very co-operative and consultative, the chair is a woman, it has very female characteristics," says Stubbs.
The Barrow Cadbury Trust has a strong emphasis on funding projects which have an impact on the community. "We have funded some large organisations," she says. "Oxfam and VSO, for example, but by and large we prefer to work with more localised groups that have national significance."
Stubbs clearly has an affinity with local level organisations, having spent a large part of her career working around community and regeneration issues. "People and the social side of regeneration are what really interest me," she says. The trust is based in Birmingham in the Handsworth area, where Stubbs was brought up. "There is a lot of synergy between my experience and the trust's areas of work," she says.
This week, the trust launched a new funding programme in which it has cut its funding areas down from nine to three. The first will look at encouraging inclusive communities and will fund organisations tackling racial and disability discrimination.
The second area the trust will focus on is preventing offending and it will give grants to projects working with drug and gang problems. The third area, called global exchange, will look at asylum, immigration, justice and peace issues. "It's about holding a mirror to our domestic concerns and focusing on exchange. We want to see how experience and practice in other countries can be drawn upon."
Apart from its areas of funding, the trust has turned around the way it works with grant recipients. This has been under review since Stubbs joined in 2001.
"We want to be more proactive in the way we work with groups and be more transparent in the way decisions are made. It's important for organisations to understand how trusts work," she says.
The trust began the review by examining the types of project it funded and singling out asylum and disability schemes as key areas in which to set up pilot projects examining how it could be most effective in its funding. Recipients participating in the scheme felt the relationship between the two organisations was important. "It's not just about writing out a grant cheque, it is about partnership potential," says Stubbs.
She feels that the trust, with its contacts and financial weight, can facilitate some of the campaigning and advocacy work done by the community groups it funds. The Government may seem inaccessible to small groups that often only have one or two staff to run the project, leaving little time for advocacy work.
"Groups look to us as a sort of bridge builder between the grass-roots work and statutory policymakers," she says. For example, when working on its disability pilot scheme, the trust was invited to meet with the Government's policy unit on disability.
While at the meeting, Stubbs described some of the groups the trust had been working with and officials realised that it would be useful to hear from them directly. "It's about pointing out that there is experience on the ground and there are people with the solutions. There are practical difficulties between working locally and influencing the Government and we hope to give partners a bit of clout."
The trust fits neatly into the role of assisting community groups in their advocacy work. Owing to its status as an independent funder, it can support groups that may be involved in controversial schemes. But Stubbs is concerned that funding for groups involved in advocacy and campaigning is being eroded.
Lottery money, currently a great source of financial support for community groups, has already been cut by the Government and could be hit again by the merger of distributors the Community Fund and the New Opportunities Fund.
Stubbs is anxious that if the merger goes ahead, money must be ring-fenced for community groups or they will no longer be able to make their voices heard. "We want community groups to be able to continue to challenge the Government and don't see at the moment who is going to continue to fund this kind of activity as we can't fund it all," she says.
The stock market fall has also taken its toll on the funds available to local groups from grant-making trusts. The Barrow Cadbury Trust's grant giving has not yet been affected as it is one of the few which is not restricted to spending only its investment income. "We can spend capital," she says. "We do this prudently, however, so it will not cause problems in the future."
The trust's focus on improving the effectiveness of its grant giving was not a direct response to the economic climate. But, says Stubbs, new plans are in line with what's going on in the market.
She feels the new approaches to funding are inspired by the trust's principle of helping grass-roots organisations. "It's about following the good people, finding those who are shifting attitudes and enhancing our role."