NEWSMAKER: A focus on making a difference - Gerald Oppenheim, Director of policy and communications, Community Fund

The Lottery pot for good causes is getting smaller. The amount distributed by the Community Fund reached a peak of ?xA3;450 million in 1999, and has been declining ever since - to just ?xA3;275 million this financial year.

This shrinking pot of gold is the main reason why the Community Fund is reinventing itself - again. There is less money to give out, and some way has to be found of making it work harder. "The Community Fund was set up to meet the needs of those at greatest disadvantage in society and to improve the quality of life in the community generally. We are going to be focusing much more on disadvantage, and on the long-term differences that grants can make to people's lives,

says Gerald Oppenheim, the fund's head of policy and communications. Oppenheim has been giving away money since in his days at the Greater London Council in the early 80s and subsequently as director of the London Boroughs Grants Unit.

Not only is he one of the architects of the fund's new strategic plan, published on Monday, which sets out policies and priorities for the next five years; it's also now his job to sell it to the voluntary sector.

The plan is based on a consultation exercise carried out last summer that asked for the views of government, other funding bodies and, of course, beneficiaries. More than 70 public meetings were held around the UK, including some with groups such as travellers and ethnic minority communities.

As is usual with these things, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that it is simply going to be harder to get money. Applications from areas identified under the Fair Share scheme will get priority. These are areas where there is a clear need, but where there have been proportionately fewer applications for Lottery funding, and even fewer have been successful.

Priority will also be given to applications for particular groups, including children, the disabled, black and minority ethnic groups, refugees, the elderly and people disadvantaged by economic and social change.

"That doesn't mean there will be no money for anything else,

says Oppenheim.

"We will retain a stream of money for good projects that fall outside of those groups or areas, but there will be less money."

In fact, across the board, grant sizes are likely to come down, since the fund wants to continue to make roughly the same number of grants as it has been. New application packs published on Monday along with the strategic plan suggest a maximum grant size of ?xA3;300,000, down from ?xA3;400,000 previously. Once again, it doesn't mean bigger applications won't be considered, says Oppenheim. But it does mean you're going to have to be very, very convincing indeed.

There will also be a much greater emphasis on results. "We want applicants to say at the point of application what long-term changes they think they will bring about. And how will they measure that? How will they know if they're successful?

explains Oppenheim. "That information will be incorporated into the grant agreement."

The biggest bit of good news is in an area where there has been vigorous lobbying from the voluntary sector. The Community Fund intends to relax its approach to funding the organisational overheads - or core costs - of projects. A bit. "In the future we will be willing to pick up one tier of management costs of a project. But it is going to have to be justified and explained. What we will not do is simply fund a percentage add-on,

says Oppenheim. "We have to account to government for where the money is going. And when an organisation gets money from other sources, we have to be sure that we don't double fund.

This core cost funding will also only apply to organisations with a turnover of less than ?xA3;10 million.

Other changes will also take place in the areas of matching funding and length of funding. Organisations with an income of more than ?xA3;5 million a year are going to be expected to contribute 25 per cent of the cost of projects for which they are applying to the Community Fund. And while the fund still intends to support projects for up to six years, beneficiary groups will be expected to provide an increasing percentage of the cost themselves in years four, five and six. "It's a way of telling people that they can't depend on us to be the long-term funder of a project,

explains Oppenheim.

One of the biggest changes on the cards is for the Community Fund to start distributing money from sources other than the Lottery. The Government, in the form of culture secretary Tessa Jowell, is looking at ways of changing legislation to allow this. It follows an approach by the Government last year to the Community Fund to dispense Children's Fund grants on its behalf, which had to be abandoned because it turned out the fund lacked the necessary legal powers. Oppenheim expects it to take about a year to get the law changed, to enable the fund to act as agent not only for the Children's Fund but also for programmes such as the Home Office's Active Community Unit and the Department of Local Government and the Regions' Neighbourhood Renewal Unit.

"It's a tremendous vote of confidence in the Community Fund,

says Oppenheim. It would also leave Europe's biggest independent grant maker, which has made 47,000 awards worth more than ?xA3;2.2 billion since 1995, even more powerful.

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