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Reflecting on our 2018 grant making

Author: Hilary Cornish, Evaluation & Learning Manager

Each year we take time to review and reflect on our grant making, pulling together stats and learnings from reports provided by our grantees.

We also invested roughly £550,000 in grants related funding – that’s evaluation, research and capacity building - to make sure our funded work is as effective as it can be.

We had a total of 311 applications through our main grants process, a little lower than previous years, and we approved 129 (41%) of them for funding. We changed our guidelines in 2017 to be clearer about what we will fund – and we think the reduction in overall numbers of applications reflects this, saving time for both us and potential grantees.

The majority of those funded received grants for three years (60%) with the average grant size being £75,500, although there is a fair bit of variation around that depending on the duration of funding and grants programme. For example, for our small grants programme - Connected Communities - the average grant was £37,400.

29% of our grants were to organisations we had not funded before, close to our target of 30%.

Our grant making is through seven funding programmes, which reflect our strategy to target work at key drivers of poverty, and where our funding can best make a difference.

Through the Good Homes and Neighbourhoods programme we made 23 grants in 2018, with most going towards policy and campaigning work, as well as grants to organisations providing advice, capacity building, research and service delivery. Much of the work funded focused on the private rented sector or reflected our aim of increasing tenants’ collective voice and influence over their homes. Housing was a busy area for national policy in the preceding years, and the Mayor also made commitments to increase building of genuinely affordable housing, and to advocate for stronger protection for private renters. Grantee organisations had successful local campaigns, and the Trust established the London Housing Panel which met twice in 2018 bringing together campaigners to share knowledge and skills.

The Better Work programme funds organisations and activities to help those in low paid, often precarious, work to progress into more rewarding employment and to secure their rights. We made 20 grants in this programme in 2018, with most towards advice work. Other grants were for policy and campaigning, service delivery and research. The environment for the Better Work programme is challenging – wage growth has been stagnant for some time, and the rise of the ‘gig’ economy and increasing automation both directly impacts those in low paid work. That year, the subject gained wider interest with the publication of the government’s Good Work Plan. The Trust for London-funded Better Work Network held its first steering group meeting in 2018. The Network is set up to maximise the impact of work on these issues, and influence policy and practice for low paid workers.

19 grants were made in the Decent Living Standards programme, which aims to enable Londoners to meet their basic needs. Most of the grants were for legal advice and representation, with the remainder on policy and campaigning, and research. Nearly half these grants were made through the Strengthening Voice, Realising Rights Initiative to Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations providing advice services. Across the programme, there is a real desire to strengthen the voice of people with first-hand experience to be involved in the solutions; a great example is a grant to establish the Commission on Social Security, led by people who are currently receiving or have previously been on benefits. The external environment was dominated by the piloting and planned roll out of Universal Credit and the continued curbs on local authority spending which eroded public services and welfare that previously supported those most in need. We received fewer applications on tackling high costs of living in the programme, and we will be looking to encourage more work in this area over the coming years.

The Shared Wealth programme aims to address London’s income and wealth inequality. We made six grants in this programme in 2018, which were smaller and for shorter time scales than our other programmes, for research, campaigns and policy work. The external environment was challenging for action on inequality, as Brexit has dominated the political landscape. A notable advance was the UK Corporate Governance Code released in July 2018 which included principles of good governance around engaging the workforce and executive remuneration. However it hasn’t, as yet, gained much visibility.

Our programme to support disadvantaged migrants to resolve their migration status and participate in London life – Pathways to Settlement – awarded 29 grants in 2018. This is the most grants of any of our funding programmes. The majority were for specialist immigration advice, with others for policy and campaigning work. The hostile environment remained one of the key planks in the UK government’s strategy during 2018, and policy and campaigning grants primarily focussed on addressing this. There remained large gaps in legal advice provision and greater demand for services than can be met by independent funders. We continue to support key providers, and try to ensure balanced coverage across London. There are concerns that, after Brexit, more vulnerable EU migrants risk becoming undocumented, and this will increase demand on charity and civil society advice provision.

The Stronger Voices programme aims to fund specialist organisations to improve skills and build the capacity of civil society groups, in campaigning, strategic communications and increasing the voice of people with first-hand experience of the issues in all aspects of their work. We made three grants under this programme, and declined a large number that didn’t meet our criteria. As a result we’ve clarified and developed our guidance for 2019. There are wider discussions in the field as to how best to build capacity, and tension between more localised or broader, specialist work. Another reason for making fewer grants here is that relevant work may be funded under other programmes, where projects have elements of capacity building, and support for co-production.

Our final programme area - Connected Communities - aims to fund small groups, mainly run by volunteers and part-time workers, as a vital part of local communities in areas with high need. We made 27 grants under this programme. This included 12 for advice, 10 for Strengthening Voice (campaigning), and five for activities led by communities in isolated areas of outer London. Local government funding for the voluntary sector has been in decline as a result of austerity measures and this has often resulted in losses in core funding, particularly for small groups. We received more applications from inner rather than outer London boroughs, and we are aware that housing pressure and the dispersal of families to some outer boroughs increases demand for already limited services. We have clarified the focus of the ‘Outer London’ priority in the hope of making more grants under this heading.

This is a brief snapshot of our work - we also make detailed grant data publicly available through the 360Giving Data Standard where you can see an overview, explore our data, and compare data to previous years.