Tweet about this on Twitter Email this to someone Share on LinkedIn

A place-based approach

A group of Cumbria Funders supporting community-led emergency response work share their deliberations over what a sustained response to Covid-19 might look like. The group includes independent funders, local authorities, NHS commissioners and infrastructure organisations.

Initially, Cumbria Community Foundation drew on learning from grant-making in previous emergencies such as the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak and flooding between 2005 and 2015.  They launched the Cumbria Covid-19 Response Fund at the end of March 2020. Several of the independent funders in Cumbria donated to the fund and joined the grants panel. This multi-agency approach was able to act quickly and flexibly to distribute funds to third sector groups – emergency response funding, agreeing to changes in what existing funding is used for, and assessing applications regularly: ‘Looking at applications on a weekly basis has definitely been a high for me, in terms of the capacity and pace in which we have responded in Cumbria. It has been a really definitive response to need’.

As a group of funders, we were keen to look at the emerging community needs regarding covid-19 and to consider this collectively. Now our attention is starting to turn to longer-term collaboration given the ongoing and uncertain nature of this pandemic. IVAR facilitated a conversation to support our thinking about whether and how we could continue working together.


The situation remains fluid, but there are three concerns already on our minds:


  1. Funding: Some funders ‘have to raise our own money in order to give it away’, others are dependent on dividends that companies have suspended giving out: ‘We don’t know yet when we can look at grant-making and our situation in the long-term’. And for statutory funders in particular, internal processes are a barrier: ‘We are constrained by our funding guidelines and we try to support our third sector providers as much as we can … Even if our guidelines change, we will probably not be able to be anywhere near as flexible as other funders can be’.

  2. Organisations surviving: Some organisations doing good work will be unable to sustain themselves ‘because of a combination of possible long-term reductions in funding and fundraising activity’. This is exacerbated by lack of capacity in the third sector to think about and plan for the future, with most people either busy in emergency response work or furloughed. So, we’re not sure whether now is the time to introduce new funding pots: ‘Seen from previous emergencies, most groups would be too immersed to step out and write a proposal at this time’.

  3. Speed vs strategy: We have been busy with emergency responses, and worry that ‘we haven’t had a chance to stop and pause and look at the breadth of grant-making are we doing. Are we missing out some of our rural communities and underrepresented groups?’. There may also be a missed focus on sectors beyond healthcare and emergency, like the arts and climate change: ‘Once the dust settles, we will need to re-look at priorities’.

Shared vision with a collaborative approach

We want to work through these challenges together, to collectively support the third sector in Cumbria now and for the future – and to work with people who have ‘lived experience’ to develop a long-term vision for recovery: ‘This helps ensure panels are listening to communities and are able to then fund the actual need’.

We expect different priorities to emerge – financial hardship, children and young people, vulnerable groups, mental health issues: ‘Sharing our thinking around these priorities will be important, so we can spread out and fund different initiatives’.


Next steps

We believe it is ‘important not to lose the momentum and adrenaline with which we have all been working, and as we move away from lockdown to whatever the new normal looks like, we need to be practical about the collaborations built and continue to share information and work together with the same energy and vigour’. We have explored partnerships between funders who would not normally work together, and there is a need to preserve this for the long term. There is a definite appetite for working collaboratively in future. At the same time, we need to build the case for this collaboration through both hard data and softer, anecdotal data and stories. Through the Cumbria Funders group we will explore ways for future collaborative working.

‘Through this we have found that
[for all partners, funders and others,] prioritisation and collaboration is our common strength – how can we hold onto this good practice and make it our new norm? We have all been good in crisis mode, stepped up and worked together for recovery, but we must explore how we continue to do this in the long term. It is important to hold onto the positives.’ 


This briefing is co-hosted by Cumbria Community Foundation. It is based on a peer support session facilitated by IVAR with 16 Cumbria-based funders,  infrastructure organisations and statutory partners, namely: ACTion with Communities in Cumbria; Barrow Borough Council; Copeland Community Fund; Cumbria Community Foundation; Cumbria County Council; Cumbria CVS/Cumbria Community Resilience Group, Cumbria Exchange; Francis C Scott Charitable Trust; Frieda Scott Charitable Trust; Hadfield Trust; Lake District Foundation; Lloyds Bank Foundation; Morecambe Bay CCG; North Cumbria CCG; Sellafield Ltd; and Sir John Fisher Foundation



Council and Funder Collaboration: Islington’s story

In 2012, IVAR undertook research with 60 small voluntary organisations across the UK to explore the challenges they were experiencing and how independent funders might help them navigate the ongoing political and economic uncertainty sparked by the recession. Five years on, as we continue to see, hear about and research many of the same challenges, we are revisiting the voluntary organisations that took part our 2012 research to understand how their situation has changed, if and how funder practices have evolved and whether any needs of voluntary and community organisations remain unmet.

Having supported the original study, Cripplegate Foundation join Comic Relief and IVAR’s own Research Development Fund for ‘Recession Watch Revisited’.  As we announce this new project, Helen Kersley reflects on Cripplegate Foundation’s practice of collaborating with the council.

Cripplegate Foundation is deeply rooted in Islington. Our history here goes back more than 500 years, and we exist to benefit Islington residents. As a place-based funder we value the knowledge and relationships we are able to develop in our area. There is no better example of this than the collaboration that has grown with Islington Council.   


The Foundation hasn’t always worked this way. For most of its history Cripplegate trod its own path as many independent funders do. But over the past 10 years our work with Members and staff of the Council have developed mutual trust and understanding around shared ambitions for addressing local poverty and inequality. This has translated into joint long-term investment and co-production on a number of fronts creating tangible benefits for Islington residents. Our current joint programmes include Islington Council Community Chest small grants scheme; the Resident Support Scheme to alleviate household poverty; and a new Good Neighbours Scheme in a deprived area of the borough.


When I joined the Foundation nearly two years ago I was struck not just by our joint delivery programmes but by the extent of strategic conversations between us and the Council. Ideas were being shared around for example creating a borough-wide vision for young people, and cross-sector investment to sustain our vibrant voluntary organisations into the 2020s. We have been asking how we can leverage our different strengths, partnerships and knowledge to make a difference with not for Islington residents.


Of course it’s not all plain sailing. Who would ever expect that? A public authority and an independent funder will always work to different scales, rules, constraints and pressures. But there seem to me to be three over-riding factors in our relationship with Islington Council that make it work:


  1. We share the ambition for making Islington a good place for all its residents.  Islington Council has demonstrated time and again its progressive thinking and willingness to act to support its residents. From setting up the first Fairness Commission to maintaining its level of investment in young people the approach aligns with Cripplegate Foundation’s mission.
  2. Both funder and Council are outward-facing. There is a shared view at the highest level that we can do more together than we can on our own. This isn’t just about pooling funds. It is about creating influence across our networks, sharing knowledge and seeing our place as a system of joint endeavours.
  3. We strive to recognise and work with our points of difference and strengths. A Council and an independent funder can do things the other can’t or not as well. The Foundation can act quickly; the Council can draw on a wealth of data and much greater resources. If there can be openness and some adaptability on both sides then these differences can unlock opportunities.


The New Local Government Network has just published a report, ‘Building Bridges’ looking at the need for collaboration between local authorities and independent funders. I see Islington at the head of this curve and I am looking forward to being part of taking that even further.


You can read the full ‘Recession Watch Revisited’ project announcement here. This is a parallel blog, hosted by IVAR and Cripplegate Foundation.