Alternative finance gives communities the opportunity to be more flexible and responsive to local need – and at the Funding Fair organised by DCLG and Power to Change on Tuesday 12 January, the many options for available support were in the spotlight.
We had Sarah Benihoff of the Department For Communities and Local Government describe how Our Place has shown a financial return on investment of £3.4 for each £1 spent. She linked Our Place to First Steps (the ‘baby sister’ programme run by the Community Development Foundation) and the Community Economic Development programme run by Co-ops UK.
She gave examples – which always go down well – of a Deaf community in Benwell, Newcastle, who are getting involved in their community and a Community Economic Development project to start a market in Caledonian Road, London (which is where I buy my bread). There’s a lot going on in Our Place Benwell and Scotswood, where community groups have seized the Our Place approach and shown the value of benefits advice delivered in the neighbourhood and not miles away at the end of an expensive bus ride. They liked Our Place so much, they are helping Our Place Elswick get their ward cleaned up using an Our Place approach.
Two top tips from the day
1. One way is to avoid reliance on any one funder. Nature analogies such as ‘Ecosystem of funders,” highlighted the need for charities and community business not to rely on only grants, income or repayable loans. Don’t like a koala that can only eats eucalyptus.
2. Secondly – get your community involved.
Evaluating your project
How do we know Our Place has shown this great return on investment? By looking at the Cost Benefit Analyses – which was one of many ways of evaluating your project highlighted by Richard Harries from Power to Change in his workshop.
I was delighted that three Our Place areas were at that workshop, and Sabrina Jaques of Witton Lodge parks transformation project in Birmingham even pulled out a copy of her Our Place logic model.
The message I took away from the evaluation workshop was that working with other local providers to monitor and evaluate your projects is cost effective and focussed on people in a neighbourhood. It’s a lot easier to share data about a neighbourhood if you are all using the same measurements. Our Place is all working in partnership to improve things for local people and Our Place Thamesmead have been great at this – and they track the path of an individual through all their services.
Some additional resources from this workshop include:
- New Economy Unit Cost Database
- Big Society Capital outcome measure
- The Community Life Survey
- Project Oracle evidence hub for young people
I also took part in a workshop run by Big Potential and Numbers for Good for organisations who are thinking of taking on repayable finance. The good news is that there is lots of free professional support and grants to help you assess whether this is the path for you and whether you choose to take a loan or not. The Big Potential diagnostic tool is the starting point and you may end up with 30-40 days support.
Whether you decide on repayable finance or not, you will have your organisation examined, from governance to income. This is a good thing whatever path you take, though as Cliff Prior from Unltd says, it can be tough. What advantage does loan finance have over grants? Usually what you do will be led by you.
One unexpected message of the day was that it’s not necessarily a good idea to expand. Cliff Prior really knows the ups and downs of expanding. His advice was that finance can also help you grow stronger, agile at teamwork and strong in digital skills that could see your organisation commissioned.
The value of telling your story was another thread running through the day. One Our Place lead told me how he had overcome being a NEET (not in education, employment or training) failed by education, to set up an open access youth centre that had outcomes surpassing the local councils. That was a powerful story.
Ian Scholes of Spacious Place Burnley charmed everyone with his story of how the overnight success of Spacious Place took 20 years. He said my favourite thing of the day: “Our resources are in our relationships.”
Loan finance, for example, is most suitable for people working in an area of ‘market insufficiency’ and Our Place Moretonhampstead are attempting to do this with their social enterprise carers agency on the isolated moors of Dartmoor.
This workshop also included a visit from Rob Wilson, Minister for Civil Society who talked about devolution, personal giving and crowdfunding. He hinted at some positive things to say in a couple of weeks about charities accessing service contracts.
It was great to hear a few mentions by organisations of the support Locality and MyCommunity.org.uk have given to help them be contract ready – and beyond. It was a treat to be in the room with so many professionals, already responsive to local need, working hard to be even better, and developing their evaluation and promotion skills so they can to shout it from the rooftops and get those contracts.Highlights from the Funding Fair,