What we are learning about Funding
In 2022, Gloucestershire’s VCSE sector challenged us to strengthen our commitment to flexible, fair and trusting grant-making, that meaningfully involves disabled people and people with mental health conditions. Here’s what we’re doing about it.
Reflecting on our grant-giving activities over the last 3 years and listening to VCSE organisations is helping us evaluate the impact of our grant-making at Barnwood Trust. We want to take this learning into better ways of funding later this year.
Looking back 2020-2023
Collaboration through Gloucestershire Funders
Gloucestershire Funders was born out of the pandemic in 2020, when VCSE organisations were forced to close their doors and shift their practice. Barnwood’s focus broadened almost overnight to give support to the VCSE sector in the county. Gloucestershire Funders, a collective of funders, was set up to coordinate funding efforts during a time of rapid change and enhanced funding need.
Simultaneously, Barnwood was growing its role as an agent for social change. Things we developed and tried over this time include:
- Creating Barnwood’s processes, policies, and funding principles to underpin our offer
- Making a strong commitment to open and trusting grant-making through IVAR’s programme .
- Distributing our funds in a place-based way across 5 districts, working with VCSE organisations to understand their needs and to support them to make applications to Gloucestershire Funders.
Experimenting with a ‘test and learn’ approach
Our themed funding was established. This offered a greater chance for a ‘test and learn’ approach to grant-making. This has worked well, leaning us towards a learning-centred approach to funding relationships, with less emphasis on the application process and more emphasis on the impact and learning from project delivery.
Experts by Experience involvement
Since 2022, the creation of Barnwood Circle (our membership scheme) has also influenced the way that we involve local disabled people and people with mental health conditions in our funding design and decision-making processes. Through the Digital Inclusion Fund in 2022 and the Short Breaks Project Funding in 2023, we have worked even more closely and intentionally with Experts by Lived Experience and Experts by Learned Experience to create user-led funding rounds that aim to address a particular issue in the county for disabled people and people with mental health conditions.
Listening to VCSE organisations
Through surveys and interviews held in 2022, we gained much needed insight into how organisations perceive Barnwood’s funding programmes.
Positive feedback and suggestions included taking more opportunities:
- to consider other accessible ways to accept funding applications,
- to work closely with organisations throughout the life of a grant,
- to do more to share emerging learning, challenges, and best practice, beyond a geographical area or community,
- to create a less form-based evaluation process and a more relational one.
Challenges raised included a lack of clarity about:
- what the Trust would and wouldn’t fund, and
- the difference between Barnwood Trust and Gloucestershire Funders.
What does this mean for our funding?
After years of working swiftly to distribute funding where it was needed, over the coming months we need to take stock of what we have learned. Our chief areas for review will be:
- Grants to individuals
We remain committed to providing individual grants for disabled people and people with mental health conditions. To improve how we do this, we will work closely with partner organisations in the county who are well placed to refer people to our grants. We want disabled people and people with mental health conditions who are most in need of Barnwood grants to access them alongside tailored support from frontline professionals.
- Grants to organisations and groups
Every part of this funding process needs to be looked at. We want to support organisations and groups to make an application and we also want the learning that comes after the funding is awarded to be relevant, useful, and available to others.
A team of Funding Relationship Managers will work both locally and on a countywide level. They will support access to our funding and ensure that its impact is used to influence practice within Barnwood and out in the county too.
During this review period, other funding programmes will continue, including grants that were awarded before the review started. We will reopen ‘grants to individuals’ and ‘grants to organisations and groups’, with a new set up, in the autumn 2023.
Until then, we encourage organisations to apply to Gloucestershire Funders, as other members of the collective may be able to support in the interim.