The COVID-19 outbreak has transformed the ways we live, work, travel and connect with others. As with any crises, the pandemic has caused devastating effects to individuals and communities, but it has also opened up a space for change and new possibilities at a scale that would have been unimaginable before. The National Lottery Community Fund’s Cassie Robinson, Senior Head, UK Portfolio and Andriana Ntziadima, Portfolio Manager, Knowledge, Learning & Program, discuss where to next.
What we know
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, civil society faces unprecedented challenges. Almost overnight, demand for services increased dramatically as the needs of communities became more pressing than ever. At the same time, civil society organisations assumed new roles, coordinating responses, identifying new groups now in need and finding ways to adapt their response accordingly. This continues and we’ve seen that when they act inclusively together, communities can be incredible sites of innovation, creativity and resourcefulness.
To capture the experiences of civil society organisations and the wider community effort, we’ve set up a Scanning and Sensing Network across the organsiation, with 48 colleagues based in all 4 countries and different regions across the UK taking part. Every week, our colleagues are reaching out and interviewing 40-60 grant holders and representatives of the wider sector about the impact of Covid-19 on their work and their communities. We are using what we are seeing and hearing to make sense of the changing landscape.
Through this insights work, it’s become clear that it’s too soon to know any answers. People are either understandably immersed in the emergency response, without space, resource and capacity to think further ahead, or they are acutely aware of the uncertainty in the wider context that makes any kind of clarity or longer-term decision-making difficult. There is a disparity between those who currently have the space, resource and capabilities to think about and design for the future, and those who don’t, which could exacerbate inequality of opportunity we work hard to reduce.
Beyond an emergency response
One way to gain better understanding about what to do next is to ask good questions and to set out on enquiries of listening and discovering. This gives communities an opportunity to determine what they want to preserve, what they want to leave behind, and where they want to build anew. That is why we have set up the Emerging Futures Fund.
The Fund offers grants of up to £50k and aims to give communities and civil society organisations the space, resource and additional expertise to step back, ask questions, imagine alternatives and gather to shape the emerging future.
What we will fund
The programme has three strands:
Exploring new narratives, perspectives and community storytelling This might include narratives about what or who is centered differently; new kinds of relationships that have formed through the crisis response; a focus on what we now know is essential; and/or evidence of new kinds of infrastructure.
Community foresight and public imagination We will look to fund initiatives that put diverse voices at the centre and in the lead in shaping where we go from here. This might include projects that support communities to develop and use community foresight practices together, experiments that activate and strengthen social imagination in communities, and ideas that demonstrate practical ways for those visions to be acted upon.
Investing in strong signals of transformation We would invest in projects and ideas that show potential in terms of where we go from here. They offer practical hope about alternative ways of people and communities being in the lead. These might be ideas whose ‘time has come’, or that point to alternatives for specific challenges like different patterns of work, community togetherness or neighborhood renewal.
The size, pace and experimental nature of these grants reflect that we are in a transition
with important questions to ask; these grants are enquiries. We know that in the longer-term, civil society will need much more substantial grants made available.
That’s why the insights and learning generated from this funding programme will be so important – in orienting towards what needs to be done next and ensuring that it is communities that have informed that.