Putting Communities First - Impact Report
£3.4 billion in community funding over the last five years through 72,000 projects – active in every UK constituency and in 9 out of 10 wards. Funding that’s helped 10,000 community spaces be built or improved and supported over 1,500 village halls and community centres. In addition, each year, the grantholders we support are directly benefiting a staggering 5.2 million people, while helping to mobilise 290,000 volunteers. Wow!
These are just some of the awesome numbers in Putting Communities First: Our Impact Report, showing the effects of National Lottery funding. At The National Lottery Community Fund we regularly publish evaluations and programme reviews like recent ones on community infrastructure, volunteering, and young people. We’ve always sought to tell inspirational stories about the life-changing work made possible thanks to people that play The National Lottery, and we will keep doing so. However, this report is different - and an important moment for us - because it’s the first time we’ve brought this information together in a comprehensive survey of the impact that our funding makes possible.
In our recent Our Commitment to Communities we promised the following: “We know that National Lottery funding changes lives - we will use our resources well, so that National Lottery funding makes the greatest possible difference. Data and impact will inform our strategy and, as part of this, we will redouble our efforts to measure, understand, and share what works, why, and where the challenges and opportunities lie.”
Today’s report is the first step on a journey to greater focus on the impact and added value we provide. It’s not complete or perfect by any means. For example, as a responsive community funder, we back an enormous variety of projects working across all types of themes and issues and we couldn’t include them all. Instead, this time, we’ve focused on higher level numbers and what we know and are learning about what works - in aggregate. In doing so, we’ve had less space for the case studies and stories that describe in detail the experience and impact of individual organisations or projects, though these can be found on our website and in our online publications. By summarising and synthesising, we’ve condensed a lot of complexity to provide a fuller perspective. We value all types of evidence and will use this multi-layered approach to form our ambition.
We focused on six key themes that are priorities in our funding across the UK:
- supporting thriving communities
- giving opportunity to young people
- promoting employment and employability
- helping those most in need in our society
- the climate and net zero challenge
- dedicated crisis funding during the Covid-19 pandemic
In each we’ve sought to translate our ‘input’ - the funding and wider support we offer - into the ‘activities’ and ‘outcomes’ this enables. Or, to put it more simply, the difference that grantholders make for people and communities. In doing so, we look at the situational benefits these bring – like meeting people’s immediate needs or protecting them from harm. We look at the social benefits – like mental health and wellbeing, or confidence and self-esteem. Finally, we look at the community benefits – like connecting people, supporting people to mix with others, or helping keep local amenities open.
An important result is the connection between these outcomes. So, where a grant has improved a person’s housing situation, we find common outcomes in mental health and wellbeing (in 93% of cases) or reduced loneliness (in 85% of cases). Similarly, many of our grants help to keep local services open and connected - and here we find these more likely than average to improve access to information and support, and to the health and care services people need.
What this is really revealing is the virtuous circle of community. As Andy Haldane put it in a previous blog for us, it is the unique characteristic of ‘social capital’. Where other forms of capital deplete, ‘social capital’ binds and grows, it reinforces community purpose and social solidarity, it draws us together and unlocks our own human potential and the possibility to help others as we help ourselves. That’s what supporting communities to thrive and prosper truly means.
In Our Commitment to Communities we pledged to renew our strategy as we emerge from the pandemic. We will start this work in early 2022 to ensure we are clear and purposeful in our commitment to put communities first. This report will serve as one vital prompt and foundation as we begin that journey. As The National Lottery Community Fund’s new Chief Executive, here are five of the things I take away from this report – questions we’ll be looking at in the pillars of our strategy:
- The vital role of grassroots community funding
This report looks - for the first time - at the impact of all our community grants, including our smallest ones like National Lottery Awards For All. These are currently for projects of up to £10,000. The result is remarkable and reveals the vital role that grassroots community funding has in generating local social capital and building critical social infrastructure.
For example, while our smallest grantholders account for only around a seventh of our funding financially, they represent two-thirds of the beneficiaries and over half the volunteers that our grantees reach. Similarly, we find that local community assets and spaces are more likely to be supported by our smaller grants. And we find that community funding helps build pride, belonging, wellbeing, community spirit, and connection.
Of course, there’s a balance to strike - elsewhere in the report we detail some of the more intensive, personalised approaches that the projects we back take – like those supporting people experiencing homelessness, or people who have been touch with the criminal justice system, or helping those further from the labour market towards employment and sustained work. As a funder we have a responsibility to look at all aspects of public value to maximise impact and the difference made.
What’s new, and now clear and exciting from this work, is the sheer magnitude - the unleashing and catalytic impact - that grassroots community funding can have. It will prompt us to look at what more we can do to grow, scale, and increase the reach of our small and medium-sized grants, particularly in the communities that need it most.
- The difference we make on key social issues and priorities for communities
The report illustrates our responsibility as a public funder, often as one of the ‘anchor’ funders, on key social issues and the real priorities that matter for communities. For example, we are the leading non-statutory funder of opportunities for young people. We are a major funder of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector. During Covid, with thanks to government support, this trusted role saw us support charities to deliver vital services through the pandemic. In England alone this funding supported or benefitted nearly 11 million people; it enabled 6,000 charities to survive and over 11,000 to adapt how they work, with 60% improving their digital reach. Our strategy will look at what part we can play in supporting a strong, effective, and responsive civil society like we have before, on digital. And the long-term challenge of climate and environment – what more we can do to help communities respond and lead as an organisation – will be something we focus on.
With demands on our funding at a record high we cannot fund every great project or idea. But what we will do is seek to focus where we can have the greatest value. By looking at the themes we are making an impact on, what’s working and why, this report will help us ensure we reflect the priorities of the communities we serve and do it the way we can bring most value – with and alongside others.
- The UK-wide view
As a UK-wide community funder this report has helped us to see both what is common and what we can learn from communities across the UK. From work in Wales, like Create your Space that helps communities lead transformation of the local natural environment; to #iwill in England, promoting young people’s social action; to the Scottish Land Fund, helping communities purchase land and buildings; to the Space and Place programme in Northern Ireland, that has helped create new community venues.
Next year we are delivering exciting work in our UK-wide portfolio that brings people together and celebrates national moments like the Commonwealth Games and Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Our strategy will ensure we work with communities and stakeholders at all levels to ensure we’re spreading and sharing best practice across our country portfolios and, with our UK-wide funding, promoting and celebrating the joins and connections.
- The data revolution to come… how that’ll drive our funding, strategy, engagement – and be used for public good
This report is really only the very tip of the iceberg of what I expect will be a revolution in how we – and all those interested in civil society – can use data and insight in the years to come. There are three levels we’ll be thinking about:
First, how we use evidence to inform funding decisions, large and small. We have exciting plans developing here, including using data visualisation in place as a tool to support our brilliant local funding officers as they do their work – mapping local need and funding history, and combining our data with other funders, to complement their local knowledge and insight.
Second, we’ll use impact to give shape to our strategy and purpose. For example, it will help us identify ‘cold spots’, look where our funding reaches and how it can meet need. It will help us drive our ambitions on fairness and inclusion. Indeed, this data-driven approach has supported our goal to prioritise equality as we emerge from the pandemic. As the report shows, last year we awarded more grants to Black, Asian, and other minority ethnic backgrounds than at any time in the last five years – with 2,788 awards, totalling £77.3m in funding.
Third, we’ll consider data and impact as the public good it is. For example, we’ll look at how we better connect those that play The National Lottery with the positive difference it enables: the visible local volunteers, community projects, and people benefitting right up and down the country - made possible each time someone plays. For example, in September 2021 alone we funded projects in 80% of all local areas where National Lottery players bought tickets. We have ambitions to do even more, thanks to foundations we’ve laid throughout our data strategy, and, even right now, you can see all projects we’ve funded in your local area.
There’s lots possible here, and we’ll wish to test that with ambition and purpose – playing the part we can as the UK’s largest community funder, working with others on this data revolution.
- ‘Partnerships with purpose’ and ‘partnerships in place’
Finally, this report shows that partnership is a key ingredient behind all impact - whether with governments, other National Lottery distributors, businesses, or civil society. It’s a fact that around 20% of our work has been in partnership with governments. Meanwhile, in our local community projects, around 38% have involved history, heritage, sport, and arts. Looking at grantees themselves, we know that over half (52%) work in partnership with other organisations to deliver the activities funded by our grant, and 40% use some of their grant to enable collaboration in place.
So, when we look at the big social issues in which we’ll play a part - like giving more opportunities to young people or how communities can respond to the climate challenge – I know that it will be in partnership with other organisations based on playing to our respective strengths and achieving more together than we can apart.
In forming partnerships with purpose – or often partnerships in a place - we at The National Lottery Community Fund will be clear about our contribution, identifying what we can effectively do alongside others in order to form partnerships in an open, meaningful, and collaborative way.
Strategy Renewal in 2022
These are just some of the prompts this new report provides for us as we look ahead to renewing our strategy. We encourage any feedback or reflections you have when reading the report – please share these with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the possibilities raised here interest you, and you’d like to be part of the next chapter of our story, we have some great positions available now to join our strategy work – please take a look here or share them with people you know would be interested.
I’d like to end this blog with some thanks. While there are a lot of ‘macro’ numbers in this report, it’s only because of the individual resourcefulness, innovation, and passion of the communities we serve - the volunteers, charity, and community workers, and so many others, who step up day in, day out across the UK. Never has this contribution been more evidenced or needed than during the pandemic. Thank you.
And to colleagues at The National Lottery Community Fund, including those who undertook the challenge of pulling together this first Impact Report, who’ve matched record levels of funding with a dedication that has held firm through home-schooling, video calls, and make-shift desks, I say thank you too!
The impact here is a testament to the dedication displayed throughout the most challenging of times.
Now, moving forward, in all that we do, we will be Putting Communities First.