An interview for the Basis Project. You can find more interviews and case studies on the Basis Project website.
My name is Jane Avery and I work as the grants officer for the Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Community Foundation. I started in the job in May 2009 and was really new to the grants giving world, although I had worked in the third sector before.
I quickly realised that Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities, newly arrived communities and asylum seekers would form a big constituency of people who were applying for grants.
Using existing contacts and making new ones – and one of those was Modupe Odifa, who works at Refugee Action (for the Basis Project) in Leicester – we began to draw up a panel of expertise. Because you can’t know the needs of every individual group. SO we have a wide range of experts on our grants panel to help us make decisions that are fair and transparent – and a lot of those have been successful, and we’re keen on keeping in touch with groups.
We’re developing the work that we do with refugee groups and BME communities by building on a bank of knowledge. Because clearly, if people come to this country and English isn’t their first language, or form-filling or compliance with contracts is new to them then it is important that they get that sort of knowledge base so that there is a level playing field.
One of the things we are doing is running a training day – not just for newly arrived communities, but they are being targeted with the advertising – to get information on how to make their application stronger, pointing out common mistakes. Also we’re hoping to build up a bank of buddies so that people who have made successful applications can help people making new applications. In this way we can strengthen communities and people will be able to help each other.
Clearly there is a big gap between people who put in successful applications and people who put in weak applications. And I can imagine it’s really frustrating to get a letter saying ‘Your application wasn’t successful because…’ and then in thee sentences say ‘It wasn’t value for money’ or ‘There wasn’t a proof of need’ or whatever. And they’re sort of clichés, so it must be very frustrating. So what we wanted to do was put people who have made successful applications with people who haven’t been successful just so thast during the application process they can phone someone up – they can phone me up as well – but someone who can perhaps give some extra time to explain what is meant by a certain phrase. And I think that’s going to be really helpful.
The point is that we do have money and our donors want us to give it away. It’s not our intention to make it difficult. It’s just a question of people being able to find that the Community Foundation is approachable and that there are different ways of approaching us.
The first thing is that we would look for a group that has a constitution and we’ll point organisations in the right direction if they need help with that – we have links with other organisations in the city. And also a bank account, because we can’t pay money into someone’s private account – so they need a bank account with two signatures. So that’s the foundation really of a good group.
And the next things is for them to look at the guidelines for the different funds and apply to the appropriate one – don’t bend your application to try and fit. Be realistic. Sometimes people have a habit of saying, ‘We can apply for up to £5,000 so we’ll go for £5,000’ – they go from the bottom up. And you know that. And it’s applications that have got genuine figures for their costs that ring true to a panel that have got perhaps 20 minutes to assess – although we do have a process of pre-assessment. So, yes, realistic budgets are important and a project that has a purpose and they can demonstrate a need. It’s important not to apply for funds just because they’re there.