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How Islington Council’s Community Chest funding supports and reaches into BAMER communities

7 October 2020 32

It has been well documented that Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on groups and communities in the UK already suffering from poverty and disadvantage, particularly those from Black Asian Minority Ethnic Refugee (BAMER) backgrounds. Research has also found that the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the sustainability of BAMER-led voluntary and community organisations is likely to be greater compared to their counterparts.


The Islington Council's Community Chest (ICCC) Programme successfully demonstrates its ability to support residents from BAMER backgrounds. Monitoring data from the 2018/19 Islington Council's Community Chest (ICCC) Programme demonstrate the Programme’s reach into and support for BAMER communities in Islington who experience high levels of disadvantage and inequality: As the chart below highlights, 65% of total beneficiaries from the Programme in 2018/19 were from BAMER backgrounds. More information and data relating to the ICCC Programme can be found in the 2019/20 annual report.

Breakdown of beneficiaries by ethnicity that show 75% of total beneficiaries from the Programme in 2018/19 were from BAMER backgrounds

BAMER organisations are successfully applying to the ICCC Programme and, proportionally more receive funding compared to those that apply. In 2019/20, just over a third (36%) of total applications and almost 40% of successfully funded organisations (22 out of 57) were from organisations, either working specifically with, or with a significant majority of beneficiaries from BAMER backgrounds.

Some of the key characteristics of the ICCC Programme that help to enable this successful reach are outlined below:

  • Visiting all organisations who apply – particularly recently established groups, and those that are new to fundraising or where English might not be the first language, we have found that it is really important to meet in person (or via phone or video) in overcoming barriers that a formal written application can present;
  • Being local and part of the community – enables greater potential for building trust and developing relationships, while having a deep understanding of the local environment enables insight into how potential projects fit into the wider landscape. This is particularly important for small grass-roots organisations that often go under the radar and may struggle to get the attention or make their case to bigger regional or national funders. Securing funding from a local funder also helps groups build a track record of delivery and enhance trust with other funders;
  • Small pots and very flexible funding – low level (maximum £5,000 grants), therefore relatively low risk funding, is prioritised for small, local grass-roots organisations. Trying new things is encouraged and it is understood that things may not always turn out the way they were envisaged. The Programme can support core costs and unrestricted funding and works with applicants to think about how the funding is best used to meet the organisation, project and beneficiary needs;
  • Working in partnership – particularly with Islington Council who provide the majority of funding and trust Cripplegate Foundation to deliver the Programme, as well as offering complementary expertise and local knowledge. The decision-making panel includes local Councillors and voluntary sector representation who together with Cripplegate Foundation Governors enrich the decision making process;
  • Adapting to the needs of groups – and providing advice and support that ensures all applications have the greatest chance of success. The ICCC Programme takes a developmental approach by working with groups. Examples include: ensuring the most appropriate financial information is submitted – particularly important for newly formed groups who may not have sufficient evidence of income and expenditure that most funders require to be eligible for funding; assistance with understanding charity finance such as restricted and unrestricted income and reserves; being flexible with groups who are in the process of opening bank accounts so this doesn’t necessarily act as a barrier to application; allowing a parent organisations to submit applications on behalf of emerging projects they have helped develop but now wish to become independent and finally; funding the full range of constituted organisations – from very small constituted community groups right through to not for profit companies limited by guarantee. Advice on where to access other support is also provided, including in relation to how specific organisational structures can act as barriers to accessing funds;
  • Funding projects over many years – while also prioritising funding for new projects responding to emerging gaps and needs. This balanced approach ensures that small grass-roots organisations that meet the needs of their communities on a long-term basis do not miss out on funding;
  • The ability to offer multi-year funding – supports organisations to grow and develop and/or focus their energies on supporting the people they are set up to help as well as provide the space to raise funds from other sources. Three quarters of those awarded two-year funding have been BAMER led organisations.


In summary, while many of the characteristics highlighted above are important for the success of any small grants programme, they are also specific factors that have enabled the ICCC Programme to support small BAMER organisations locally. The strength of the Programme is in its reach into local communities and how it can help make a real difference to isolated and marginalised residents, many of whom are from BAMER backgrounds.

The strength of the Programme is in its reach into local communities and how it can help make a real difference to isolated and marginalised residents, many of whom are from BAMER backgrounds.

This positive local picture appears to buck the national trend where funding is failing to reach BAMER communities and the voluntary and community organisations set up to support them. Despite this positive impact, a note of caution should be applied. The ICCC Programme offers small grants where the maximum income threshold for applying is £100,000. It is evident that prioritising funding specifically for small, local grass-roots community organisations is a strength of the Programme, and has enabled us to support  BAMER communities. However, could it also be a potential weakness and perhaps indicative of a deeper underlying structural issue for Islington’s voluntary and community sector in Islington more widely? When one looks at the local picture, the number of bigger BAMER- led organisations (which for the purposes outlined here are defined as over £100,000 income) falls away significantly, particularly when compared to the thriving grass-roots base identified and celebrated here. Does this point to a potential gap where smaller local BAMER organisations are not making the developmental jump to grow into larger more sustainable organisations and/or funders, both local, regional or national are not investing in organisations that are applying for funds to develop and grow?

Notwithstanding this concern, there are many small grass-roots organisations that are good at what they do and have significant reach and trust of local communities precisely because they are small and, for many reasons, do not wish to grow into larger organisations – where “success” is measured only in terms of growth in annual income and number of beneficiaries. This is where the ICCC Programme fits, and its impact and support is so important. Moreover, as the case-studies below demonstrate, the Programme has proved to be a vital source of support that has enabled organisations to quickly adapt and respond to meet the needs of BAMER communities when the need is greatest, such as that experienced during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Below you can find some case-studies of how ICCC funded organisations have supported Islington’s BAMER communities during lockdown

 Patrick Jones, Programme Manager at Cripplegate Foundation. He oversees the Islington Council Community Chest grants programme as well as a number of the Foundation’s main grants relationships.