Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Grants - a bit of a lottery

The DIY Futures project is coming to an end*. It was a four year lottery funded Powys project (funded by the Mental Health Matters programme of the Big Lottery Fund). It was set up to “support people experiencing mental distress which led to them being unable to achieve their personal goals, have hopes for a fulfilling future or explore how they could remain in control.”

So, it was a great idea, a bunch of really committed people worked incredibly hard to raise the money, equally enthusiastic and dedicated people were employed to the key posts, and the 1:1 service was developed and rolled out across the county. As is usually the case with such projects it took a little while to spread the word, but once it was up and running it became clear that the service filled a gap. People wanted to fulfil their potential in life, and working 1:1 with a DIY Futures co-ordinator was clearly helping them achieve this.

This is a fairly typical scenario. By this stage lots of people know about the project, expectations have been raised, an excellent service is being delivered…. and then, the years fly by …. the funding is due to run out, workers have to look for new jobs… and before you know it, the project is coming to an end.

Sometimes groups and organisations believe that if they prove a need and that their project can satisfy it, that the council or health board will fund the ongoing work. Often there is a media campaign towards the end of a project for funds. And sometimes there will be a trickle of money… for a while. However, in my experience it is more likely that the project stutters to a halt leaving people despondent and frustrated.

Organisations and projects have to constantly reinvent themselves, using valuable time and energy, in order to bid for new funds. Even then they may not be successful.

What can we learn from these experiences? What could be done differently? The Big Lottery Fund and other funders can’t just fund the core costs of successful projects – then there would be no money to develop new ones (you can read the mission statement for the Big Lottery Fund here).

Perhaps there should be more work when projects are developed to show a realistic exit strategy (rather than that which is common – “more fundraising”). For example, a commitment in writing could be made by the statutory sector to continue the funding if all the outcomes are met.

Something needs to change. A debate is needed with the funders. Have you got any ideas about how to improve the current situation, or stories of projects that have been successfully continued once the initial funding has come to an end?

*The 1:1 service ended on 31 March 2013; the project has been extended until October 2013 to carry out some specific activities around evaluation and a legacy for the project currently being developed by project staff.

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