From shared ground’ to liberation – our journey supporting migrant justice

Published: 21 March 2024 
Author: Letícia Ishibashi 
A large group of around 20 people are in a bright room in a circle. They're each holding onto the shoulders of the person either side of them, with one foot lifted off the ground in a game
Photo credit: Micro Rainbow

As we prepare to launch the new iteration of our migration programme in early spring, Letícia Ishibashi, our Head of Programme – Migration, looks back at how the Foundation’s work has evolved through the years, what we have learned from our grant-making and how this has helped shape and sharpen our direction.

About Paul Hamlyn

Paul Hamlyn was an entrepreneurial publisher who moved from Berlin to Edinburgh in 1933. Like many Jewish people, Paul and his family left Germany to escape Nazi persecution. During the war, he served as a Bevin boy, working in coal mines in South Wales. After three years in Wales, Paul moved to London where he started his first book-selling business, selling volumes out of a wheelbarrow in Camden. His company eventually grew to become one of the most successful in the UK by making books, music and arts more affordable to the public.

In 1987, Paul established the Foundation building on his passion for social justice and making the arts and education more accessible to everyone, especially young people. Following his death in 2001, Paul Hamlyn left his fortune to the Foundation where his children Michael and Jane have continued this work, supporting those pursuing the arts and social justice.

Funding migrant justice – building a Shared Ground’

PHF’s work on migration started through its then Social Justice Fund. In 2009, the Foundation commissioned research into the social and economic lives of young undocumented people in Britain. Findings from the report acted as a catalyst for the establishment of a dedicated programme to provide support and advice for children and young people in the UK who had insecure or undocumented status, which we delivered alongside partners at Unbound Philanthropy. This programme ran between 2012–2017, funding twenty projects undertaken by community organisations, law centres and national children’s organisations, including some that are still funded by PHF.

Building on the success of this programme, in 2015 the Foundation established the Shared Ground Fund – its first dedicated migration fund. Initially set up with a focus on young people with insecure status, the team soon identified the need to expand its focus to tackle the causes of injustice across our immigration system. This was accompanied by a steady increase in budget from c. £1.4 million in 2015 to c. £5 million since 2021 – making PHF the largest independent migration funder in the UK. During this period, PHF also contributed to, or helped establish, several initiatives to better support the infrastructure of the migration field such as Migration Exchange, Refugee Action’s Frontline Immigration Advice Project, the Windrush Justice Programme and the Justice Together Initiative.

Learning and adapting our grant-making

Through the years, our grant-making has changed as we learned more about our role and the needs of the field. We started with shorter-term grants to eighteen organisations, ranging between six months to two years. As our knowledge and budget grew, we started making longer-term grants (i.e. three to four years), funding between 25–35 grants per year over the next few years. Part of our strategy has been to support those gathering valuable data and insight through service delivery and other activities to influence systemic change at the local, regional and national levels. But like many other trusts and foundations, most of our funding was not directed to community-led groups.

As we only started collecting data on organisational leadership in 2020, we are unable to provide a precise assessment of the distribution of our funds to community groups since the Fund opened in 2015. However, a quick analysis of all our grant-giving through the Shared Ground Fund shows that between the financial years of 2015/16 and 2021/22, community-led organisations amounted to less than 15% of the fund’s grant-making on average.[1] During this period, funding to community-led organisations peaked in 2020/21, with c. 28% of our grants going to these groups.

Implementing changes and our commitment to anti-racist practice

As the Black Lives Matter protests took the streets in 2020, we were reminded of the need to dismantle structural racism in our personal, organisational, and societal lives. This kickstarted a period of deep reflection within the Foundation. During this time, PHF made a commitment to become an anti-racist funder.

We say become’ because we know this journey does not have a set destination – we must continue unlearning and dismantling the systems that uphold the status quo and reproduce harm. We also know that being anti-racist’ is not a title we grant ourselves or something we proclaim – it is something we must practice and improve on every day. This process has required us to rethink who and what we fund, how we understand risk’, and how our systems and decisions create or perpetuate harm.

After acknowledging we were not doing enough to attract and sustainably fund community-led organisations, our migration team committed to prioritise applications from these groups. This has led to a significant increase in our funding to this cohort. Between 2022–2024, half of all our grants were distributed to community-led organisations, more than doubling the average of the three previous years.

We also wanted to take accountability for our previous under-resourcing of smaller community led groups. In late 2022, we started funding up to 50% of the annual income of migrant-led organisations with a turnover of up to £120,000. This shift has significantly increased the level and sustainability of funding we provide to both recently established and those who have existed for many years but have been overlooked by funders like us. This longer-term and greater investment into these groups has allowed several of them to attract funding from other sources, including by meeting minimum income requirements from other trusts and foundations.

Consulting with and learning from those in the field

During the past year, we have consulted widely with those working on migrant justice and related fields. Through this exercise, we wanted to build a shared vision for the future, identify opportunities, challenges and ways funders can best support the field to progress towards this vision.

We held exploratory sessions in London, Edinburgh, Manchester and Belfast consulting with about 70 people, including migrants, refugees, those from diaspora communities[2] and other funders. After completing this exercise, we invited fifteen people working in the field to provide detailed feedback to our updated vision, criteria and process for the next iteration of the Fund.

We were surprised by how much alignment there was across all sessions. When asked what does liberation look like for migrants’[3], all groups described the need to envision a world without borders, where everyone is free to move, thrive and feel like they belong. We acknowledged we are living in a period of extreme complexity, with multiple issues needing urgent and bold solutions at the same time. From shrinking democratic space, chronic under-resourcing of vital public services to increasing inequality tied to a lack of care for our planet, multiple wars and genocide affecting our communities, and the scapegoating of several groups, including migrants, racialised, disabled, working class and LGBTQ+ communities. Amidst these challenges, many participants shared the importance of building on the hope for a better future for all of us as a source of strength to continue their work.

This was echoed in the conversations we had with activists, organisers, organisations, and funders working in the United States and mainland Europe who described the challenges they are facing and the importance of strengthening transnational solidarity on migrants’ rights. Beyond this, several people raised the need to build alliances and solidarity with other social justice movements, as a way of combatting scapegoating and division in our pursuit of justice.

Where to next?

The next iteration of our fund – now called the Migration Fund – will centre the shared vision we co-created with those in the field. Going forward, our migration programme will be working with others towards a world in which everyone is free to move, and no one is forced to move. For us, this means a world in which respect, care and interdependence underpin our relationships with one another; differences of opinion and perspectives provide opportunity for reflection and growth, and shared learning allows us to both shape our future actions and to stop us from deepening and consolidating harm. It is an invitation to open-up new thinking away from polarized and short-term narratives.

Building on our commitment to embed anti-racism across our work, the new iteration of our fund will focus both on how organisations work, and what they seek to achieve. We added a focus on the how’ after acknowledging that the strength of our movements is not solely made up of the issues we seek to change, but also the ways in which we relate to one another – through shifting power, strengthening solidarity, collaboration and deepening accountability and anti-racist practice.

Listening to the field, we will introduce longer-term funding for up to five years. This will be accompanied by a more relational and (hopefully) straightforward application process, to ensure everyone is given an opportunity to speak to our team and only those who are closely aligned with our priorities spend time applying. We have also listened to concerns about funding equity in the field. To respond to this, we will proactively reach out to community-led organisations that align with our criteria, trial new approaches to reduce the burden of application on smaller groups and prioritise communities and regions that have been historically overlooked by us.

Over the next few weeks we will share more details on our thinking and the direction of the Migration Fund. This will include further reflection on our new vision, what this means for those working in the field, and suggestions how you can hold us to account for our commitments.

Thank you to everyone who has shared their time, expertise, and insight to help us shape the next iteration of PHF’s migration fund. We could not have done this without you.

You can hear more about Paul Hamlyn’s history in this audio documentary, drawing on interviews with his family, friends and colleagues.

Read a summary of the findings from our consultation with the migration field in this short report.

Letícia Ishibashi
Head of Programme – Migration