Resuming regular grant-making: Looking ahead to the autumn

Published: 7 August 2020 
Author: Régis Cochefert 

Régis Cochefert, Director of Grants and Programmes, reflects on the Foundation’s emergency grant-making as we prepare to reopen to applications, whilst retaining a commitment to quicker decisions, more flexibility and better responsiveness to applicants.

  • Funds to reopen in late October
  • Explore and Test’ and More and Better’ grants to be replaced with a single, more flexible funding route
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As we move into what would normally be the time for setting out of office’ emails and going away on holiday, it feels a good time to reflect on what has been a very challenging four and a half months, and to take this moment to outline our plans for the autumn – whilst acknowledging that life is anything but normal and we continue to face anxiety and loss due to COVID-19.

We closed our office in London’s King’s Cross in mid-March, as the impact of the pandemic became clearer. Our first thought was for the organisations we support: we were certain that their skills, compassion and capacity would be needed now more than ever, and we could glimpse just how seismic the challenge would be.

Within days of the office closing, our trustees made the decision to ring-fence £20 million for emergency funding in addition to our usual grant-making budget, so that we could help make a difference in a period of great uncertainty and complexity.

In order for us to devise and launch new mechanisms to distribute this emergency funding, we decided to put our normal funding routes on hold, contacting all the organisations that had applied to us already or were in conversation with us. We also contacted all the organisations that we are currently funding to let them know that we would be flexible, that grants could be re-purposed and reporting requirements changed.

Whilst we may not be the most fleet-of-foot of funders in normal times, we managed to launch our Emergency Fund within a week or so of closing the office – making our first grants a week later, with money reaching the first recipients about ten days after that.

To date we have awarded more than £8 million on 260 grants to support work across our strategic priorities.

We have been busy with emergency funding, but we know that our ongoing support will continue to be important in the coming months and years and we are therefore planning to reopen our Funds in late October. In doing so, we are keen to hold on to elements of our processes that have worked well over the last few months: quicker decisions, more flexibility, better responsiveness to applicants.

We are still working out the detail, but we will continue to have a rapid response mechanism through our Emergency Fund alongside our usual Funds as we know that the crisis is not over yet. Some Funds (Ideas & Pioneers and Youth) will remain mostly unchanged, with some adaptations to recognise the impact of COVID-19.

Other Funds – Shared Ground, Arts-based Learning and Arts Access and Participation – will change to reflect more closely what we have learnt since March and the current reality for the sectors we support.

We have heard that our funding needs to be more flexible and responsive, so we will no longer have Explore and Test’ and More and Better’ types of grants in these three Funds. Instead, we will have one funding route. Applicants will tell us about the kind of support they need in the context of our priorities for these Funds – from the underpinning or re-design of programmes to support for their core operations. These grants will range from 18 months to four years and will be up to £400,000.

At the moment, we anticipate that these changes will be in place for at least the next 18 months, but we will review this regularly to check that this remains fit-for-purpose.

We are working to make our application and assessment processes clearer, more accessible and, hopefully, simpler. We will put more emphasis on talking to applicants earlier on, so that we can give a decisive steer if we think there is the potential to develop a funding relationship, or say no’ more quickly if a proposal doesn’t fit the objectives of our Funds, to avoid wasting people’s time.

When we reopen to applications in October, we will do so against a renewed strategic focus on social justice and tackling inequality. This has always been at the heart of our mission, but is even more urgent now. Our strategy retains its commitment to our existing funding priorities (including India) and we are sharpening our focus on using our resources to make positive social change.

Even though we already support a wide range of critically important organisations, we are keen to connect with organisations that we might not have worked with before. Inclusion, tackling inequality and fighting racism have been core to our commitments in the past, but we want to go further too and broaden and deepen our funding in this context in the sectors we have prioritised – investing in young people, migration and integration, widening access to (and participation in) the arts, education and learning though the arts and nurturing ideas and pioneers.

As well as recovering from the impact of the pandemic, we expect that organisations in the sectors we care about will be interested in shifting power, supporting their communities to have greater agency and a more diverse leadership – and so are we. We will therefore be looking for organisations who understand what is going on for their communities and what role they can play, as well as thinking about how they might be able to collaborate and adapt in the context of uncertainty. We also think that infrastructure and organisations that enable partnership and collaboration are critical at this time and they will continue to form part of our thinking.

Moira Sinclair, our Chief Executive, will say more about our ongoing strategy in the autumn. In the meantime, if you are thinking about applying to PHF more details will be available soon. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Director of Grants and Programmes