A new era for place-based funding?

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Rachel Laurence reflects on how one organisation, BD Giving, navigated the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic and what this tells us about the future of place-based funding.
7 Dec, 2021
Rachel Laurence

Rachel Laurence

Economic Development Lead, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

In the past 21 months, our world has turned upside down and inside out – with paradigms and reference points shifting at lightning speed around us.

It was back in that other dimension – July 2019 – when Power to Change commissioned a new report to explore whether better collaboration amongst funders could deliver more impactful results for local places. The research and analysis took place from September 2019 to Feb 2020. But the pandemic and first lockdown hit with full force just as I began to write it up. I was finalising it during that strange moment of early summer 2020; when the dust was still settling on the intense shock of the first lockdown whilst the next waves of disruption that would break by autumn brewed visibly.

We all wondered – would the community development sector survive the fallout? Would anyone ever want to come and do anything in person again? Would certain communities be so decimated by the pandemic’s impact on lives and livelihoods that the capacity for any community-led organising would be ripped out of them for years to come? And what about local state infrastructure? Would local government be effectively crippled for the foreseeable future by the financial impact? Let alone the pounding questions about the wider economy, and the wider health system, and all the rest of it.

As I worried whether the report I had just written may already be irrelevant to the new reality, I found myself plunged into one place’s efforts to navigate through the fallout through a post in Barking and Dagenham Council’s Inclusive Growth team. There I witnessed the gritty determination prevalent in so many places with so little left to lose – to roll up sleeves and to crack on fast with ditching broken systems.

A wealth of new creative, experimental, and radical approaches is now being pieced together from unlikely fragments of resources, funding, and relationships. This is true of people in all parts of the system, across small and medium enterprises, further education institutions, voluntary sector networks, public health partnerships, funders, and local government departments alike.

One such organisation is Barking and Dagenham Giving (BD Giving) – an experimental, place-based, community-rooted funding institution in the borough. It was established in May 2020 to secure and channel resources into the local community, including the council’s Neighbourhood Community Infrastructure Levy, through a £900K endowment and a £240k local fund. It has since been developing its processes to become a new muscle in the borough that recognises and proactively uses its concrete power to mobilise relationships, resources and people.

Through extensive co-productive work, its core purpose has emerged. BD Giving is not, interestingly, being used to distribute funding but instead is aiming ‘to improve the way local people and organisations work together to address the most pressing challenges in the borough’. This is not just a nice tagline. What sits behind it is a critical recognition that supporting change means resourcing and enabling people who are driving it, and proactively building and facilitating their relationships across organisational, demographic, and sectoral boundaries.

To achieve this, a Community Steering Group, made up of fifteen borough residents on London Living Wage, was recruited. They meet monthly to co-design BD Giving’s endowment investment policy and the framework for its community fund. The group was recruited through an innovative workshop-based process and will rotate annually to bring a new cohort of residents into the decision making alongside the trustees.

As an equal member of the existing voluntary sector, community sector, statutory, and small business infrastructure in the borough, BD Giving is governed by people from within the communities that the rest of the infrastructure also serves directly. It also seeks to actively shape how other partners, including the council and local businesses, redistribute wealth into the community.

The steps BD Giving has taken in shaping its structure, form and purpose highlight many of the challenges the report touches on that were prevalent pre-pandemic. These challenges have not, in fact, gone away. These include: aligning place-based priorities with national level theories of change; building the infrastructure for long term change with funding for short term projects; and starting with participatory, co-productive strategy design and then putting flexible funding resources to work in realising it, rather than applying to funding pots and then moulding strategies around the strings attached to the resources that can be successfully raised.

Progressive, place-based and place-focussed funders are going to be more critical than ever in supporting communities post-pandemic to proactively channel power, direct resources, grow relationships and build new social infrastructure. The principles and insights that emerged from this pre-pandemic work still, it turns out, haven’t changed much. But, just maybe, what has changed is how quickly these principles and insights can be translated into real-time change, with an impact on how funders and communities work together from now on.

Learn more

Read the report ‘Place-based funding: developing best practice‘.