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Statement from Dawn Austwick, CEO, The National Lottery Community Fund

This seems such an apposite instruction right now for us at The National Lottery Community Fund, as we have indeed just drawn breath.

Eight months seems like a lifetime ago. In February, I met with other major funders from North America and Europe; we shared approaches to three global issues: the climate emergency, the challenges of digital/tech in the world of ‘doing good’, and the role of communities. We saw the pandemic as a temporary interruption to normal business…how wrong could we be? The pandemic has re-drawn the lines, accelerated some changes, and slowed others down. It has created a world of uncertainty, turbulence, and fracture. It has contained us and controlled us in a way that few of us imagined possible in the 21st century.

Since March, we have distributed over £500m of National Lottery and funding from Government to support communities across the UK. With over 14,500 grants in that period, we have been operating at twice our usual run rate. In Northern Ireland we have run two rounds of emergency government funding, in Scotland we have worked in partnership with other funders to develop and deliver the Scottish Government’s emergency response funding and in England, we have been distributing emergency funding from government through the Coronavirus Community Support Fund (CCSF). The funding has enabled a richness of practice, innovation and partnership across communities that has been awesome – from the very local right through to the national.

I’m particularly proud that we have launched the Phoenix Fund in partnership with the Global Fund for Children using National Lottery money, a programme that is co-designed and co-produced with practitioners from the BAME community. Around 18% of CCSF funding has also gone to organisations specifically supporting Black and Minority Ethnic communities - thanks to the active engagement of many practitioners from those communities. We are lucky to have a number of advisory groups that help to steward us, not least our young people in the lead who are helping us to understand the experience for young people and helping us to make good judgements. There is so much good work that we can build on for the future - together. I am confident our commitment to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) will continue to challenge us to deliver and contribute more.

As well as supporting the extraordinary actions of thousands of communities and charities across the land to address the emergency, we have also continued to run our strategic funding programmes like the Climate Action Fund where we made our first awards in the summer – bringing together partnerships and galvanising urgent action to respond to an urgent threat.

One thing we got right in those very early days was our determination to gather intelligence, share learning, and take time to reflect on what was happening as well as to get money out to where it was needed. We contributed to and convened events engaging hundreds of participants and published around 100 reports, blogs and stories sharing real life experience that enriched our understanding. You can dig into many of the materials generated from the insights gained and keep up to date with the events that are coming up.

We have learnt so much – from how we can make our funding even more flexible, how to increase our reach through our digital footprint, through to questioning what sort of physical footprint we actually need. In the next few months we will re-think how we operate in the future – building on what we have learnt in the last eight months as well as what we already knew from our funding teams who work locally.

And we have been supporting others to help think about the future, setting up and delivering on the new Emerging Futures Fund. The demand for this funding indicated how much people want to think about the future. We are hosting a series of online inquiries on some of the emerging issues for civil society and communities that we are now running. This blog tells you more.

In September, we set out the principles that will guide all our funding throughout the UK during the next stage of the emergency. We had originally thought this would be a transition period to stability: we all now know that isn’t the case. These principles reflect that uncertainty and commit us to being flexible, to learning from the changes we have made in the last few months, and to keep adapting.

So, our portfolios are returning to a more familiar shape. For example, we will shortly re-open our Awards for All, Reaching Communities and Partnership programmes in England, but with one eye on the continuing demands resulting from the pandemic and the other on how we can help charities and community organisations adapt and develop in this new and continuing environment of instability, new and growing need, and (in all likelihood) fewer resources.

More widely, new social connections have been formed and old ones renewed. Communities have sprung into action, charities have forged new relationships, businesses have found new partners and a new role in their communities, and neighbours have come together. It’s been an honour to play our part in supporting this extraordinary effort across the country and we look forward to doing the best we possibly can in the next few months, which will no doubt continue to test and challenge us all.

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