Oxford City Council is changing the way it supports the city’s charities and community groups following a grant funding review.
The review was set up to find new ways of supporting groups despite the budget pressures of the pandemic.
The City Council is looking to do things differently in future: the council will do more to actively encourage applications that promote equality and environmental sustainability; it will less often be the only funding organisation, instead supporting groups to secure match funding and make joint applications; and it will provide strategic co-ordination of local partners and foundations to share information and best practice and improve success in getting national-level funding.
The council aims to merge the different community grant funds into a single Community Impact Fund of £578,000 to make the funding process simpler. It will also continue to commission critical domestic abuse and advice services worth £475,000 and contribute £442,000 to help deliver the Housing and Homelessnes Strategy.
The City Council has maintained a high level of community grants through ten years of austerity, but was already reviewing grant funding when the pandemic hit. This was put on hold, but it is clear covid emergency funding from government for community organisations will end in March next year. The review enables the Council and community groups to now plan for the long term.
The council has done extensive research in Oxford and with other councils to review how to manage with less. It has consulted with existing grant recipients, unsuccessful grant applicants, other local authorities and other local and national funders. This research identifies and supports the following principles:
- equalities are at the heart of the programme
- recovering from Covid
- tackling deprivation
- delivering a route to zero carbon
The review found that during the pandemic the council and its partners have shown innovation, new ways of working and a genuine desire to tackle the inequalities that Covid has exposed and increased. New voices and grassroots organisations with lived experiences require support, mentoring and backing to challenge and change the status quo.
In the future, community groups will need to collaborate, coordinate and target projects in order that those most in need are least affected by the reduction in grants. The Council will continue to play a leadership role: encouraging better coordination among funding organisations, and providing regular funding surgeries to share information, encourage partnerships and grow skills to support local community groups.
The council is already a member of schemes that help community organisations raise other funding, and it will look for other opportunities to help groups find match funding instead of one large grant. The council also runs the Oxford Lottery, which enables community groups to raise funds by selling tickets, with 50% of the ticket price going direct to the community group.
A new approach
To make grant applications easier, the council will replace separate community grant funds and with one new Community Impact Fund. Three bands of funding will be available:
- small (up to £1,000)
- medium (£1,001 to £5,000) and
- large (£5,001 to £35,000)
There will be shared criteria for all bands, a straightforward application and clear timelines, and more in person and online help available. This will make it easier for new and emerging community groups to be successful in securing funding.
The new approach is expected to get final approval this year, subject to review by the council’s Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet approval in December, and the Large Grants programme will launch before Christmas.
The council will continue to work with community groups to prepare for the new approach, and will run regular surgeries to help smaller or new community groups to apply for funding.
“Oxford is a really active community with many groups working towards tackling inequalities in our city. We’re proud to have kept our funding levels up all the way through the austerity years.
“I’d like to thank staff, community groups, and partners for carrying out this important review. This is an ambitious reworking of our community grants so that we can still prioritise the vital work of grassroots community activity to support excluded groups such as disabled, ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA+ and low-income households. We know cuts are never welcome, but with the support of partners we will make sure our community groups continue to thrive, providing opportunities for everyone in this city.”
Councillor Shaista Aziz, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Communities
“Our budgets have been badly affected by the pandemic, with a catastrophic impact on important income streams and inadequate compensation from government. In this context, we have had to reduce our grants budget, but we hope that the way of doing this, by supporting groups as far as possible to get alternative funding, will reduce the impact as far as possible. We want our local voluntary sector to thrive and by retaining a grants budget of well over £1million per year, we will continue to play our part.”
Councillor Ed Turner, Cabinet Member for Finance and Asset Management