Power to Change & DCLG Funding Fair
13 January 2016 - Impact Hub

Power to Change & DCLG Funding Fair

Yesterday, a few of us from Impact Hub Islington & Brixton had the privilege of attending the Meet the Funders Fair. The event was about the new landscape for funding, featuring a diverse range of innovative routes and sources presented through inspiring talks, workshops and exhibitor stalls. The day was jointly hosted by DCLG (Department of Communities and Local Government) and by Power to Change, an independent charitable trust set up with a £150 million endowment from the Big Lottery Fund to support, develop and grow community business across England.
The day kicked off with an opening plenary from Vidhya Alakeson, CEO of Power to Change. Their future is focused on aligning key metrics with organisations they fund; building referral relationships with other social investors to broker packages; and providing better access to alternative finance, including blended grant / loans, using grants to unlock loans, and piloting a community shares match funding scheme. It was inspiring to hear the steps they were taking to target more small community businesses, through more tailored and blended packages of support.

Following Power to Change, we heard from a few keynote speakers, offering different perspectives on the funding landscape from governmentfunder, and a project‘s perspective.

The Government’s Policy: Sarah Benioff, Director of Integration and Community Rights at DCLG

DCLG started with Localism Act in 2007 which brought neighbourhood planning, community right to bid and community right to build to the forefront, and collectively they enabled community groups to take greater control over decisions in neighbourhoods. Although it was inspiring to hear the range of projects that DCLG has funded since inception, we found that Benioff did not provide much commentary on the wider themes of government policy, in particular devolution and austerity, which many small and community based organisations are worried about destabilising and reducing future funding streams. Key resources from DCLG include their “Access to Finance” week starting Jan 2016 and updates from their “my community.org.uk” website.

A Funder’s Perspective: Cliff Prior, Director of UnLtd, and soon to be Big Society Capital 

Next up was a firm favourite and longtime collaborator of Impact Hub, Cliff Prior from UnLtd. We always find Prior an inspiring speaker and he really grabbed our attention with some practical advice for businesses looking to scale. UnLtd support over 4,000 people each year through small grants, connections from first steps to first growth and investment. Our favourite takeaways from Prior were about business growth: asking the audience to consider whether growing was necessary, and if so, then prioritising and understanding what kind of growth.

As Prior explained, far too many organisations want to scale up a loss. There is no shame in not growing, in fact very few do grow. Of the 6 million SMEs, only 6,000 employ 250+ people. This means only 1 out of every 1,000 successfully scale, which is a small percentage. Rather, over 4 million are freelancers or sole traders and there are recognised challenges at every stage of growth.
If an organisation has decided to scale, is it to grow bigger, better, or stronger? As Prior said, it’s impossible to do everything at once, so be realistic and choose your priority.

  • Better: Improving methods, improving staff, improving efficiencies. Now more important than ever as with budget cuts, local authorities need to do more with less.
  • Bigger: Doing more for more money, but considering if this is realistic in your market. Will you scale at a loss, or are there economics of scale and clients you can leverage?
  • Stronger: Becoming more resilient, building diversity and reserves. Even in tough times of austerity, your organisation will survive.

Final piece of advice from Prior – if you are ready to scale, then get real, get the talent that you need, and scan the sector to find the most relevant investors. If you find them, then engage early because it will take a long time, and in that process, always remember to look after yourself. For Impact Hub Islington & Brixton, which are both in growth stages, it’s more important than ever for us to genuinely understand where we are, find others who have done something like us, and understand our need external investment.

A Project’s Perspective: Ian Scholes, founder of Spacious Place

The keynote speakers concluded with a rousing and inspiring journey from Ian Scholes, founder of Spacious Place. With help from Power to Change and SIB, Spacious Place secured capital funding to part-fund the acquisition of freehold premises and fit-out costs of Slater Terrace, a 16,116 sq ft grade II listed former cotton mill in the historic Weavers Triangle in Burnley, which will be developed as call centre to create jobs for ex-offenders and vulnerable adults, rental space for local businesses and a café / meeting space open to the community. Great work, Scholes & team!

Add on a few hands-on workshops and an exhibitors fair, and it was a very full day. Both Impact Hub Islington & Brixton came away brimming with ideas, and we’ll be following up with opportunities from Big Potential, Power to Change, and the RBS Natwest Skills & Opportunity Fund.
Next step: making sure we secure these funding opportunities and continue delivery our amazing impact to communities around the world!

Debbie So
Head of Partnerships