Favourite funding sources – for capital projects

A few people have asked for information about funders for capital projects (especially for buildings), so this blog will focus on current sources for community buildings in the UK.  I’m going to describe my current experience of three major grant applications which I am submitting on behalf of Christchurch Community Partnership for their new Druitt Hall community centre.  We are at the stage that we have fairly detailed architects’ plans, for which planning permission has been secured, and the land is in the process of being transferred to us.    

Prime amongst capital funders is the newish Communitybuilders fund.  This is a £70million investment fund for third sector or community-led building projects.  Now if that sounds like a great big grant pot, think again.  The key word is “investment”, and like a lot of “investors” they are likely to want most of their money back.  In other words, the bulk of the money will be given out as loans, on a fixed interest rate of 5%. 

Eligibility at first looks quite simple, but for some organisations it can be difficult to demonstrate that you are the recognised “community anchor” organisation for your area.  In other words you need to be seen as the focal point, the umbrella, or the most logical local organisation to run a community building that will offer resources to other community groups.  Unusually, especially for large grants, Communitybuilders prefer you to have a smaller and more localised area of benefit  ie a housing estate or a clearly-defined part of a town, rather than serving a whole town or a large rural area.

Help is offered in three ways.  A Development Grant of up to £2k comes with a “Supporter” to work with your organisation to strengthen leadership and systems, to help ensure you are in a position to manage a community building.   A Feasibility Grant of up to £20k for smaller projects or £75k for larger projects, also comes with further business support, and this phase is intended to put in place a strong business plan which demonstrates the sustainability of the building project (bearing in mind that the ongoing revenue budget needs to generate enough surplus to pay back the loan you are planning to apply for).  The third phase is the Investment, which is normally a loan of between £50k and £2million over ten years, with the 5% interest rate fixed for three years.

That looks reasonably straightforward, so you decide to download the application form(s) for the phase you feel you need.  No.  That’s not how Communitybuilders works!  You phone up and speak to someone in the Social Investment Business (who administrate the grants & loans).   The person I spoke to, Martin, was extremely helpful and definitely wanted to help me get over the obstacles, rather than putting more in my way.  

After a fairly full and frank grilling, the Feasibility application form came by email.   Bearing in mind the form could lead to a £75k grant, it didn’t ask unnecessary questions, and the boxes ask for a maximum of 250 words each which helps keep you focussed and succinct.  This Feasibility grant, if we are successful, will be invaluable for funding two key areas:  firstly a more extensive business plan than we currently have (adequate for ensuring a shared vision for the building, but not detailed enough to break down the costs of the capital build, nor to take into account the possibility of a loan that needs repaying out of the revenue income for the next 10 years);  and secondly the unsexy but essential costs of a procurement officer, quantity surveyors, architects etc to establish the detailed costings of the different elements of a newbuild project (site clearance, archaeological surveys, external structure, renewable energy systems, internal layout, and fitting-out).  It’s amazing how many charitable trusts and foundations want to help finish community buildings ….. ie join in at the stage when they can have rooms named after themselves, rather than at the early stage to fund boring things like procurement.

Best of all, once submitted we can expect a decision on the Feasibility grant within a few weeks.  And going through that stage is likely to improve our chances of going for the Investment loan, if we decide that our budgets can successfully and realistically be reworked to include loan repayments.  So far my experience of Communitybuilders has been positive, and I shall continue to report on this.   www.communitybuildersfund.org.uk/

The second funder I want to talk about today will not, I’m afraid, be of much use to most readers.  The Talbot Village Charitable Trust only funds projects in Bournemouth, Dorset & Poole, but those of us working within that area give a big cheer to the far-sightedness of the Trustees of this fund!  They understand the sense of small charities seeking both sustainability and community development through buildings.  As landowners and property developers themselves, they acknowledged our need for funds for those unsexy initial costs, and approved a grant to Christchurch Community Partnership of £80k over three years and contributing to the three phases of the building work – procurement and preparation, construction, and fitting out.  A big thank you to them.   The Talbot Village Trust doesn’t have a website, but you can find how to contact them by looking on the Charity Commission website and using their charity registration number 249349.  There is no form to complete, just guidance on what information is required.

My third capital funder will be one of the big landfill grant-givers (such as BIFF, COMMA, SITA, WRAP, Landfill Communities Fund etc), once I’ve narrowed down which one to go for.  I’ll write about our successes and our failures, and comment frankly on the unnecessary complications some funders like to invent!

©  Tamara Essex 2010

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