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Blog: Supporting local community organisations to help our residents

Matt Corbett, Director of the L&Q Foundation
Published on 01/04/2021

As charitable organisations, the role of housing associations goes beyond providing homes and housing services. Like many providers, L&Q are a long-term partner in the neighbourhoods where we work, so we can create communities that are connected, cohesive and vibrant. We’ve recognised this in our new five-year Strategic plan, with a focus on collaboration to enable sustainable communities.

The L&Q Foundation has been an active social investor since 2011, providing accessible grants to partners and grassroots organisations closest to their communities. Over recent years, we've strengthened our commitment to be a significant grant maker and since the pandemic have committed even more to help local, charitable organisations tackle the impact of Covid-19. Many of these have worked admirably to adapt their services, or even create new ones. For example, Reclaim at the Lane, a community centre and furniture reuse social enterprise in Canning Town, launched a foodbank and moved numerous projects online to continue delivering activities to our residents.

Supporting such organisations to become strong and sustainable is vital, now more than ever. Research by Locality acknowledges community organisations as 'cogs of connections' and the importance of building the community power established during the pandemic (We were built for this, Locality, 2020) and Danny Kruger's 'Levelling Up' report identifies community organisations as central to our vision of creating sustainable communities. At the beginning of lockdown, we refocused our Place Makers' Fund priorities to make sure it reached those who needed it most. Since April 2020, Place Makers has distributed over £600,000 to over 60 voluntary and community organisations working in our communities, offering activities that support our residents.

Around a third of this funding has been distributed to eight organisations through Place Makers Growth, which is targeted at building the capacity of voluntary and community organisations so they can develop their businesses through expansion of their work into new areas of delivery. One such organisation is The Albany in Deptford, Lewisham. Each year, the centre delivers over 400 events and works with over 200 community groups, spanning theatre, music, dance, and spoken word. The Albany Audio Project’s Place Makers Growth application was approved in May 2020. The intergenerational project has given visibility to otherwise unseen local people at a time when the risk of isolation has increased significantly. It offers both older and young people a chance to come together, develop new skills, and produce creative output through radio.

Young people produce the radio show, develop podcast and production skills, and undertake hosting and media training. Older people receive regular phone calls, creative activity boxes and other materials relating to the project. Following the success of the radio show, it now has an ongoing slot on Resonance FM and plans are underway for a greatest hits CD to document the success of the project. The project continues to foster long term relationships between young and old people and will contribute to the recovery of the community as we come out of lockdown.

Initially intended to be delivered face to face, The Albany quickly adapted the project to find new methods of service delivery and increase capacity of remote work. One of the key goals of the project was to bring the community together so digital delivery needed to enable a sense of unity, togetherness and comfort in these unprecedented times. This was particularly important for older participants, aged 70 and over and defined as vulnerable, so they felt part of the Lewisham community and could be creative and stay connected from the comfort of their own homes. The Place Makers funding has allowed The Albany to diversify how they deliver projects and they want to sustain this kind of hybrid programme of in-person and remote activity.

The L&Q Foundation's project ‘Funding Plus’ recently offered 20 charities or social enterprises highly specialised and professional support, focussing on building the capacity of the social sector and offering free capacity building support in terms of their financial sustainability, growth and delivering effective social impact.

As L&Q has expanded outside of London and the southeast, so has the Foundation’s offer. Place Makers Counties offers small grants to benefit new communities where we’re developing or improving homes, such as Milton Keynes and Warwickshire. It aims to develop and support local, community led and place-based projects that meet the needs of the local area. Counties projects tend to be delivered by smaller organisations, often asking for smaller grants. Our funding enables these organisations to develop their offer, helping them become strong and sustainable in the long-term. In some cases during the pandemic, our funding has been a lifeline as normal services and income streams have been disrupted. For example, our funding has enabled Bedford Daycare Hospice to employ a part-time counsellor for virtual support to patients and carers, at a time when their face to face services have had to stop and donations have lessened. The service has also been opened to the wider Bedfordshire community for bereavement support, outside of their normal user base.

The Junior Filmmakers project was the very first funding application approved as part of Place Makers Counties. Based in Milton Keynes, the Junior Filmmakers have developed ‘The Lewis Initiative’ in memory of Lewis Wenman, a 17-year-old who died from a stab wound to the chest in the city in November 2020. ‘The Lewis Initiative’ will work with 50 young people from primary and secondary schools to produce films with the theme ‘Knives Ruin Lives’, designed to encourage thought and change. The first film camp of ‘The Lewis Initiative’ took place during the Easter school holidays. Young people learn filmmaking skills and the films will be premiered to community leaders and toured round local school. Film screenings will be followed by talks from police, experts and people impacted by knife crime.

At L&Q, our experience has shown that local organisations know their communities best. That’s why we use social investment to support grassroots organisations, help build their capacity, resilience and ensure they can deliver sustainable, efficient and effective services in our communities and to our residents.