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Community foundations can have a key role in the government’s aim to level up the UK

The government said levelling up was at the heart of the most recent budget (Alamy)

3 min read

Earlier this year, the government announced how £2.1bn of the Levelling Up Fund has been allocated. The aims of the funding are to “create new jobs, drive economic growth, help restore people’s pride in the places where they live, and spread opportunity more equally”.

While investment is necessary to level up physical infrastructure and landmarks, which will indeed increase employment prospects and pride in place, I am concerned that not enough focus is going towards the existing effective social systems that are already making waves at a local level.

Achieving long-term social equity means strengthening the tools we have, not simply looking in a new direction. These systems are knowledgeable, experienced and continually supporting people on the ground, deep in the heart of communities. The easy tendency in government is to do something new because it is ‘news’. But we need to value our assets and build on them.

I became president of UK Community Foundations (UKCF) in 2021. I wanted to be involved in a movement that champions local philanthropy and makes a difference to the local groups and charities that communities depend on.

Community foundations were established in the UK in the 1980s with initial seed fund investment from the Charities Aid Foundation and HMG to found six community foundations. UKCF was created in 1991 as the national membership organisation for community foundations.

Today it supports the work of 47 community foundation members that collectively cover every postcode throughout the UK, including Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It also supports the work of its three overseas members in Jersey, Ireland and Bermuda.

Each year, the network distributes approximately £100m in place-based grants to individuals, grassroots voluntary groups and charities, and larger organisations that make a fundamental difference to people’s lives.

Most of the community foundations in UKCF’s network have long-standing relationships with their local authorities, collaborating on funds and establishing new networks in their regions. For example, Quartet Community Foundation partnered with Bristol City Council and Bristol & Bath Regional Capital to deliver Bristol City Funds, a £10m investment fund that is supporting solutions that target the causes and effects of inequality in the region.

"There is no point in building new bridges if existing ones work already”

In 2020 when the pandemic engulfed the world, UKCF mobilised instantly to distribute more than £76m (raised by the National Emergencies Trust) to communities with unrestricted grants – small and large – reaching groups within just three weeks of the UK going into national lockdown. The network used local relationships, research and grant-making expertise to swiftly get emergency support to where it was needed.

Moving forward, the lessons learnt from the pandemic across the charity sector should serve as a beacon for the future of giving. Unrestricted, flexible, place-based philanthropy enabled community organisations in some of the poorest parts of the UK to continue their services and be a voice for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

The root causes of issues such as overwhelmed healthcare services, food poverty, racial inequalities, and social isolation, are affecting communities all around the UK, thus requiring a ‘whole nation’ approach to finding solutions.

There is no point in building new bridges if existing ones work already. There are social systems and organisations in place, in the grassroots of society, that have more knowledge and experience than any central government. Community foundations are everywhere across the UK, ready, effective and integrated, and should be used as an integral tool in ensuring all communities get the right support they need to level up. We await the call…

For further information about community foundations, please contact: Info@ukcommunityfoundations.org or to arrange a discussion around place-based giving: Partnerships@ukcommunityfoundations.org

Lord Hastings is a crossbench peer and president of UK Community Foundations.

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Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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