Big Lottery Fund would welcome applications to support community broadband that meet the outcomes of their Awards for All programme, according to my conversations with BLF HQ staff. Awards for All will be familiar to anyone who does community work. Its outcome criteria are:
1 People have better chances in life – with better access to training and development to improve their life skills.
2 Stronger communities – with more active citizens working together to tackle their problems.
3 Improved rural and urban environments – which communities are better able to access and enjoy.
4 Healthier and more active people and communities.
As they say:
Our outcomes are the differences we want our funding to make. We will consider how well your project meets our outcomes during our assessment. You must show how your project meets at least one of them to be considered for a grant.
It’s easy to see how a community broadband scheme could fit this. Awards for All is open to non-profit community groups, with grants up to the value of £10,000. This amount would suit a community buying in professional support to scope out a local broadband scheme. Or could also fund the extension of a community scheme or installation of the first node/point. As long as such work achieves the Awards for All outcomes and the application is from a bona fide community group.
We know that, in the past BLF has turned down some applications from community broadband schemes. While drafting the rural broadband manifesto I noticed that a perception has gathered that BLF did not fund broadband. However my research (using 360giving, another project I work on) shows they have actually funded several, including one via Awards for All. I spoke with BLF HQ about this.
After a little investigation they responded today to say that BLF would welcome applications to support community broadband schemes that would achieve the Award for All outcomes and are from eligible groups. The application form and guidance are now merged into one document that can be found here. The Q&A is also useful. Note also the amendment that removes the limit on the size of scheme Awards for All can contribute to.
Some observations on this:
It was the response I had expected from BLF, which is modernising itself under new leadership. They know that modern communities have modern needs and there are better forms of support than rebuilding the village hall, worthy though that may be. There is also a new emphasis on being ‘people-led‘ from Dawn Austwick:
‘we want to start with what people bring to the table, not what they don’t have; and from the belief that people and communities are best placed to solve their problems, take advantage of opportunities, and rise to challenges. Our job is to support them in doing so‘
This is timely as more and more communities are now working out that BT DSL/BDUK schemes are unlikely to help them. Lottery support could be a lifeline for such communities who need professional help to scope out options. A grass roots led, bottom up approach will be the answer for the last 5-10%. It would also help better direct BDUK money.
Community broadband can cost much more than £10k. The Big Lottery Village SOS scheme has funded some larger broadband projects at around the £50k mark. It will be interesting to see if BLF has an awards program that can manage larger amounts and in which supporting local broadband could meet its objectives.
Applications will need to be well crafted, from genuine community groups and there may yet be glitches in the application process for some broadband projects. It might take a while for understanding to percolate throughout the lottery staff teams, though I understand that some briefing may be going on.
In some cases a community may have set up a trading vehicle (company structure) for a broadband scheme that is not eligible directly for Lottery money, say a for profit company limited by shares. In my view, in cases like that one route could be for a community group that was eligible to make a genuine application for funding that would buy services from that company.
If people are thinking of applying and it would be helpful to have some sort of phone in (for those on low bandwidths) then I would be happy to host that. I am not an expert in Lottery applications but we could put our minds together. Also if people want to discuss aspects of the Lottery forms then please do so in the comments below.
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