In the emerging crisis, we focussed our efforts on being more responsive: speed was important – getting money out to where it was needed, but so too was our ongoing communication with the organisations and people we fund, to understand the changing impact of the pandemic on the communities they work with. We offered flexibility and simplified our requirements, enabling funding to be repurposed and timelines shifted.
An important year for grant-making
The volume of grant-making was significant, with more than twice as many grants as a normal year. We made a substantial investment in responding to Covid with an emergency response totalling £13.3 million, including 433 emergency grants, 31 Act for Change Fund grants and 113 Awards for Artists.
A coordinated response
We contributed to several pooled funds and also tried new models of delegated grant-making through other organisations.
We drew on the experience of engaging in the London Funders coordinated response to the Grenfell Tower disaster which provided a model of collaboration and quick response.
Our main funding offer is now more flexible
We signed the joint statement to “stand with the sector” and acted on our commitment to listen to funded organisations, offer financial flexibility, and adjust or remove many of our normal requirements.
Decision-making for emergency grants was delegated from our existing panels to staff and trustees, meeting on a weekly or fortnightly basis.
Our open grant-making programmes paused in late March 2020 and reopened at the end of October with small revisions to criteria, a more flexible funding offer and simplified processes.
Applicants can now request core, project or other support that best meets their needs and ambitions.
Adapting in times of change
We tried new ways to be more open and to be a good partner to those we fund. We continued to invest in beyondgrant support through initiatives like our Evidence and Learning Support Schemes, Youth Fund Learning Network and support in our Ideas and Pioneers Fund.
We introduced an ‘enquiry call’ to provide guidance and support to new potential applicants in our open funds.
We increased our responsiveness to requests for funding – even if they sat outside of our normal funding parameters or timelines.
We are committed to becoming an antiracist funder, and started to collect and analyse diversity data on the protected characteristics of the leadership of organisations that apply to us, and to use the Funders for Race Equality Alliance audit tool to analyse our grant-making.
We acted on our commitment to listen to funded organisations, offer financial flexibility and adjust our normal requirements.
Unlimited is an arts commissioning programme which works to improve access to culture for disabled people by providing opportunities for disabled artists, training and participatory arts programmes, delivered by Shape Arts and Artsadmin.
Funding supported an extension of existing commissioning support for a key group of artists who had their work significantly disrupted by Covid-19, expanding reach and providing responsive, emergency funding to ad hoc requests from disabled artists who were so disproportionately hit by Covid. The funding was: ‘Salvation! Stopped people taking out payday loans and they were still able to have a presence, having work they could sell and keep a profile. It saved people’s work lives – and no doubt actual lives’.
The project highlighted the importance of responsiveness, really listening and not making assumptions about the needs of artists: ‘One size does not fit all’. Through this approach, Unlimited was able to manage a wider range of relationships: ‘In order to deliver the best we could we had to do it differently’.
Much learning has been embedded – including thinking about reflection and evaluation processes for funded artists. To limit undue strain on Unlimited, further funding and capacity will be needed to ensure support can continue, building on the increased levels of trust, flexibility and responsiveness developed during the last year.
Salvation! Stopped people taking out payday loans and they were still able to have a presence, having work they could sell and keep a profile. It saved people’s work lives – and no doubt actual lives.
Emergency response in numbers
Total amount awarded
Awards for Artists
Act for Change Fund Covid Response grants
The past year has been unprecedented in so many ways. This review is a chance to share what we have learnt through our UK grant-making through our UK grant-making in the context of the challenges of Covid-19.