Grants can be very important to town and parish councils as they provide a means to fund community projects and initiatives that may not be possible through other sources of revenue. Grants can enable councils to improve local services, facilities, and infrastructure, and address specific community needs or challenges. Additionally, grants can provide financial support to local organizations, such as sports clubs, charities, and community groups, helping them to deliver their programs and services. By securing grants, town and parish councils can leverage additional resources to make a positive impact on the lives of their residents and promote the overall well-being of their community.
In this blog, I share the many sources of grants out there. It can be quite overwhelming knowing how and where to start. This is why I've detailed some of the most popular grant funding sources for Town & Parish Councils below.
I am Mike Deegan. I have over 25 years experience of writing successful funding bids and developing thriving community & environmental projects that can really help support your organisation. My expertise working for a charity, being a parish councillor and delivering local community projects means that I fully understand how smaller bodies and organisations operate.
🏆 National Lottery Sources
National lottery sources include the Heritage Fund, Sport England, Arts Council England, and perhaps more commonly known amongst Town & Parish Council, The Community Fund.
Some of the funding available via The Community Fund include:
- Awards for all - up to £10,000
- Reaching communities - over £10,000
- Partnerships - over £10,000, for organisations that work together across sectors
- Bringing people together - up to £1m, for building stronger connections across local communities
Top tip: it’s worth checking The Community Fund regularly as they are often adding different grants, such as the most recent “Bringing People Together”. https://www.tnlcommunityfund.org.uk/
♻️ Landfill Communities Fund
The Landfill Communities Fund is an innovative tax credit scheme allowing waste operators to contribute money to organisations enrolled with ENTRUST as Environmental Bodies.
The most common way of obtaining funding under the scheme is to apply to one of the funding organisations.
Eligibility criteria for projects to receive funding can vary from the standard regulations, for example, some funders may require you to be within a certain distance of one of their landfill sites.
For more details and funding opportunities, visit https://www.entrust.org.uk/landfill-community-fund/.
💰 Further sources of funding
Principal Councils - your District or Borough Council may still provide some form of community funding, these will most likely be smaller than the large funds available in the past, but will vary across Principle Councils.
Specific Local Grants - you might have access to funders, only providing to your local area, county or region. These grants tend to come and go, so do keep an eye on local notices.
Environmental Grants - certain organisations, such as Woodland Trust, support areas including tree and hedgerow planting. Your Principal Council may also have funds for adapting to climate change and green energy projects.
👀 Non-grant funding sources
Social Investment - councils can tap into social investment in the form of specific loans, for example the Public Works Loan Board.
Events/Donations - donated income can be a really useful way to generate core funds, especially to support matched funding towards grants. Here are some top fundraising events & ideas for 2023:
Now that we’re aware of some of the sources available, let's think about what we need to consider before starting the grant application process...
No matter the size of your council, the impetus to put together a project or bid usually revolves around a few dynamic and energetic individuals - often the people to come up with the idea in the first place. These individuals will help drive that project forward. Their experience and attitude is so useful when it comes to preparing and writing successful funding applications - keep them on your team!
Again, regardless of the size of your council, you will need enough of the right people to help see the project through. It’s also important not to rely on the Clerk to do all of the work, especially for bigger funding bids. When building a team, start in house, as ideally you want existing councillors and staff working with the Clerk (and remember, skills can be developed and enhanced over time!). You can also look outside the council for assistance, there’s usually a great untapped resource of individuals within the community who have great experience and skills to offer.
Meeting the criteria
Every grant will have a section on how to apply and what they’re looking for. Make sure you scan the criteria thoroughly and that your project meets the compatibility and eligibility requirements. First look at the general criteria (i.e. communities, sport, education). Then look for more subtle requirements (i.e. geographical location, fixed period). These will help you determine whether a grant is the right one for you.
🤩 Writing Successful Bids
As mentioned earlier, writing grant applications can be a bewildering process, especially if this is your first time. Mike has shared some of his top tips to help your bid stand out from the crowd.
Prep, prep and more prep
Before you start, think carefully about what you want the funding for. Focus on what the council needs, not what it wants.
Create a strategy in advance, not only to help with the grant application but also to focus your thoughts on the ideas, priorities and processes that you’re going to go through. Give thought to potential costs and try obtaining a few quotes from reputable contractors.
You should also consider the feasibility of the project and aims. Funders will want to know whether your aims are achievable - if there is a need or demand for the project. Think about who’s going to benefit, and why they need the project.
Don’t forget to consider the long-term viability, or sustainability, of the project as funders will want to know you have considered this and have future-proof plans.
Evidence of need
It is essential to have evidence of need. With full support of stakeholders and genuine engagement, this can greatly strengthen the success of a grant application.
Funders will want to see a bottom-up approach that is community driven. Any evidence of consultation and involvement with the community, and how this has helped determine choices and decisions, is extremely valuable.
Focus on the key words
Build your application around the key terms in the criteria and don’t be afraid to keep using them - this is what the grant funders will be looking for.
You also need to use your wording effectively. Use the SMART method when answering questions (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed) to show how your project meets these objectives.
Top tip: Ensure that you are only answering the questions asked. Don’t be tempted to add additional information, as there will be limited space or words available.
Look at successful grants
Bigger grants may provide case studies with examples of grant applications, often from Local Councils. Read through these for a good indication of the types of project the funder prefers.
You may need to tweak or adapt your plan to meet enough of the funders criteria. For example, could you downsize your project or focus on a specific area? Or perhaps broaden the project to diversify what you’re delivering?
With that being said, it is equally important that you’re not trying to force fit your project just to meet a grant that is not appropriate - it’s a balancing act.
Be realistic, but ambitious too
Don’t just think about what funding could achieve today, consider the long-term. What will your community look like in 5, 10, 15 years time? What will your stakeholders need from your project or facilities then?
Luckily, as a local council, you’re in a great position to anticipate your communities social economic and demographic patterns!
And remember, funders want to see ambitious and innovative projects, something that will inspire as opposed to the same-old.
Funders are increasingly looking for applicants to work with other organisations, with some only providing grants to partnerships.
Think about who you could team up with. It can really strengthen your bid and add credibility if you can involve other organisations. It might just be a simple collaborative partnership to help out with certain areas of the project.
Sometimes it may not always be appropriate for your project, but even getting support or endorsement from other organisations can really help too.
Need tailor made advice?
I am available for consulting projects on these topics
- Grant funding
- Project management – including Procurement and Consultation
- Training and Facilitation
Watch my session recording below
Slides - View the slides below
Q: We're looking at a PWLB loan to be taken out over 30 years, but we need some initial funding for the next stage of design work. Should I take out a separate loan for this or get approval for a larger loan and draw down from this?
A: Without knowing the specifics of the project I couldn't say for definite, but if you're convinced you'll be spending all of the funds, I would go for the larger loan. I would also highly recommend engaging with the community to see if there is a consensus for the loan.
Q: We're looking to build a MUGA, do you have any advise on how we roll out community engagement and getting the parishioners involved?
A: Specifically with MUGA's, the demographic tends to be teenagers, so you need to be strategic with your engagement as it can be rather tricky! I would recommend looking at social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, or finding out other platforms that the younger generation in the local community use.
Q: We're going for an ambitious bid of around £1m, but it's complicated in that we want to buy a piece of land with two properties and the idea is to sell one of the properties to recuperate some of the costs. Do you see any difficulties with this from a bidding point of view?
A: No, as long as the land is valued through a public valuer, done above board and the community are happy I don't see any problem with that.