Publication - Research and analysis
Supporting Communities Fund: evaluation
- Housing and Social Justice Directorate
- Part of:
- Communities and third sector
Evaluation which assessed how the funding was spent and what the outputs were as well as looking at the experiences of those involved in the fund.
This report provides an analysis of the data on applications and awards made through the Supporting Communities Fund (SCF) funding process. This fund was part of the Scottish Government's initial £350 million overall package of Communities Funding support. The SCF was established with an initial £20 million investment to provide funding to community anchor organisations (CAOs) to help support local responses to the pandemic. The fund was designed to provide financial support in the short term, initially over a 4-6 month period, and closed in September 2020. In total, £17,056,890 to 373 organisations was approved for funding.
This evaluation aims to examine where and how the Supporting Communities Fund funding was spent; what the outputs of the funding were and from the perspective of the CAOs and the intermediary funding partners (IFPs); and what were their experiences of the funding process. It also seeks to generate learning about the funding process that can be used to inform similar approaches to funding in the future, identify new and emerging priorities in our recovery from the pandemic and gain insight into CAOs' experiences of partnership working. To determine if CAOs and IFPs were able to apply any learning from their experience of the SCF to the subsequent Communities Recovery Fund (CRF), those involved in both funds were also asked to compare their experiences.
Due to the light touch approach taken, the nature of the interventions and the limitations of the environment groups were working in, the quality of the available data was in some cases limited. Therefore, this report is not able to measure or comment on the fund's overall effectiveness in reducing the impact of the pandemic on local communities and beneficiaries as direct conclusions on the impact of the fund were not able to be drawn from the data available.
The SCF supported 373 organisations working across all 32 local authority areas in Scotland and distributed grants totaling £17,056,890. The average amount of funding requested was £37,027 and most applications requested less than £30,000 funding. Grants awarded ranged from £1,500 to £329,720.
The number of people supported by the SCF was not fully possible to measure as not every project recorded the number of people they supported. Many organisations chose to give a general account of the range of people supported rather than attempting to quantify their reach. Where information is available, some organisations chose to report the number of households supported while others reported the number of individuals. Organisations estimated supporting 11,267 households and 173,676 individuals, although this is likely to be a significant underestimation.
The overall fund was not targeted at any specific groups, allowing organisations to identify needs in their own communities. Many individual projects focused on supporting people with particular needs, characteristics or vulnerabilities which made them more vulnerable to the specific social, health and impacts of the pandemic and the accompanying restrictions. Most commonly, organisations reported supporting vulnerable people; people with low or no income; people who were socially isolated; people shielding; people self-isolating; and people with existing mental health conditions. Alongside supporting specific groups, many organisations also reported supporting people from an equality group as defined by the Equality Act 2010.
Grants from the fund supported a broad range of projects, many of them delivering multiple activities and providing a wide range of support to their service users. The most common activities delivered by the various projects focused on food support; basic provisions; support for volunteer management/operating costs; medical prescription delivery; social outreach; digital inclusion; and health and wellbeing support.
A large majority of projects focused on food support in some form, either using funding to help a specific group to access food or taking a broader focus to support anyone in the local area with food and basic provisions. Projects focusing on food support used funding to establish or expand food provision through food banks in the community; to set up community fridges; or put in place systems to distribute surplus food to those in need.
Findings suggest that the Covid-19 pandemic took a significant financial toll on the third sector, with many of the funded organisations requesting funding for operating costs or to support volunteer management. These organisations focused on paying for staffing costs; supplementing core funding for the organisation; covering volunteer expenses and general management; and to paying for enhanced hygiene measures.
Due to the specific circumstances of the pandemic, many people were confined to their homes, either through lockdown conditions, shielding or self-isolation, resulting in increased social isolation and impacting on physical and mental health, as well as general wellbeing. Using SCF funding, projects delivered a range of activities designed to address these issues including support with social interaction; medical prescription delivery; befriending calls; and wellbeing packs.
Findings also suggested that there exists a level of digital exclusion within communities, which has been both highlighted and compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, many projects focused on improving digital access, either through adapting their existing service to allow service users to access the service remotely or providing families and individuals with a range of digital devices to allow them to stay connected.
Reflecting the broad range of activities delivered, organisations also funded projects focusing on home and family life, financial assistance and advice services. These projects delivered activities such as educational and home-schooling support; parenting support; utilities assistance or direct financial support in the form of hardship funds or small grants; as well as funded projects that offered a range of advice services relating to welfare, debt and housing. A small number of organisations also delivered projects which aimed to improve community resilience to support communities to adapt to the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Overall, data suggests that the experience for those involved in administering the SCF was positive. In particular, those involved in the administration and distribution of the fund felt it had been successful in its aim to distribute funding quickly to organisations at a local level and to support people who had been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many of the organisations involved in the SCF identified additional needs that emerged through the course of their projects and reported that they were already taking action to respond. It is possible that these needs could be used as potential areas of focus for future funding initiatives as third sector organisations move into the recovery phase.
Most commonly, organisations highlighted emerging needs relating to poverty and unemployment, reflecting the severe financial impact the pandemic has had on communities in terms of unemployment, loss of earnings and increased financial insecurity. After poverty and unemployment, needs relating to health and wellbeing were also seen to be a priority going forward. Organisations reported that the pandemic has had a considerable impact on the mental health of individuals.
There was a recognition throughout the data that the third sector had played a key role in the response to the pandemic and therefore, greater support for community organisations should be a priority going forward in terms of sustained support and investment.
Communications between those involved in the fund were generally seen as successful. In particular, organisations highlighted that communication between CAOs and IFPs and the support provided throughout the funding process had been invaluable and that these relationships were key to the delivery of their projects. Positive communications between the various IFPs were also reported, where partners highlighted that effective communication and the strength of the relationships between the IFPs had been key to the speed of the initial application process.
Although communication between those involved in the fund was viewed as positive overall, in a few specific instances communication could have been improved. IFPs highlighted a need to improve the communication of the funding criteria to CAOs during the application and assessment process, including the nature, scope and timing of the fund as there was some confusion around eligibility in a few cases.
A need for better communication and coordination between CAOs and the funded organisations working in the same local area was also highlighted, to allow organisations to effectively identify unmet need and reduce the possibility of duplication.
Most of the partners involved in the set-up and management of the SCF felt that the initial application process worked well due to effective communication and the strong relationships between the IFPs and the Scottish Government, and reported that these relationships were central to distributing funding quickly to third sector organisations.
Partnership working between Scottish Government, IFPs and CAOs
The evaluation highlighted the importance and effectiveness of establishing and building on strong relationships to successfully deliver funding efficiently and at pace. It was highlighted that all those involved in delivering the fund brought their own skills and expertise, allowing them to deliver a fast-paced, coordinated and joined-up response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Future funding initiatives may benefit from continuing to build on the relationships established during the course of delivering the SCF as well as those partnerships formed under other emergency funds. In particular, the local knowledge and expertise of community and third sector organisations were seen to have the potential to inform the initial direction of future funding initiatives. The findings suggest that continued prioritisation of structures and partnerships that enhance community resilience would help support the fragile community and voluntary sector. In particular, there is a need to maintain these networks to prevent the loss of the partnership gains made through the SCF funding process so that these partnerships can be mobilised again if required.
Pace, simplicity and the light touch approach to funding
Those involved in the administration and delivery of the SCF generally felt that the pace, simplicity and light approach to the funding process had been successful. In particular, the light touch approach to funding had been central to the agility of the fund, reduced the burden on the funded organisations and allowed grants to reach those most in need in communities throughout Scotland. There were some reservations around aspects of the light touch approach, in terms of measuring direct impact and the clarity of the funding criteria. However, the overall positive reception of the fund does raise questions around whether future funding initiatives could be simpler and faster while minimising the burden placed on third sector organisations.
The evaluation suggests that several steps could be taken to improve future funding initiatives:
- review the amount and format of information requested in both application and monitoring forms, to identify ways to provide focus and direction to organisations without being overly onerous;
- review funding criteria to improve the clarity of information provided to those involved in administering the fund and to CAOs to ensure that the eligibility criteria, timing and scope of the fund to applicants;
- consider ways in which some aspects of the light touch approach could be taken forward to improve future funding initiatives, with the aim of striking a balance between speed, flexibility and risk; and
- if a full evaluation is required, consider ways to strike a balance between agility and responsiveness in an incredibly time sensitive situation, with the need to evidence outcomes for public spend.