Funding user-led groups

Funding user-led groups: learning from the Side By Side Fund

In the first episode of the NSUN podcast, Mark Brown talks to Ruairi White (Project Manager at NSUN) and Emma Ormerod (NSUN Associate) about what we learnt from running the Side By Side Fund for grassroots community groups.

The Side by Side Fund awarded small grants of up to £500 to peer support, mutual aid or self-help groups that benefit people/communities who live with mental ill-health, trauma and distress to connect remotely, prepare to move their activities to face-to-face, or make their group more sustainable. The grant was aimed at groups in some way led by members of the community they engage, and peer support was defined as the intentional action of bringing people together who have experiences in common to offer mutual support. Not all groups that fit this bill define themselves as “mental health groups”.

In this podcast, we talk about the barriers small, grassroots organisations encounter while trying to get funding for their core activities, moving away from power dynamics in funding towards more participatory grant-making and genuine representation of lived experience, and the value of making funding application processes as straightforward and accessible as possible.

More about funding the user-led sector

NSUN members discuss red flags (and improvements) in funding

Listen to Beth, Debbie, Hameed, Jessica, Sylvia and Taimour, NSUN members whose grassroots organisations received Side By Side grants, discuss red flags in funding for user-led ‘mental health groups’:

Reasons why grassroots groups might not apply for your funding include: complicated application processes, disproportionate monitoring requirements, no offer of core funding, and a lack of a reputation for working productively with and sharing power with marginalised groups.

In a second video, they consider what would make things better and offer tips for funders:

Tips include: prioritise simplicity, make it as easy and accessible as possible to both get in touch to find out more and make an application, and offer flexible ongoing support without asking for too much.

User-led organisations are often small, often under-funded and often struggling to stay afloat. User-led groups often get forgotten because they are too busy trying to help people going through difficulties and, because they begin from the lives of people who are already marginalised and discriminated against, they lack the contacts and visibility to attract big name backers, mount media campaigns and catch the attention of decision makers.

Funders need to look at the way they regard mental health user-led organisations. Often the kinds of small, responsive organisations that really meet the needs of people living with distressing feelings and difficult challenges are too small to interest funders interested in scale, too local to interest funders interested in national impact and too specific to interest funders not committed to mental health.

– From The Crisis of User-Led Organisations (2019)

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