“The women we were helping wouldn’t go anywhere but us”: Interview with Leah Chikamba, Founder of Angels of Hope

A group photograph by Angels of Hope for Women

Angels of Hope was one of the recipients of NSUN’s Side By Side fund. Ruairi White sat down with Angels of Hope founder Leah Chikamba to learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing a small charity working with women from Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.

Thank you for being here! Could you tell me about Angels of Hope?

Angels of Hope is a women’s organization. We started this organization in 2014. It was initially just myself. Before I even started the org I was helping people – so many people came to me, I would help them buy food, buy clothes and things like that – then there were two of my friends who were actually doing the same thing. At one point we were talking and we all realized we were doing the same thing. So we thought, “Let’s put our money together and then maybe we can help more people.”

Two or three years later we realized the people we were helping were bringing in more women to come for help and we couldn’t afford to do that from our own money – we’ve also got families we need to help. So we sat down and we thought, “Why don’t we start this as a charity?”, because once we registered as a charity it would help us to then get funding to support more of these women.

We knew that the women we were helping, because of the stigma and whatever they’re going through, wouldn’t go anywhere but us. So that’s why we decided to register it with the Charity Commission, and since then we’ve been able to help so many more people because we’ve been able to get some funding.

Some of the people we help have gone through domestic abuse, some of them are still in those unhealthy relationships. But we also work with other women who don’t go through that – maybe they have mental health problems, or just need support for their wellbeing. Because many women from the BAME community, the women we support, some of them you might look at them and think they’re fine, they’re working, they’re okay – but there’s quite specific cultural things that they go through and they would like to discuss that with fellow women from the same community. So sometimes we put on events just for anyone who can come and then we have different topics, we bring different people to come and talk to the women, and it just boosts and helps their wellbeing.

You became a charity partly to get more funding and resources, could you talk me through that?

Before we became a charity, we were still able to apply for some funding, but only a certain amount – a thousand, two thousand. But once we became a registered charity we were then able to apply to even the National Lottery Community Fund, and that has been supporting and helping us since we started the charity. So every year we do go back to them and we’ve been able to get that funding. But we’ve also been able to get funding from different organisations.

The fact that it’s a registered charity helps because you actually find with most funding that one of the priorities is you have to be a registered charity. There’s now a few which would give just to voluntary organisations, which we were before, but I think now there’s more scope for us to get more funding.

Were there any challenges with becoming a charity?

I had friends who already had registered their charities, so I got help from them. But I think if I hadn’t, and if you don’t know the system, it would be a bit challenging.

I’ve got a few friends who’ve got voluntary organisations but they are scared to register as a charity – they don’t know what to expect. But I think for me, I was so fortunate that some of my friends could guide me and support me with that.

And now you’re in that position, right? So what advice would you give to someone considering that step?

Some of my friends have come to me with voluntary organisations wanting to register – so firstly I’ve sat them down and talked through what are they doing, what is their purpose, what is the reason for wanting to register? And then who is involved: have they got volunteers? What do they know about about trustees and what you need to have in place before you can register as a charity?

Sometimes people think once you’ve registered that’s it, not knowing that there are things that they will need to be doing every time once they’ve registered. What I’ve found is that for most people, once they understand it, they’ve gone back again to think and to see whether this is the right time for them to do it.

Many people have this thing of not wanting to help people because they might go further than you, if you see what I mean. But it’s not the case. In fact, if others are successful, it’s even better, because we can now reach more people as charities.

What are the ways that funders and other charities can encourage collaboration over competition?

Especially with the funders, if they said maybe a registered charity should partner with a voluntary organisation, so the smaller organisation will get some of the funding. As you do that it will help those voluntary organisations to see what this charity is doing – what’s expected of them around evaluation and monitoring for example. So it will put them in a better position if they want to go on and register in the future.

What do you think would be the most helpful change in funding structures for orgs like yours?

What would make a massive difference is more specific funding for BAME-led organisations like ourselves – we are a BAME charity who supports women from a BAME background. What you find now is most of the funding is open to everyone. Because of the way some of these charities are, some of the people applying from BAME-led organisations might not be as fluent in English or writing the bids, but at least if the funding is specific to their community they’ve got the chance to actually go for it.

Do you feel like it’s easier for white-led organisations to get funding?

I think it is, yeah. It is, and that’s why I’m saying something that’s specific to us is better, because that funding will only be accessed by people from BAME backgrounds. So at least most of them will have more chance of going for it and getting it. I personally feel that white-led organisations get more funding – whether it’s because of experience or because they’re aware of the systems and things like that I’m not too sure, but that’s how I feel.

There are so many factors that go into it – sometimes overt prejudice, sometimes the extra opportunities afforded to white people. What other struggles have you found around funding work  for BAME women?

I’ve said before, the main thing is people from BAME organisations knowing what to do or what to write or the kind of wording to use when you’re writing bids. It’s normally helpful when funders have events beforehand to talk to people about what they expect and what they want people to apply for.

I don’t want to ask ‘do you find it easy to get core funding’ because I don’t know that anyone does! But talk to me about your experience of the difference between getting core funding and other kinds of funding.

We have a bit of a challenge in finding core funding. Normally what we do is we just get funding for specific projects and once that project’s ended, that’s it. For us, to continue to do another one, we have to apply again for different project funding, because it’s been quite challenging and difficult to get that core funding so unless it’s within the project, it’s easier to do it that way.

It’s so common and it is so much easier to find that project money. How does that change the way that you work, do you think?

Obviously, once that project is finished, we can’t do anything else, because we haven’t got that money to continue doing anything. If you wanted to continue supporting the people that you worked with, you have to wait until you get another project and then maybe invite those people. So that’s the thing – you start something, it’s going so well, and it ends because the money ends. And you can’t continue. There are a few things like peer support groups that we do continue because our volunteers are so good, but you know what it is: volunteers can only volunteer a certain amount of their time, as compared if we had a project where we know that for this whole long project we know we’ve got people who will be doing this.

Anything that we haven’t spoken about that you think is really important?

I think it would be good if funders would come to you and ask you to deliver some projects, and not always us going to them and asking for funding because they’ve seen what we’ve done. They can see on our webpage, on Facebook, in the evidence we send. So it would be good for funders to come to us as charities and as BAME organisations – rather than it always going one way.

Absolutely – funders need to be proactive. Thank you, Leah!

Leah Chikamba is one of the founders of Angels of Hope for Women. Leah says: “I’m very passionate about empowering other women. I believe that everyone has a purpose in life and that we all need eachother to see people’s dreams become reality.  It gives me joy to see others succeed. As a charity we just love to support and empower one another because we believe that together we can make life better.”