Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Unity in the Community

Children dancing to catch the eye of the funders
I arrived a little later than I expected, having taken a twenty minute diversion along the M6 from Spaghetti junction, but was still in plenty of time for our presentation slot.  I'd read the information sent, but was still surprised and somewhat unprepared for 'Unity in the Community' at the Magnet Centre this Saturday.

Before I start, I must say, we didn't get the funding, but the event was a useful opportunity for networking. All seventy-eight of the projects looking for up to £6,000 funding were clearly valuable causes and worthy of funding.  I'm glad for the fifteen projects who have received their funding, and from a funding stream perspective, it's a relatively simple one to apply for.  We were well catered for on the day, and everything ran on time.

What I found hard was the shear volume of different projects all touting for a small sum of money.  We had presentations to fund school uniforms for the needy (of Birmingham), youth and sports clubs, food banks, health charities, arts organisations with arts projects, faith groups, allotment organisations, language schools, schools, schools and more friends of schools.  Everyone was there, including children who entertained themselves and everyone with some dancing on and off the stage.  There was also some Greek dancing in full costume from the Greek Cypriot Association based in the host Magnet Centre (who didn't get their funding).

We were in alphabetical order, so I was very pleased to be presenting after friends at Parks for Play and Ort Gallery.  With no powerpoint, and ill-prepared for this audience, I walked up and took the microphone for my 3 minutes. I looked out on a crowd of two hundred or so people dotted around the room eating lunch, chatting, on their mobile phones.

BEEP, the timer started for my three minutes.

I think I only used two and a half minutes, and that was including a bit of a call out to grab some attention, so I was spared the humiliation other groups had of only making half a presentation, but I knew before I went up I was unlikely to make much impression.

The smart groups who had the opportunity piled in plenty of members at 11:00 am, as only those who arrived then had the opportunity to vote.  If you had an ally in the audience too, that could be a big advantage.  The voting was, to be honest, more like the Eurovision Song contest than crowd funding.  The audience of people looking for funding had to judge all 78 projects with a happy face or a sad face over the 5 hours the event took place, with only a three minute presentation and 200 word brief. The voting process was quick - 120 got to vote, of the 500 or so who attended during the day.

As processes goes, it had it's weaknesses, but I guess my over-riding feeling of sadness was the number of worthy projects and groups struggling to make a little funding from Unity in the Community.  Across all sectors, all areas of public and community, it's the same story.  Starved of funding that might previously have at least partly come from elsewhere, we were all united in our determination to gain that little bit of funding.

And as for the quality of Community and public services we all provide?  In the early days of the Lottery, people would joke the Arts, Sports and Heritage sectors were propped up by the the poorest in society, literally gambling their money away.  Now it feels more like it's a lottery on what services you will have across all areas of the community and (formerly) public services, depending on what ingenuity, time or luck people in your area have had to compete for the inadequate funds available.

It wasn't 'Unity in the Community's fault, or the people running the show, but when at the end of the day we were asked to give feedback in one word, I wasn't able to do so.

Here are the fifteen winners, in the order they were announced:

  • Real junk food, Kings Heath
  • Urban devotion Birmingham, Perry Common
  • Alum Rock Community Club
  • Autis, Stockland Green
  • Bethany Community Outreach, Erdington
  • Yardley basketball Club
  • New Routes Carers and Friends group
  • Community Breast Care, Citywide
  • Action for bullying, Erdington
  • All for youth, Bordesley Green
  • Round Midnight Creative Arts, Sparkbrook
  • Bethany Community Outreach (second project), Erdington
  • Kingstanding Food Community
  • Kingstanding Regeneration Trust
  • Monkeying around, Sutton Coldfield (only £1,000 of their £5,750 bid)

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