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November 23, 2021

Sowing the seeds with Small Funds

Profile image for Lisa Fearn

Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Time to Shine

I love the variety of the Time to Shine Small Funds programme: 56 projects completed, 11 intergenerational projects commissioned last summer and such an interesting range of activities to choose from. How else could you grow veg, practice lip-reading skills, join a choir, play walking football or netball, teach Spanish, create a radio programme, curate fire station memorabilia and learn how to cook – all for free – without leaving your home city?

I’m so pleased that the idea for Small Funds was mooted in the planning stages of Time to Shine, and then built into the funding application to the National Lottery Community Fund. I really think it’s enhanced the whole programme by bringing in creativity, fresh energy and different perspectives with each funding round. And all for less than £10,000 apiece!

Leeds Community Foundation has managed the programme brilliantly since 2015 and over the years I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many people involved in Small Funds projects. It’s been a dream task really, particularly when the final project reports share such rich and varied learning into what’s worked well, or what could have been done differently. You can’t put a price on this insight.

A ‘test and learn’ approach is integrated into the Time to Shine programme and embedded in Small Funds. How liberating, as a member of the decision-making panel for each new funding round, to be able to ‘take a punt’ on an organisation with an interesting or innovative idea, to see how it works. How liberating for the funded organisations to have ‘permission’ to try out new things and to tweak things as and when necessary.

Staff from Leeds Older People’s Forum and Leeds Community Foundation collaborated on the development of the programme and also tweaked programme-level things where necessary. A bit of time travel would reveal that Round 1, launched in 2015, looked quite different to Round 12, launched in the last few months. But to be honest, if time travel was an option there are other places I’d visit first!

We’ve learned lots of practical things with Small Funds that may be of use to others considering running a similar micro-funding programme. This is the subject of a new learning report and accompanying toolkit from Time to Shine written in partnership with Leeds Community Foundation.

● Sowing the seeds: Reflections on running a Small Funds programme (Time to Shine learning report)

● Small Funds: Setting up a micro-funding programme (Time to Shine/Leeds Community Foundation toolkit)

Have a read, and then consider the following question: if I had a spare £537,246 to distribute to third sector organisations across Leeds over 6 years, how would I do it?

Lisa Fearn
Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Time to Shine