In September 2015, a group of UK-based foundations and NGOs met at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to discuss responses to the refugee crisis that was engulfing Europe. The images of Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a Turkish beach had jolted many from unease or disbelief to shock, sympathy and compassion. Although the UK was not experiencing inflows like mainland Europe, there was a groundswell of public support for refugees and positive coverage of an issue all too often mired in controversy.
Some of us thought that there was scope for collective action and the meeting led the establishment of New Beginnings, a pooled fund managed by the UK Community Foundations Network (UKCF). Although both Barrow Cadbury and Paul Hamlyn are strategic, long-term funders in the area of migration we thought it was important to help set up this responsive fund. Firstly, we were hearing that small local groups were over-stretched and overwhelmed by offers to volunteer. Often the first port of call for people who want to engage with this issue and welcome migrants and refugees, these groups were inundated with requests but ill-equipped to harness this new energy and interest.
As long-standing investors in work to understand public attitudes to refugee and migration issues, we were under no illusions that the crisis would lead to a dramatic and positive shift in views. However, this fund seemed opportune given that surveys have found that the public have more positive attitudes to migration in their local area than at national level. There is also extensive evidence to show that meaningful contact with migrants and refugees can be a very powerful experience that shapes how people feel about this issue.
We were also struck by the US experience of building a movement in support of migrants and refugees. There, advocates and their philanthropic partners have found that a healthy immigration movement requires investment in both large and small organisations. The ability of these organisations to engage meaningfully with the public, and not just their core supporters, has proved critical.
With New Beginnings we were motivated by the chance to build on the momentum generated by external events and to help often fragile community groups become more resilient and reach out to newer constituencies. Given its short-term nature, the fund was not designed to fill gaps in service delivery – of which there are many – but to build capacity in engaging local communities in support of their work at a time of great demand. To that end, we are also in the process of developing workshops to enable some of the groups involved to strengthen their approach to communications and to tap into existing networks and reach new supporters.
In May 2016, New Beginnings awarded £506,000 in one year grants to 45 organisations, 39 of which received up to £10,000 and seven partnership projects that were awarded up to £20,000. Typical examples include Restore, a Birmingham based group that has seen massive increases in volunteer befriender requests over the past year. Also supported is Oasis Cardiff Partnership, which will work with new arrivals to help them integrate, partly through sessions organised by volunteers from the local community and also a ‘Friends and Neighbours’ group.
New Beginnings will launch a second round, of a similar size to the first, later this summer. Approaches from foundations or donors interested in contributing would be very welcome. One of the issues we and the other funders and partners hope to address this time round is the paucity of applications from refugee or migrant led organisations. How do we go about reaching these often over-looked and low profile groups that have the potential to make a significant contribution towards long-term change?
In this post-Brexit haze the refugee crisis now seems quite distant. However, the rationale for the fund remains, perhaps even more so now that some of the fault lines and anxieties that existed before the vote have surfaced and have uncovered a tension that risks undermining the UK’s long tradition of welcoming newcomers.
Trusts, foundations and other philanthropists and supporters now more than ever need to demonstrate collective and sustained support for the often unglamorous work of these community groups and the volunteers working with them.
This blog represents the views of the two trusts and not the views of all funders of the New Beginnings Fund.
Foundations contributing to the pooled fund include: Comic Relief; Barrow Cadbury Trust; Paul Hamlyn Foundation; Pears Foundation; Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales; The Rayne Foundation; City of London Corporation; BBC Children in Need and Oak Foundation.