What I've learned as a grant-maker at Trust for London

This month we say a heartfelt goodbye to our Grants Director Sioned Churchill, who has been with the Trust for the last 20 years. It's never easy saying goodbye to such a long-standing and valued member of the team, but we wish Sioned all the best for a well-earned retirement. Here Sioned looks back at her time at the Trust and shares some helpful insight for organisations looking for funding in the social justice space.

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Sioned joined Trust for London in 2001, initially appointed as a Field Officer with responsibility for monitoring and evaluation, then as Director of Special Initiatives and Evaluation and from May 2018 as Director of Grants.

As well as having oversight of the Trust’s grants programme, Sioned has led on a number of special initiatives focused on employments rights, citizenship and integration, disability and race equality and the advice sector. She has been instrumental to the establishment of many key programmes, including our most recently launched Racial Justice Fund.

Before joining Trust for London, Sioned was already a valued and embedded part of the local London community, having worked for 20 years in community development in King’s Cross, London. Her experience included managing three community centres, co-ordinating the local community safety and health partnerships and organising a range of community projects.

Two decades at Trust for London

One of the greatest highlights of working at the Trust for the past 20 years has been meeting so many people deeply committed to working to make things better, whether it be for individuals in their communities, or whole groups of people affected by a particular issue. The sheer volume of work undertaken by the voluntary and community sector is impressive, and if it was down to these efforts alone, we’d be living in a much fairer and just society.

Unfortunately, many of the issues are deeply embedded in the way our society is set up, and therefore changing our systems is much harder to achieve.

One of the things I’ve appreciated about the Trust is that it’s been prepared to take risks and invest in work that might not necessarily achieve change in the short term, however frustrating that can be. On many of these issues, whether it be increasing employment rates for young black men, tackling FGM, or improving wages, we’ve gone beyond just providing funding, to also using networks, contacts and other resources to work alongside trusted partners. Being involved in this more in-depth way has helped us keep our feet on the ground and experience some of the challenges for ourselves, which can help to inform our grant-making practices.

Advice when applying for funding in the social justice world

From assessing applications to direct involvement, I can say that passion and commitment will only take you so far. Social Justice funders will be looking for a clearly articulated goal and strategy for a campaign, linked to up-coming opportunities to influence decision-makers and/or build momentum around this. In any application, be sure to clearly articulate the change you are seeking, the whys, and the steps needed to achieve it. Try to be as specific as possible when writing your asks. Think about who you want to influence, what power they have to make that change and, where possible, link your goals to their agenda.

Some questions to ask yourself are:

  1. How are you working with others (recognise that you can’t do it alone)?
  2. What contribution can you make to strengthen a campaign or area of work that will build on what others are doing?
  3. And most importantly, why you are best placed to do this work – do you have a good understanding of the issue? Is this informed by first-hand experience? If not, why not?
Social Justice funders will be looking for a clearly articulated goal and strategy for a campaign, linked to up-coming opportunities to influence decision-makers and/or build momentum around this. In

Funding priorities

More and more funders are prioritising work led by, or with the meaningful engagement of people with direct experience of the issues, so make sure this is a central part of your work. This has been important to the Trust for many years, and why we prioritised funding to organisations led by rather than for Deaf and disabled people for over past decade. We’ve now adopted a similar approach in some of our new programmes by prioritising funding to organisations that are led by Black and minoritised communities. I think this will be a growing trend among funders over the coming years, especially those that have undertaken the racial justice audit developed by the Funders for Race Equality Alliance. This has highlighted to many funders that BME-led groups have been losing out on funding, and that positive action to is urgently needed to address this.

More and more funders are prioritising work led by, or with the meaningful engagement of people with direct experience of the issues, so make sure this is a central part of your work.

While the pandemic was a traumatic experience for so many, one good thing that has come out of it is that funders are now far more prepared to work collaboratively. Not only to simplify the process of applying for funding, but to seriously consider how to share power over decision-making, work better with the sector to find solutions and seeking ways of funding over longer periods. All long overdue but exciting developments.

It's all about the people

I’ve been lucky to meet and learn from so many truly inspirational people over the past 20 years. There is nothing like the camaraderie and friendship that grows when working on some deeply challenging issues often over many years, and I’ve really valued that.

I’m not sure if you can really ‘retire’ from social justice work. I know I will find it hard not to be so closely involved, but I’m looking forward to some travelling over the next few months, and who knows after that…

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Sioned Churchill, Director of Grants, and Carol Harrison, Director of Finance, at their joint retirement celebration May 2022

May 2022