What do you achieve by funding individuals? – Lawrence Atwell’s Charity

While many of the processes of grant-making to individual people are similar to those of funding organisations, there are important differences in what can be expected in terms of applications and monitoring, and aims and outcomes. We talked to a selection of members about how they manage the relationships and what can be achieved.

The fourth article in this series comes from Andy Mathews, Grants Officer, Lawrence Atwell’s Charity.

This series first appeared in Trust & Foundation News.

Originally when it was set up in 1588, Lawrence Atwell’s Charity aimed to help ‘poor apprentices’ of The Skinners' Company and support them to learn a trade. It has evolved over that long history and now focuses on supporting young people from low-income backgrounds to move into work, with a particular focus on vocational qualifications.

This year ending in June we have given £180,000 to our individuals programme and £100,000 to our new charities programme. The remainder also largely goes to individuals through internal programmes linked to the livery company. Funding is given to six company schools, primarily to support disadvantaged students there. Bursaries are also given through a number of higher education institutions associated with the company.

Our individuals programme is for grants up to £1,500 and is open to young people in England and Wales, to help them gain vocational, accredited qualifications. We consider most of the costs associated with studying – fees, travel costs, childcare, living costs. 55% of applications come through Turn2us. The rest come through word of mouth, recommendations from support workers, colleges and so on. It’s all done online and can be completed on a mobile phone – very often applicants do not have access to a laptop. We ask for proof of income and past qualifications and work experience. The young people are often inexperienced in filling out application forms and so I generally have to contact them to get the missing information. We also ask for two references, one professional and one personal. It’s a labour-intensive process, taking up probably 60% of my time as the sole employee.

A very large number of the young people that come to us are from a vulnerable background. Family breakdown is a huge factor, and many are care leavers. Around a third of our applicants live alone, and they can be as young as 18. Austerity has also had an impact on education, with bursaries for young people now very limited. For example, a very basic Level One trade qualification could be free up to age 19 but after that costs £1,200 or more. Meanwhile the introduction of universal credit means that household incomes, particularly for young people, are lower than under previous systems.

In 2018 we had a review of our existing programmes and work, and resolved to be more ‘grantee-centric’. Previously, applications for our individuals programme had to wait for one of the five committee meetings each year, which could mean a decision time of three to four months. That was too long and meant a lot of applicants dropped off the radar – young people tend to have a much shorter time horizon and not look too far ahead, particularly if they have just left school or have no family support. We moved decision-making to email sub-committees but that process was still too lengthy. Now I write a recommendation that is then signed off by my line manager, which has brought the waiting time down to four or five weeks.

This year we have funded 200 young people who of course go on to do different things, so monitoring outcomes and impact is an ongoing challenge. We ask grantees to complete a very simple three minute Survey Monkey feedback form but less than 50% actually do. Those who do respond are almost overwhelmingly positive, but the question is whether that is a statistically significant representation of the whole programme, or whether those who are not successful simply do not come back to us. Consequently, we know that the pass rate for the young people we fund is somewhere between 40% and 90%. There are some good examples though. One grantee went on to do a Masters and then set up his own charity, and The Skinners' Company has partnered with his charity on several projects.

Last year’s review also led to the establishment of our charities programme. Our funding of individuals was very good for purely financial support, but often there are other factors we cannot help with – family breakdown, for example, or mental health issues that may affect a young person’s ability to study and complete their course. We recognised that charities on the ground, rooted in the local area, are better able to more effectively address these multi-faceted challenges, or at least signpost to other charities who can.

The programme has initially four charities (but this is expected to rise), who have supported 250 to 300 people between them. That is a greater number than we reach through our individuals programme, but of course we are contributing funds to a whole programme, and are rarely the sole funder. Charities are also better able to evaluate impact year on year – generally 70% to 80% of people supported show progression in employment. The cost to us is roughly between £1,000 and £1,500 per person supported on both our individuals and charities programmes.

In the wider sector I observe that a lot of funders who have traditionally supported individuals are moving away from that, either giving a block grant to another organisation making individual grants or stopping those programmes entirely to fund charities instead, which is a little bit what we have done too.

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