The social investment market is so huge (what with unclaimed assets at £2 billion, matched by the Lottery and lots of intermediaries looking for "skin in the game") that in my view, investors have tended to fixate on the nuts and bolts of the mechanism at the expense of performance. This has made it difficult for solid grassroots projects to obtain funding because they have not been able “fit in” with the requirements. That is of course if they had even known about the funding available or, how to access it.
It’s fair to say that our small community foundation has been circling what had appeared to be impenetrable barriers for a number of years now, with many investments appearing to be either very large or, frustratingly South of Watford. We had a large project pipeline but many of those projects individually were not large enough to get a serious investor out of bed, after all if you need to shift millions of pounds a £50k project is not worth the effort.
So how could we help our local communities particularly our coastal communities who were being ravaged by Viking invaders! (not really but it feels like that as our public services are all retreating behind the walls at Lincoln). How could we help to build capacity in market towns and villages to take control of their own services such as Libraries, care for the elderly, health, sports and leisure, etc...
The Lincolnshire Community Foundation, because of its great familiarity with the local landscape, is able to concentrate on the practicalities of matching bespoke services to proven needs, then facilitating all those elements (from business planning to impact reporting) that contribute to sustainability. This means that when we were invited to attend the launch of the Reach Fund Access Points in London we immediately thought that we were ideally placed to become an Access Point: so we spent many months working with the Reach Fund staff to develop our particular model which basically meant that we had no need to worry about deal size and transaction costs. We could focus on fertilising the grassroots and develop lots of smaller projects within Lincolnshire.
We have now received our offer letter to start and have a very healthy pipeline of projects which includes a new health hub, a project with our local Age UK, various community building projects and a domestic violence programme for Lincolnshire. We are also looking at projects around social prescribing and community care projects and possible blended finance with social impact bonds.
I believe that our new status as an Access Point for the Reach Fund is a significant milestone for the development of what might best be described as an adolescent social investment market in Lincolnshire circa 8 years on from its inception. This substantiates our long-held view that, when it comes to transitioning charities and social enterprises from grant reliance to a sustainable and business-like footing, those very organisations should be genuinely listened to and have their wants and needs shape the ongoing development of the policy and how the market is set….
Why?.....Because the success of social investment in Lincolnshire is not the ultimate goal here. Our goal is positive outcomes for people in our many and varied communities.