Susan Smith asked Martin Cawley, the new director of the Big Lottery Fund in Scotland, what it's like to have £70m a year to give away
Libertus Day Care Centre in south Edinburgh was bustling with enthusiastic card makers when Big Lottery Fund (BIG) Scotland director Martin Cawley visited recently.
There were multi-coloured cards, glue, glitter, complicated machines that embossed, laminated or cut out and around two dozen women over 50 (and one man) were so concentrated on their task, they were oblivious to the fact that the unassuming man in the grey suit wandering around chatting has £70 million a year to give away.
Staff Dan Fuller and Lesley Grier were well aware of the importance of their visitor though and had prepared plenty of evidence of how the £114,000 Improving Lives grant over three years is making 400 people over 50 in the local area a little happier every week.
Every pound that we give has to have an impact on citizenship whether it’s an individual or a community. That for me requires good collaborations at all levelsMartin Cawley
Weekly activity groups for isolated over 50s run through the Positive Futures project range from the card-making to cookery, gardening, pilates and walking. Supported by 40 local volunteers, it is the kind of people-led, connected and strengths-based initiative that Cawley, who became BIG’s third Scottish director earlier this year, gets excited about.
As Scotland’s biggest third sector fund, BIG is the pot of gold every charity dreams of, and Cawley wants to ensure it is within reach of more communities like this one in south Edinburgh that really need it.
“We have lived the last eight or nine years in a period of austerity, there’s no question of that. So, the reliance on volunteering and philanthropy and finding innovative ways of constructing good cause projects has become paramount,” he says.
“I think it’s inevitable that that will continue for another five years, maybe a decade. From a funder's perspective, I want to see us use our money to best effect to reach the communities that need in most.”
With 30 years work experience in the Scottish voluntary sector, latterly as the chief executive of one of Scotland’s most successful social care charities, Turning Point Scotland, Cawley is the first BIG Scotland director who understands what it’s like to be on the other side of the funding relationship.
He knows that funders, including BIG, are not always proportionate and have a reputation for making organisations jump through hoops for sometimes small amounts of money.
Joining the organisation a year into a five-year funding programme, though, can he do much about it?
“The process of awarding a grant of £500 should be less rigorous than for awarding £500,000 and so should the monitoring of that,” he assures. “I think there should be a lot of faith and trust in the communities we are trying to give money to.”
So, does the appointment of Cawley, who was 16 years at Quarriers before joining Turning Point in 2008, mean BIG is turning its attention more towards health and care services?
In response, Cawley reels of a list of small grants recipients from community transport to choirs, to projects working with women with experience of domestic violence and others helping people with drug and alcohol problems or lifelong disabilities. The reality is that almost all of the work of the third sector can be viewed through a public health and wellbeing lens.
More specifically though, is the imminent launch of a new fund next year that will see BIG take on a distinct role in the health and social care reform agenda.
The fund, which has a working title of Early Action, is expected to be around £10m over the next four or five years and be distributed through medium to large grants that will focus on early intervention and prevention.
It’s not a new Change Fund, Cawley is quick to stress, it wil encourage partnership between the third sector and the public sector. It will be looking for strategic projects that help Scotland embrace the principles of the Christie report, which argued for more preventative community services that would help people live at home longer and stay out of hospital and other acute care settings.
“What we’ll be looking for is strong collaborations that could come from local and national organisations but probably also have to have an element of statutory support within the collaboration – I don’t mean the whole of the NHS, but just a small element that can help affect change,” explains Cawley.
“We want to use this fund to help shift not just the intellectual investment that’s made but actually the financial investment. So, it’s got the potential to be quite exciting but it needs the right collaborations and partnerships to make it work.”
Just last week, the Scottish Parliament health and sport committee called for the Scottish Government to do more to speed up the transformation of our health and social care system. So, this new fund sounds timely, but is this BIG carrying out the work of the state?
Cawley is pragmatic about the role that BIG Scotland, which is expecting to distribute around £100m of funding in 2015/16, can play in the policy landscape.
“We align the giving of money with our national strategy and priorities and we play into the social justice agenda in Scotland in line with the Scottish Government (and by that I don’t just mean this current administration), using our money to best effect that fits.
“If that wasn’t an agenda that fitted with the types of principles that the Big Lottery had then there would be a potential conflict, but it does.”
Cawley’s background may give him a different perspective from former BIG Scotland directors but it’s clear he’s a safe pair of hands who will play a part within the UK leadership team and support the BIG vision. He recognisies that holding the purse strings for this sort of budget is a major responsibility and looking to the future, he doesn’t see BIG becoming a more radical organisation despite the shifting political climate and continued economic challenges.
Talking about future funding programmes, he says: “I’d be surprised if we weren’t still thinking about community led initiatives, asset based work, strengths based work.”
Visiting the Libertus project just days after Donald Trump won the US presidential election and months after the public voted for Brexit, it’s reassuring to see the range of women from different backgrounds attending the card-making group. The ethnic minority women’s group is one of the organisation’s most vibrant and well-organised groups, with its former volunteer coordinator now a staff member.
Cawley suggests it is through projects like this rather than radical political action that BIG can make a difference.
However, with less money like to come even through BIG, the practical reality is that the sector needs to come up with new ways of working. It's not that bigger organisations won't be viewed favourably but they will have to demonstrate that they can ensure support goes to the people who really need it – the word “collaboration” is almost a mantra.
“Every pound that we give has to have an impact on citizenship whether it’s an individual or a community. That for me requires good collaborations at all levels – people to people, people to agencies, agency to agency, agency to state,” says Cawley.
“What that requires is really good leadership. Really good citizen leadership, strong political leadership and sometimes brave leadership – investing in risky areas. When public spending is tight, public sector agencies find that hard to do – we have a bit more scope to do that.”
In the end, the importance of BIG to Scotland’s third sector in unequivocal. With at least £70m a year to give out until 2020, a strong relationship with BIG would be every third sector organisation's ideal way to end the year.
So, the top tip on how to do that from the new man at the top is: “Start with a phone call. A lot of people say a phone call can change their life. A phone call to the Big Lottery Fund about an idea will always be received with interest”.