The Cover Story for this archive
I’ve just finished three years at The National Lottery Community Fund where I worked from November 2018 until November 2021. I was initially hired as Head of the Digital Fund, then was promoted to Senior Head of UK Portfolio, and my last role was a promotion to Deputy Director of Funding Strategy.
I wrote about starting at the Fund back in 2018 here and shared some of my motivations for wanting to work in Funding. I immediately started writing openly about the work — saying how I wanted to bring transparency to grantmaking and established a weekly practice of publishing a blog post about what we were doing. That turned into a Medium publication for the Digital Fund and my own Medium blog too. I kept up Weeknotes for 2 years and then this year just managed a few Quarterly Updates. (1 & 2)
This is a place I am archiving all of the work I initiated or stewarded* as together it tells a particular story. I’ve grouped it into four parts and if you click on each of these they take you through to the corresponding archive:
- Shared Infrastructures — work I initiated or contributed to in terms of building shared infrastructures for communities and wider civil society
- Experimentation & Shaping the Sector — work I initiated in relation to shaping the future of civil society
- Funding Programmes — funding programmes I shaped and designed
- Internal Capacity Building — work I initiated to try and build new skills and capacity in the Fund to deliver different work
If you are interested, my thoughts on being a Funder are documented over time. Here I was 6 months into working at the Fund giving a talk at Nesta where I had been invited to ‘inspire them’. A year in and I shared 10 Things on My Mind as a Funder in an interview for Corra Foundation’s Strategy Review. 18 months in and I wrote two blog posts in the first few months of the pandemic about what was on my mind as a Funder. And my last post was two years into working at the Fund.
Just over a year into working as a Funder I also wrote a long piece about the skills and capabilities I thought we needed more of for more ambitious and effective grantmaking, and one of my most read blog posts was from earlier this year on the Grantmaking Practices we Need.
I share these as so many of my views are still the same and for the most part feel as relevant today as they did 3 years ago.
Working at the scale of The National Lottery Community Fund was an incredible experience. Moving from being a practitioner who’s worked in many fields and in many different roles to being a grantmaker in a large public institution meant that I brought an unusual set of multi-disciplinary skills and ways of working. This included far-ranging networks, a good eye for trends, and the creativity to connect dots and see and surface potential for all the ways that we could have greater impact — greater impact beyond just being a grant maker, by putting all of our resources and assets to use for the public good. All of these also provided challenges, especially as I was previously so used to working with those at the edges of new practice and thinking, in expansive and entrepreneurial cultures where you are alive to the risks of not doing something as much as you are to doing it.
One of the biggest challenges for me was reconciling the need to work at pace, in new ways, and make change in a rapidly changing and urgent social context while also operating in a large, siloed, non-departmental government body. The pandemic dramatically altered some of these conditions, more became possible, but only for a period of time.
However, probably the biggest challenge of all was how to navigate the work of an organisation when your commitment is to a mission far bigger than any one organisation holds. When your natural patterns of activity to achieve this mission — collaboration, shared resources, openness — are at odds with the norms.
Something I was always clear about though, was that I was never there to change the Fund — that would have been a lifetime’s work, and not mine, which in turn influenced how I worked. There’s a lot that I’m really proud of, and that was important and necessary to achieve. And there were some things that I got wrong or would do differently now. People can only do their own learning for themselves and I’ll continue to reflect on my experiences at the Fund, the trade-offs I was faced with and the impact that had on me and on others.
Publishing this archive marks the end of a chapter for me. I’m hoping there are things in the archive that are useful and find different ways to live on in the world. Sometimes the value of a portfolio of work might simply be in its propositioning — in slightly shifting the Overton Window and showing what else might be possible.
A few weeks before I left, the Fund published a new Commitment to Communities. I was glad to be in the very first meeting (just 5 of us) where ideas of what to include were shared and where I ensured that the following were present— “lived, learned, and practiced experience” (not simply lived experience), “shaping the future,” “be ambitious and develop innovative practice,” “and foresight” (not simply knowledge and insights).
*Of course so much of this work was only possible, in its design and delivery, because of the whole UK Portfolio team and there are many people to thank and acknowledge.