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Improving Lives Fund will help groups in Wiltshire tackle poverty

A new fund to help grassroots charities tackle poverty through grants of up to £10,000 has been launched in Wiltshire.

The National Benevolent Charity says the Improving Lives Fund for Swindon and Wiltshire will award grants to help groups across the county following a pilot that saw Youth Action Wiltshire at Oxenwood near Marlborough and The Harbour Project in Swindon receive funding last year.

Ali Russell, chief executive of the 209-year-old charity, said the fund represents a change in focus from purely individual grant-giving for people facing hardship to supporting groups to make more of an impact. She said the fund came about after conversations with organisations highlighted the amount of need in Swindon and Wiltshire.

Grants will be awarded to groups tackling poverty, but by making them unrestricted – allowing the groups to decide how to spend the money – Mrs Russell said she hopes they will be more effective.

She said:

“It’s a very exciting time for us. It’s quite timely that we are launching this now because many charities are trying to recover from Covid. Our grants will be able to fund running costs, and they can be over a number of years, so we are trying to be as flexible as possible.”

Mrs Russell and trustees from the charity visited Oxenwood to see how a grant of £4,000 funded outdoor activity days, including cycling, archery, heritage, conservation, and cooking, for vulnerable youngsters from Swindon and Wiltshire, as well as gazebos and PPE equipment, had helped.

Lynn Gibson, chief executive of Community First, which runs Youth Action Wiltshire, told them:

“We offered the activity days to some of the most vulnerable young carers and other young people in the county to give them some respite from the lockdown and face to face support, which was really important at such a difficult time.

“There was a lot of anxiety and worry, so the activities really made a difference at a very crucial time. We just could not have afforded to do that without the grant, so it was really helpful.”

The visitors got a chance to see a school group enjoying a Saxon activity day, which included a mock battle and centre manager Ed Plank dressed as King Arthur.

Mrs Gibson added:

“It was lovely that they were able to see what goes on here and see the young people enjoying themselves.” 

The charity also visited the Harbour Project in Broad Street to see how the pilot grant of £4,800 made a difference. The group supports more than 600 asylum seekers and refugees with guidance, advice and help with building a new life in the UK.

Chief executive Claire Garrett said the grant had been used to fund English lessons for refugees to enable them to integrate into their communities.

She said:

“When they first arrive here, they don’t know how things work, and they struggle to make themselves understood. Helping them speak the language unlocks all kinds of things for them, so we are very grateful to the National Benevolent Charity.” 

Zinat Zinabad, who came to the UK from Iran, told the visitors:

“When I first came, it was frustrating that I couldn’t understand, but the Harbour encouraged me, and when I started the lessons, I became more confident. Thank you so much.”

Mrs Russell said:

“We wanted to come and see The Harbour Project and Youth Action Wiltshire because it is really good to see what the charities we fund are doing, and to hear first-hand how lives have improved because of our grants is absolute gold dust.

“The aim of our fund is Improving Lives, so if the groups who apply can show they are doing that, we will be interested. When it comes to looking at which groups we want to fund, it’s a blank canvas really. They don’t have to be shiny or new, if they have got a great track record, that will be enough.”

The Improving Lives Fund, which also runs in Bristol and Gloucestershire, will be a rolling programme with applications for grants under £2,000 decided within weeks and larger applications considered up to quarterly. For more information about grants and how to apply, go to natben.org.uk.

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