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Everything we want to tell you about your funding scheme...

...but are afraid to tell you because we can't afford to piss you off

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When facilitating community projects, one key question is ‘how do we make this sustainable?’. The answer, supposedly, is to look to funding bodies for financial assistance, by applying for funding bids. This talk explores the realities of relying on funding like this to carry out projects, where things fall through the gaps, and the impact this has on the work that we’re all ostensibly here to carry out.

This episode of the Geeks for Social Change podcast was recorded as part of an NHS Start With People event on March 30th 2023. As this was originally delivered as a talk with slides, there are audio descriptions of each slide as they come up.

To share this podcast, use the hashtag #StartWithPeople.

You can listen in the player above, or watch it on YouTube. You can also find it on Spotify, Apple Music, Google Podcasts, and Amazon Music by searching “Geeks for Social Change”.

Episode information




Intro music 00:00:19

honor: Hello and welcome to the Geeks for Social Change podcast. This episode is a recording from a talk that Geeks for Social Change gave as part of an NHS Start With People event on March the 30th 2023. As it was originally delivered as a presentation I’ll jump in and give an audio description of each slide as they go up, or you can watch this podcast on YouTube at the link in the description. As always a transcript of this episode is available on our website or linked in the description. My name is honor ash and I am a writer with Geeks for Social Change. This talk is called ‘Everything We Want To Tell You About Your Funding Scheme But Are To Afraid To Tell You Because We Can’t Afford To Piss You Off’ and it’s delivered by Dr. Kim Foale from Geeks for Social Change and Rachele Evaroa from STEAM Hubs and Pubs CIC, based in the Old Abbey Taphouse. There’s a brief mention of suicidal ideation in the context of community resourcing and some explicit language used throughout the talk. You’ll also hear briefly from the host of the session Jamie Keddie when responses from the live audience are solicited. 00:01:13

Music 00:01:31

Kim: Hello. I’m Kim. I set up a little studio called Geeks for Social Change. I think we technically started in 2016 but we really got going in about 2020/21. My whole thing as a human being I guess, is I’ve always been a sort of, community activist. I think originally, like a lot of us, who really grew up around sort of early noughties and this is how I know Rach, through the DIY punk scenes and then as we got older we found what we were doing had a lot of other community benefits than that, you know, and also did software on the side, did a PhD and then kind of combining all those things together is how I started this practice. So basically our practice is about trying to engage directly with community groups and their needs and sort of how to work together to figure out what they need rather than more tech led approaches which tend to centre the software itself and the product itself and the development itself. Oh yeah and I use they/she pronouns! Hello. So that’s me. Do you wanna do a little intro Rach? 00:02:21

Rachele: Heya. I’m Rachele Evaroa. I’m the director of, actually, Steam Hubs and Pubs CIC. So we’re a science focused social enterprise and we’re based in a pub but we do lots of different community works and we do some youth work, we do catering, we do food and it’s because a pub is a traditional space for communities to come together and it doesn’t have the invisible boundaries. And I’m really proud to say I’ve worked with Kim for about ten years on community projects in our area. 00:02:48

Kim: I was gonna say too, just so people know, it’s in Manchester, in the science park and if you’re there you should go and have a pint. 00:02:50

honor: A slide titled ‘What is community development work?’ with the sub-heading ‘Share your thoughts with us.’ 00:02:59

Kim: So I think the first question we had for everyone, cause I think like, one of the things we’ll get into a bit later as we often find we’re saying the same words and meaning completely different things, we’re kind of going to open up to the room a bit. What do people think of as community development work? We’d love to hear specific examples if anyone is feeling brave. Helping out and improving. Yeah. 00:03:17

Jamie Keddie: Helping communities do more for themselves and sort of part of that is realising the limits of what the NHS and other public sector bodies can do and actually sometimes it might mean stepping back and letting people do more for themselves, is more the point I was trying to get across. 00:03:32

Kim: Yeah. 00:03:34

Rachele: Well it’s harder to define a community. Is it locally based? Or is it? 00:03:38

Kim: Yeah

Jamie: Yeah. It could be. Or it could be nationally as well, couldn’t it I guess. Sort of communities of interest and, yeah. 00:03:44

Kim: Yeah. I’ll read a few more out just for the recording too. Understanding strengths of communities. Defaulting to ideas within the framework of asset based community development. Yeah, so like, asset based strengths based, uh, too. Yeah. They get used interchangeably a lot I think. We use them a lot.

Supporting grassroots organisations support their communities.

Mobilising material support and access for people already working on the issues in the community. Yeah I think the material thing is really important. I mean, we’ll get into it in a bit but I find a lot of the time what we end up doing is we’re sort of like, I guess it took a long time for me to think about what we were doing as community development, Rach, I don’t know about you? [Chuckles] So like if you’re just putting on events and like doing nice things for people or like, organising stuff and then very often we’ve got all these other people coming in and then their main job is to measure what we’re doing or write it down or sort of just be in the meetings, right? I think this split seems to happen quite a lot where it’s like the people who just sort of get their hands dirty and do the washing up and the ones who are there to kind of write down and monitor?

And yeah, another one. Exactly! Definitions are important. I work in a community of co-producers nationally but I am equally aware that most people see their community as their local area. Yeah. 00:04:47

Rachele: Yeah, I think I’ve got an anecdote. I had meetings for two years with this big developer and when I was talking about the community I meant the local community, the people from the council estates, the people who use the assets and it took me a year and a half to realise they meant the business community. And then you can say, cause it’s such a loosely defined word, quite often you get talking to stakeholders, they can say ‘well you haven’t got enough voices from the community’ because there’s such a vague definition. 00:05:12

Kim: Or I think the other one that happens a lot is there’s a presumption that there isn’t a community and they’re going to start a new community. Right? They’ll say community development work but what they mean by that is people turning up to my meeting. 00:05:23

Rachele: Yeah! People who agree with what I want! 00:05:27

honor: A slide with a venn diagram. The circle on the left is labeled ‘GFSC projects’ and has three items in it, which are ‘Trans Dimension’, ‘imok’ and ‘UnTechCon’. The circle on the right is labeled ‘Old Abbey Taphouse projects’ and has a further three items in it, which are ‘Family Meal Time’, ‘Len Johnson/Breaking Barz’ and ‘STEAM Radio’. The intersection between the circles is unlabeled and has three more items in it which are ‘TV Dinners’, ‘PlaceCal’ and ‘Hulme History Day’. 00:05:55

Kim: So some of the projects we’ve done, there’s a bunch that GFSC have done, there’s a bunch that Old Abbey have done - we’re in the same ward in Manchester too which was quite serendipitous, we didn’t plan it, it just worked out really well. So some of the ones we’ve done as Geeks for Social Change, our biggest project is called PlaceCal, which is in the middle, and we developed this community calendar software that’s based on, rather than everyone having to log into a central thing and put all their information in, like all the kind of council and housing association sites, we support people where they are to list events using whatever they have now, so like Google calendar, Outlook, Facebook, might be meetup, or Eventbrite, or whatever, and then our site aggregates it all into one central place. And it’s been a really long development process over a few years. The biggest one we just launched is called The Trans Dimension and it’s a listing we made with a charity called Gendered Intelligence in London and it shows all the trans events in London but like I say it’s all completely automated, it’s all pulled in from external sources and now it’s also mapped onto a real life partnership of the groups, who are actually working together, so less siloed, it’s this overall strategy approach.

A couple of the other ones that we’ve made. We made a little bot called imok that was to support people doing sign in support for asylum seekers. The way that asylum works, or sort of works a bit less now cause of Covid, is there’s kind of a parole system. You have to go to these horrible industrial estates in the middle of nowhere and sign in to say you still live here but if they decide to deport you they very frequently refuse you a call, whisk you off to the airport. So volunteers for ages were just sitting outside and marking people coming in and out and anyway, we made a little bot to automate this kind of process that allows all that data to be controlled by the group doing it.

And then finally we do a lot of work around this bigger mission we’ve got. So, UnTechCon, we ran online last year. We’re about to start an UnReadingGroup we’re calling it, cause you don’t have to do any reading you can just show up, but just having these conversations about how tech isn’t really serving people right now. The word we hear a lot is like ‘I’m not a tech person’ but like everyone spending like eight hours a day on a computer at the moment and has been, probably, since about 2020. I mean a lot of people are right? Or we’re on our phone, or both at the same time And I think a lot of the software we use day-to-day has been designed to make you feel like an outsider. So we’ve got this situation where there’s this new kind of oppression going on and instead of it being seen as like a group thing, everyone individually feels like they’re just being stupid and they don’t get it and it’s kind of by design. So we’re trying to start discussions around this kind of, helping people understand and helping people generate autonomy over what it is that they want to do and build the tools together and involve people more in it and this is what we’re trying to start with this conference series.

Do you wanna talk about yours Rach? 00:08:13

Rachele: So one of the reasons we chose a pub to base our social enterprise in is invisible boundaries that stop people going into other spaces and a lot of the new build community centres have those. So a lot of the work we do, we operate as a traditional pub but we do loads of community work on the side and, for example, Tuesday is a big day for our community work. In the first week of lockdown we realised lots of the elderly people in the two estates next to us couldn’t get any food cause ASDA was selling out and we also realised there was a problem with information getting to people and if you weren’t tech savvy there was a lot of miscommunication going out in our ward in Hulme and a lot of rumors. So the pub, PlcaeCal, or Geeks for Social Change, ACORN Tenants Union and Gaskell Garden Project, we all came together and knocked on all the doors, handed out leaflets and set up a food distribution. So it’s a two course hot meal, every Tuesday and we’re doing that since lockdown.

Heritage has been really important. Our pub is the last building left of the Greenheys estate and we do a lot around memory and people remembering the heritage of this area. One of the best projects we ever done is to get all the old maps from the 1950s and bring a lot of elderly people who are near the end of their lives back to their old houses that don’t exist any more to show their families and tell their stories.

We’re also the pub where Len Johnson overturned the colour bar. Len Johnson was an absolutely amazing fighter. He probably was the best British boxer we’ve ever had. He wasn’t allowed to fight for Britain because he was black and he came back to Manchester with his best friend and became a bus driver and he did loads of activism in Manchester and part of that was - there was a horrible point of time where there were signs in pubs Manchester that said ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish’ and this pub was one of them and Will, Len’s best friend, told Len about the colour bar at the Abbey and asked Len to come down and order a drink and it was extremely brave on top of the fact that Len didn’t even drink alcohol. So he came down to this pub, he wasn’t served by the landlady. Him and Will went and got a load of supporters, they went to the Mayor’s office, they got some press attention and they came back a few days later and the landlady had to serve Len and it broke the colour bars across Manchester. From the moment we found out that fact we made a big celebration about it. We started having a moment and a drink for Len Johnson and it built up organically. About two years ago, in lockdown, we managed to run one under the Covid rules and all these young people turned up and they all had creative poetry and rap and pictures about Len Johnson and so we decided to give them their own night. So a lot of young people in the area have launched a night around Len Johnson, which is a kind of grime, hip hop night for specifically young, Black youths, to celebrate his legacy and it’s been phenomenal. And I feel that some of the key of our work is taking information and letting people do what they want with it.

STEAM Radio was another thing that came out of lockdown. We got a cultural community around the pub. It’s really active. It’s, a lot of people who maybe wouldn’t engage, don’t feel like they have access to music. When lockdown happened we didn’t want to lose that community so we set up a radio and we made some little DIY guides on how to record from home, in your bedroom, and we managed to get forty shows by people who never done any broadcasting and we’ve kept it going since. 00:11:19

Kim: Yeah, and I think like, the key point to all of this, right, it’s like this, it’s obviously a lot of self promotion for us and our projects, but I think the point is that these aren’t projects that we dreamt up. Or like, we’ve obviously had a big input in them but they’re projects where people came to us with a problem and we use the resources we had available to us to try and fix it. So it’s very emergent, right. We’re working with people who are our neighbours and we’re working together to try and do something that’s then bigger than all of us, right? 00:11:39

Rachele: I chose those projects too because they’re the ones I’ve struggled to get funding with, even though at the time, those were the buzzwords. So, in lockdown, it was emergency food support was the biggest buzzword and everyone was trying to fund food projects. 00:11:53

Kim: We’ve had no local funding for any of this. We’ve - [Chuckles] 00:11:56

Rachele: Yeah, no funding for the food support and we still send out a two course meal every Tuesday and hamper of food and I’m seeing more need and the problem with funding - the last bit of funding that came out, they wanted to fund fridges and food. But there’s tonnes of fridges and tonnes of food but what I need is funding for staff and electricity at the moment. 00:12:14

honor: A slide titled ‘It’s time for Buzzword Bingo’ with a table below it. The table has five columns and four rows which read, left to right: Storytelling, Social isolation and loneliness, Age friendly, Climate justice, Warm banks, Covid-19 response, Food poverty, Suicide prevention, Digital inclusion, Homeless prevention, EDI/DEI, Metabolic justice, Social prescribing, Levelling up, Northern Powerhouse, Asset-based working, Social impact, Impact evaluation, Social enterprise and Cultural communities. 00:12:51

Kim: I mean we’ve had funding from, sometimes national sources, sometimes innovation, but we’ve always had to go outside of our local authority, outside of our local NHS, like, we don’t get any support for any of these projects that for us are very integral to ourselves, our lives, our communities. And it’s not just that we don’t get funding, there’s not even conversations happening around how these could be integrated with wider sort of, health and social care agendas. And usually then what we get, is this stuff, right? So every new fund that comes out, or there’ll be a new neighbourhood link worker or community navigator or whatever they want to call, or like, there’ll be a new housing association initiative that’ll have come from the council and all of a sudden, ‘oh, right yeah! We want to do a digital inclusion project’ or ‘we want to do a food poverty project’ or ‘we want to do a social enterprise project’ or some other word that feels like it’s just come off a desk as a priority list and then all of a sudden we have to rewrite everything we’re doing in terms of that one concept. But like, in reality, most of the things we do, probably hit a third of this grid, if not more. 00:13:49

Rachele: It’s hard because every year you pitch almost the same projects to tackle the same thing, which is hyper-capitalism, insecure housing, insecure jobs, insecure food and the impact that has on people’s lives and yet every year we’ve got to figure out the new buzzword and then pitch it to the buzzword and it’s almost like an algorithm. I know that there’s funders who won’t read your application unless they see those words, regardless of the content of it. 00:14:14

Kim: Yeah and it feels like the main thing we’ve got to flatter is the person who made the form, not the people we’re trying to work with locally, right? 00:14:20

Rachele: Yeah and it makes everything very project based. So there’s an amazing community centre in North Manchester and every three or four months they’ve got to come up with a new project so they can keep the lights on in the community centre and they’ll get loads of funding to buy assets. So they’ve got loads of laptops that they bought, the software on it, they have to pay a fee for and that’s run out. So all those laptops are absolutely pointless and they’re sat there and they can’t be used by anyone because they can’t find the money to pay for the software on them. And in the same way, they don’t have any space there, they’re putting on projects and having to get rid of this equipment to have more space to do more projects. 00:14:54

Kim: The device thing is unreal and there’s even times we’ve applied for digital inclusion projects for a PlaceCal rollout, which we keep getting asked for the information that our software would produce by everyone in the neighbourhood and then we’ll be like ‘do you want to give us some money so we can do the community development work to roll it out’ and told ‘oh apply to our fund for digital inclusion’. Then, I think the last time we applied for digital inclusion fund, we matched all their criteria perfectly and then they just said ‘oh no, we’ve got to do homework clubs for kids now, so all this money has to go on laptops’ and it was like…You know when you’re just like, ‘what do you want us to do here?’. And then I think two weeks later they were asking us again for the information that we would have been able to give them if they had funded us and it just goes round and round and round like that for years sometimes. 00:15:32

honor: A slide titled ‘Would your last fund have funded these projects?’ The body of the slide reads: If yes - what would we have had to do to get the funds? What hoops would we have had to jump through? What reporting would we have had to do? And: If no - why not? 00:15:45

Kim: So I think this is the key question for us. Obviously, again, we’re a little bit self-promotion mode but I think it’s really worth - if you’re organising a fund, or putting a fund together, or starting a new initiative - just thinking through like what projects are there in the community already, what do you know about? Would your fund be able to have those funded? What hoops would you be making people jump through to be able to apply to them? I honestly feel like no one ever considers this questions when they design a lot of these things, of just like, starting from the perspective of what’s already out there and what can we support? And then how can we make a thing which matches up to our institution. 00:16:20

honor: A slide which reads: Our relationship with institutions and funders - it’s not great. Why?. 00:16:26

Kim: So as you’re probably getting the gist for, our relationship is really not great. It’s been very antagonistic for a very long time and I think especially it’s got a lot worse over the last few years. Like Rachele is saying, hyper-capitalism, the public sector is just being demolished, the NHS is being demolished. We all know it. It’s all awful right now and I think a lot of the time you end up in a situation where there’s a lot of institutions that feel like they’re critically failing and it’s really hard to engage with them meaningfully. So… 00:16:51

honor: A round sticker reading: Due to the power funders hold, it’s hard to be honest with them, appears in the middle of the slide, obscuring some of the previous text.

Kim: I think like, the number one thing is just, it’s really hard to be honest. Usually when you’re the one doing the work on the ground, you’re the one who faces the actual problems and you’re the one who is accountable to the person who has the problem and helping them fix it. So we get very stuck in these ways where we have very clear signs if something’s working or not but usually the people we’re working with, who are funding us, they’re only accountable to their boss. They’re not accountable to their local community. So we’re very often in this position where we’re having to be the truth teller, right? A lot of people don’t want to be told the truth. 00:17:29

honor: Another sticker appears, which reads: Funders have no accountability. 00:17:33

Rachele: One biggest thing I’ve noticed since lockdown is, before, if you were a community worker for a big housing association, you were expected to be out on the ground but since lockdown’s happened everyone’s gone from ‘work-from-home’ and I just really don’t believe you can be a community worker, working on zoom meetings all day and that’s one of the issues I’ve been having with some of the housing associations, is they bollock me for not going to the meetings on zoom or online, which they do all day. And you’ll get the same people going and just going to the zoom meetings, sat at home who haven’t actually been out in the community. And a lot of us who have been actually working on the ground, we’ve had to make so many cuts in our organisations because of the electricity bills and stuff, so we’re doing even more than we normally do, and we told off for not going to these meetings, which then decide how the funds are going to go and I just don’t think you can do community work from home. Especially if you’re from a different class of the people you’re trying to serve. 00:18:28

Kim: Yeah, a lot of those meetings end up being like, eight community development workers, all talking between themselves and the community left ages ago. 00:18:33

honor: Another sticker appears which reads: Institutions are often actively creating the harms they are funding you to fix. 00:18:39

Kim: And I think this is another one. So very often we’re dealing with institutions who are actually causing the harms that they then want us to fix but evidently without acknowledging the harm is happening. So I mean some really big examples of this are kind of NHS transphobia, which very famously resulting in these enormous waiting list times that are resulting in high suicide rates, right? And there’s obviously some reforms on the way, it’s not in anyone’s control but there’s sort of this lack of acknowledgement that a harm is happening and then a fund will come out and you will have to pretend like this is so wonderful and benevolent and great and it’s actually, right, I’d rather just remove the harm than me trying to go for this other thing. 00:19:09

Rachele: On that note too, as well, I’ve completely gone 360 on what I think is most effective community work now. We’ve been seeing more people feeling suicidal turning up at the pub and had to deal with maybe three young men and it’s - they’re in crisis mode and the services available when you’re in crisis mode, we need a bit more than a telephone line. We need more services where people actually go out. And I had this one young man who was threatening to jump off a bridge and I just couldn’t get any agency to go out to talk to him. The police had gone out and tried and it escalated the situation and luckily in my other job I had a meeting with Shelter and the person from Shelter went out in a personal capacity and talked this guy down from the bridge. But I just felt like in that moment, although we had all these services and prevention lines and this, there wasn’t actually that person to go and stop this person jumping off a bridge. Which is what we really needed. Not an advisory line. Not a workshop. Not a mindfulness class. 00:20:04

Kim: A chatbot - the worst. 00:20:05

Rachele: Yeah and then when I raised that with funders they tell me I should make more professional boundaries but I’m a pub maybe we direct people into these services but it’s not really what I set out to do. I didn’t set out to do the emergency food but I can’t stop it now because the need’s gone up and because we have this reputation of looking out for people, people do turn up in crisis mode and I can normally help them but it made me so frustrated to hear this from funders going - you need to set more professional boundaries - like if you turn up at your workplace and open the front door and someone’s there trying to kill themselves I can’t be like I’m setting a boundary to say I need to have a cup of tea and I think that lack of understanding of what it’s actually like to be on the frontline and see people in crisis is missing. 00:20:47

Kim: Yeah. People don’t access services in the way that the institutions want the services to work, right? People access someone they trust, someone local, someone they care about. They talk to friends and family and local institutions and places they trust. And so they’re the places that need the support putting around them to deal with this. Right? 00:21:04

Rachele: That’s what I’d say, like even someone ringing up some of the numbers at Christmas, last Christmas I bullied the council into making a flyer of all the emergency food support around Christmas cause we were shutting and some of the other food banks were shutting. But having had some lived experience of what it’s like when you have to ring those numbers, I now sit and ring all these numbers on leaflets to check the reaction people will get. The first number I rung, this woman was awful! She was like: ‘Nah, don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t know about this emergency food.’ And I wish there was that level of checking. You know, if you’re going to send out a leaflet, check with the organisations whose numbers you’ve put on. Check that they know how to answer the phone properly to people in need. Because if you get a negative reaction you’re not going to engage with the service again and then it takes lots of work on the ground for people like me and support workers to get someone at that level to engage again with that service. And yeah, that lack of understanding, lack of compassion, for that, gets me. 00:21:55

Kim: Social prescribing has been awful for this. Cause what’s that meant in practice is more and more people are just directing people to places like us or the Taphouse but there’s no resource or core funding attached to it. So we’ve usually got people earning like 50 to double what we are just to point people at us, without giving us anything and it’s just like…it doesn’t feel like social prescribing, it feels like getting the community to do work for free. Which doesn’t feel great. And again it’s funny because we’re all in this because we care about it, it’s our neighbours, it’s where we live but yeah. 00:22:20

honor: Another sticker appears, reading: The overall time spent applying for any one fund can be vast. The stickers now almost totally cover the original slide. 00:22:28

Kim: And I think just to acknowledge too that a lot of these funds, the time involved in applying for them is pretty vast actually. It takes a lot of concentration. Usually the turnarounds are way too tight. Not only that, if you look at the overall amount of effort that’s gone into everyone who applied to the fund it’s probably actually like a net negative to the community and I think there’s something really difficult about that, that’s not again, possible for any one person to solve because obviously budgets are tight, but a lot of forms you can tell there’s been no real thought gone into what it takes to fill it out, how long it takes, what the overall impact of this is and if there might be a better way to do it and we’ll get onto some suggestions later on. So I think we’re getting to it right now! The funding process really feels back to front to me. 00:23:05

honor: A new slide, which is titled, ‘People who live in a place are the experts in that place’. The body of the slide reads: Understand we are the ones that live here – you’re just visiting, and will stop caring whenever you get a new job. 00:23:18

Kim: Fundamentally, and I think people have mentioned asset based and strengths based in the chat so maybe we’re preaching to the choir a bit here but the people who live somewhere are the experts in that place and not only that but like I say, they’re the ones who are accountable to like their friends, their communities, their neighbours. A lot of the time we’re dealing with people, you know running projects, there’s like link workers, who don’t even live in Manchester, where we are. And they’re kind of, they’ll all gatekeep these funds and be really difficult and obnoxious with you and then the second it’s five o’clock they go home and then…I’ve been in weird situations where we’re trying to do like, we did a big community project in Oldham around these tower blocks that are being demolished and, you know at first glance it looks like a great room and you’ve got a community day together and you’re there talking heritage and one by one, it’s like, ‘oh right, yeah so you’re from the housing association, oh do you live in Oldham?’ ‘No I live in Didsbury.’ and it’s just like, over and over again, it’s like, so does anyone in this room actually live here or are we just all institutional workers talking to each other. There just seems to be a real blindness around this and a real lack of understanding about what the make-up of the people in the room is. What the power dynamics is. 00:24:14

honor: A slide which is titled with a quote from Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber, which reads: The more value your job to society, the less you get paid, and yet no one listens to the most low paid. Below the quote the slide reads: A very common experience in our line of work is being the only unpaid person in the room and the only one actually doing the hands on work. Often big choices are made at closed meetings during office hours by people who don’t actually live in an area. 00:24:41

Kim: You know it sounds a bit like sour grapes but actually, like David Graeber’s wrote a fantastic book on this called Bullshit Jobs and basically really clearly makes this point about how, generally the more society needs your labour, the less you’re going to be paid. So what do we need the most day-to-day? We need people making food, we need nurses, we need healthcare, we need people changing the bins and like, doing all this manual labour that no one wants to do , or like, in our case, right, like doing this really like hands on community work. So I think for years, me and Rach, had this shared experience where we would be, trying to get involved in something, like I’ve done a lot of queer history stuff, you sort of start a thing and you kind of start doing it and then it’s like all the institutions, you know academics, or whoever else will catch on, they’ll like set up a meeting in the day and be like ‘oh we’re starting a committee around this thing that you’re doing’ and you’re ok, so you turn up and then there’s never any interest in realisng that they’re just sat there to talk and you’re the one doing the work and you’re the only one not being paid and it just makes all these really weird dynamics that again you would think would be the first thing to talk about. Like, what are we trying to achieve here? Yeah, I’ve been in these situations, where it seems like it’s easier for people to get MU to buy a lunch to cater the meeting than it is just for people to meet in the evenings, so I don’t have to take a day off work, right? 00:25:50

honor: A slide which reads: Demanding project-based work when we need core funding - this is very demoralising. If we are core funded, we can work with you on the projects! Instead, we are often having to retrospectively translate what we do into your language and do all the research to match up to your buzzwords. 00:26:09

Rachele: I think there could be a case for giving like a community bursary to community activists. Cause I actually think had I been given, like ten grand a year to live off, most of my projects were self funded for the first five or six years and it’s only in the last few years I’ve figured out how to do funding bids and actually most of the time I’d prefer not to get funding and be able to self-fund my projects and just do them with the community and it’s only in the last few years the pub itself, we used to only have to take ten percent grants and the rest we’d turn over by trading and then put back into the community and now with the rise in operational costs but also what I’m angry about is social enterprises get used, so in lockdown we all stepped in, not just my social enterprise, my friends’ social enterprises, especially the food ones, everyone stepped in to feed the community because Manchester failed so badly, people were being - Muslim families were being given sausages and beans as their food provision - and unfortunately the centralised food provision for Manchester, they gave it to an academic who had never worked on the ground and they didn’t listen to any of the people who had been working on the ground with communities for ten years around food poverty in Manchester and then we all had to send out meals and food and then we got stuck sending out food to people and the funders have turned around and saying they don’t want to do a hand out model, so they want to see payment for food but we’re seeing more and more need for food and also what I’m most shocked about is, sometimes the people who do the funding or who have got the nicer jobs, they’ve still got this idea that the people in need are people on benefits who are lazy. Actually the need I’m seeing is from working families. Your mum and dad working and struggling to pay their bills and access food. So I wish that would be addressed a bit more. 00:27:55

Kim: Yeah, I think this is the key thing, right? So we get emailed, I think both of us get emailed constantly about local projects and wanting us to get involved in a project or do a thing and it’s like, from the amount of contact we get, I can see you’re recognising the value we give but that never seems to be translated into something tangible for us, it’s just another hour meeting we wanna go in, to talk to someone who’s just started a new project and then they’ll promise the earth and then there’s no follow up. And it’s like can just someone just fund our time to sit in all these meetings with all these project staff that turn over eighteen months at this like, a dozen institutions. 00:28:25

honor: A slide which reads: This is despite the fact that we hear a lot about “hard to reach communities” or “underrepresented communities”. They’re hard to reach for you, not us – presumably you want to work with us because we already have these connections, but for some reason this is never made explicit. You can’t “reach people” and do community development work firing off emails from home in Didsbury — sorry not sorry. Pay us to do it! 00:28:49

Kim: Yeah and I think this is, this is what Rach was saying earlier, right? That you hear a lot about hard to reach or underrepresented communities. They’re not hard to reach, you just have to go and talk to people, like there’s a wonderful health food and herbal medicine shop in Hulme high street run by this Black woman who’s like a herbalist and she constantly gets told she’s hard to reach and it’s like, I literally have a shop. On the high street. Like, what do you mean I’m hard to reach? Do you know what I mean? Of course you can’t reach people if you want to work from home in Didsbury. And this is presumably why you want to work with us because we’re there because we live here. There’s some real sort of like, missing common sense here a bit, it feels like, right? 00:29:22

Rachele: And on that note, I don’t know if you noticed, Kim, I know you’re an academic but there’s a period -

Kim: I don’t work in a university, so I’m not an academic!

Rachele: - every single academic is out in the community trying to find a community groups to work with and I didn’t know that they actually get funded, they get big pots of funding for this research where they have to connect with a community group and often they don’t tell the community group this. So someone gets paid a lot of money to engage with the communities that this group’s already made the network of. 00:29:48

Kim: It’s like they’re ‘can I have you address book?’ email right? You’ll get emails just being like ‘can you introduce me to any of the groups?’ and it’s like, ‘I don’t know, why should I trust you?’. Again, conversations that are hard to have, right? 00:29:56

honor: A slide which reads: So what can you do? 00:29:59

Kim: I mean we were told to put some positive notes in. I think we were just going to moan for ages cause it’s quite refreshing. I’ve never put all of our moans together in one place before. It feels good. 00:30:08

honor: A slide which reads: Give us the earliest opportunity to talk to you. (AKA don’t waste either of our time), and be an active part of the process of writing the funding application. Come visit us! Work with us! Let’s not interact through webforms! 00:30:20

Kim: This is like the simplest thing, I think, and a lot of people are moving towards this but basically like, a lot of funding, it’s really just all based around the form and it’s usually some crappy web form in Office and you have to click through all the pages and it’s really poorly designed, everyone hates it, and you also have to email and be like, ‘can I just have the questions before I start an application? And then, ‘can we talk to anyone?’ and it’s just like, scrap that. So I think like these two stage application processes, where step one is just some really simple eligibility to get you in a position where you can have a chat as soon as possible, that’s really good because presumably people don’t want to waste their time reading, we don’t want to waste our time writing so - a lot of the central ones are really bad for this, like Innovate UK has something like a five percent success rate on their flagship fund and honestly, like that form takes like, a week to fill in, full time. Minimum. And it’s just like, why are we all doing this? Why is there so much time being wasted filling in the form for this thing? I’m sure that that fund costs the economy money overall just because of how much time it takes to fill in. Thing is, if you want to work with us the conversation should revolve around how are we going to make this work? Like, what do we need to get down on paper so that we can convince my host institution to fund this and not ‘here’s this form, fill it in, good luck, bye.’ 00:31:30

honor: A slide reading: Give us core funding so we are on an even footing. This requires you to identify what partners you need and take us seriously as equal partners. Could you just pay a stipend to key activists you want to work with? 00:31:42

Kim: Like we said a lot now, I think just, there’s one philanthropic group we work with. It’s really hard to get core funding. It tends to be something you can only get after a few years of a social enterprise. There’s some really big foundations like Paul Hamlyn and Esmée Fairbairn who have very weird and specific requirements and it’s kind of like, it almost feels like you already have to be turning over, you know, half a million quid before you can even start thinking about going to these foundations for core funding but actually like, you almost need it more at the start, when you’re trying to get going, when you’re trying to get off the ground and that DIY ethos that me and Rach are talking about, like there’s so many people who have come up through that like punk DIY scene, doing shows, putting on things like Ladyfest Festivals, or like queer events or just like through the arts and culture and those things end up, like we say, they take up about a third of the buzzword bingo box but no one in those circles thinks of what they’re doing in terms of social enterprise. It’s just not why they got into it. It’s anathema, that’s like the language of the man, right? And I think if there was just more of a focus on identifying these core community institutions that are clearly reaching the people that you think are hard to reach and just finding a way to give them core funding so then you can spend some time together to work out, I think we would be in a very different starting position that didn’t feel this antagonistic from the off. 00:32:51

honor: A slide which reads: Look into participatory budgeting and the ladder of citizen participation as more equitable forms of budget distribution. There’s a link to a blog post about this in the podcast description. 00:33:03

Kim: I think there’s some real good theory around this too that no one seems to have heard of. So I can drop some blog links in the chat. I think participatory budgeting has to be the future. The current situation is it’s usually, like, you know, there’s an institution that has a pot. They get an employee to gatekeep the pot, usually through a form that goes to the community but it doesn’t have to be like that either. It is possible to set up a fund and again it’s like a board, so there’s a commitment there. You probably need to pay for people’s attendance. The best funded project work in Hulme came out of this project called Age Friendly Hulme and Moss Side and there was four areas in Manchester that had set up an age friendly board in each of the four neighbourhoods. So this was an actual, like, resident board, but unlike all the other ones, they then gave the other half of the budget for the residents to spend on what they wanted. The striking thing about this again was, most of those projects were completely unfundable through other sources. So it would be things like, you know, the community centre needs a new hob cause, of course they do. Like what possible fund would that have come out of? But without it, like, all this other community activity can’t happen and instead usually what happens is they just get derelict, or like the example with computers earlier, right? There’s probably about four computer labs in, where we live, one of them is always like, well the computers are off the sheets but no one quite knows why. There’s one in the library but you need to like book and have a library card and do all that stuff. Like they’re all in various states of disrepair and again all these digital inclusion things they just want to buy more laptops, or chromebooks is the new solution to everything, right? Again there’s just this lack of willingness to first figure out what your real, on the ground assets are and work from there. 00:34:26

Rachele: There’s another issue, so all the housing associations have built all these cafés with really well stocked kitchens in loads of their buildings but there’s not the revenue for the big traders they wanted in to run the cafés so now these cafés are sitting empty but they’re too big for a community to take over and run themselves. So we’ve got these state of the art kitchens, with about fifty grand of equipment in that no one’s using. Or they’re saying the community can’t use them because they haven’t got level two. Which only costs a tenner and is a three hour, online course, or something to do with insurance. So it’s like, mismanagement of assets and not allowing people who need it to use them. And then the other thing I’d say, which I find really disappointing and I’m not, into these gender issues but I quite often find, you’ll find loads of women doing a lot of free things in the community, or running a lot of these community groups and I never see any men until there’s a paid opportunity. What does that say? And I know that a lot of women care and do a lot more roles outside of their jobs to look after people but I feel like that’s a really sad state of community development that you only see men, normally, if it’s a paid role. 00:35:32

Kim: I’ll just reiterate this too. The only time that trans groups get support from cis people is when there’s a paid role. Oh, all of a sudden, loads of people applying for that. That’s interesting. Basically a lot of these small groups don’t necessarily want funding initially. Institutions are coming to the groups and expecting a thing from them and not doing it that way, so it’s back to front. People aren’t thinking, ‘oh we’re a small org, we can grow, we want funding’, it’s that people want these groups to do project work but they don’t want to give them core funding to be able to engage in that conversation around what the project work is and I found, I don’t know about you Rach, but I’ve had zero contact from any of these third sector support organisations since covid started and in fact they’ve been just another source, to me, of like, here’s the latest form, here’s the latest initiative, here’s the latest loan you can get. 00:36:15

Rachele: I think Salford CBS is really good and Stockport CBS and unfortunately Manchester hasn’t supported it’s social enterprises or charities for the last ten years and lots of people won’t engage. I still personally will engage but a lot of the, like part cafés that were given to charities have been treated really, really badly by the council and there needs to be trust rebuilt. 00:36:39

Kim: Cause I think the other thing is, like, we’ve now learned all this infrastructure and all these names and all these organisations but most people don’t know that. Most people in the community they have no real idea of where these things that are being done to them are coming from. So I think yeah, just to go through these slides then, and we can have a bit of a discussion. 00:36:53

honor: A slide which reads: If you must get us to fill in forms, improve accessibility for application processes. These are very often online, don’t give you questions in advance, too short turnaround, too wordy, too long and clearly written to make the office staff’s life easier, not ours. 00:37:11

Kim: So I think this one we’ve mentioned a lot, like, just with forms, make ‘em short, make ‘em easy, don’t expect us to translate into your language. I think people often are expecting this knowledge of things like impact evaluation and research and being able to express things in terms of like, institutional outcomes but that’s just a whole other load of things you’re expecting people to do on top of all this other stuff they’re doing day to day, right. It’s just not helpful and I think it’s like at some point the institutions have to say what it is that they want to support and then we can write around that but when you’re trying to pitch into the void, as if we’re pitching what brand of coke, you know what I mean? It doesn’t feel good. 00:37:44

honor: A slide which lays out a few different points. These points are: Fiscal hosting vs funding application model. Understanding the difference between mutual aid and charity. (See Dean Spade’s work Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During this Crisis (and the Next)). How can we do good work if people aren’t eating properly? Or have an unheated house or no internet? Understand the poverty of people responding to your fund. Solve the basic needs before expecting people to jump through more hoops. And UBI (Universal Basic Income) would solve 90% of on the ground capacity problems and make our lives 100 times easier. 00:38:19

Kim: So just a few final thoughts, on other ways this can go forward. I’ve not really looked into this a huge amount yet but there’s a model in the states that I think we should use more because they have , they don’t have this sort of like, professionalised, middle-class infrastructure for managing grants, like VCSE thing is pretty much there. It tends to be the really big grassroots groups that grow and get off the ground. They then become fiscal hosts for other groups around them. So they will be recognised and then be given things that those groups can then distribute how they want. I think this could be a really good way to work. I would love to see the Taphouse to be given funding to have it’s own fund to give to all the projects you’re trying to get off the ground, right? Because you’re in the perfect place to do it. We’re the same in Geeks for Social Change there’s probably about a dozen projects at any one time that people in our collective are interested in and how it is right now is we have to apply for, we can help people apply for them all individually, but honestly, if someone just gave us a large grant we could dedicate loads of time to helping get a dozen projects off the ground and then give them the precise support they need. Rather than trying to do this massive admin.

This Dean Spade book - Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During this Crisis (and the Next) is excellent. Its a really tiny book. It doesn’t take long to read. It’s on Verso. He’s also got a load of reading on his website, if you want to look up Dean Spade, they’re very recommended. I think it really sums up the difference between the mutual aid and charity models.

I think this is something Rach said earlier but, sometimes you need to deal with the prerequisite step before you can deal with the latest hype thing. So like, how can we do work, or do projects if people aren’t eating? Or they’re not heating their house? Or they don’t have internet and a lot of the times this is just directly blocking people from being able to engage in any of these things we were talking about. So I think sometimes stuff gets really ahead of itself and we need to backtrack a bit.

I think this is something Rach said earlier but, sometimes you need to deal with the prerequisite step before you can deal with the latest hype thing. So like, how can we do work, or do projects if people aren’t eating? Or they’re not heating their house? Or they don’t have internet and a lot of the times this is just directly blocking people from being able to engage in any of these things we were talking about. So I think sometimes stuff gets really ahead of itself and we need to backtrack a bit.


And then finally just to say it again, this is more of a national campaign, I know none of us have the control here but ironically, during lockdown, when we had the furlough scheme, which said that anyone who has got an office job can maintain their salary because they somehow deserve more money than other people, we had the kickstarter scheme but just allowing institutions to get workers in to help out, it’s amazing, you can just get things done. You just have hours to apply to problems and you don’t have to think about it and because most of this work we’re doing is work we want to do anyway, that they’re already doing for free, but that makes it perpetually unsustainable. So if we had a Universal Basic Income, I think that would have the single biggest health impact of anything else I can imagine on a policy level. I mean, I don’t think the tories are probably gonna do it but, there you go. 00:40:34

Outro music 00:40:38

honor: And that concludes this episode of the Geeks for Social Change Podcast. Thank you very much for listening. If you’d like to find out more about what we do, head to our website, which is at You can also join our Discord community, sign up to our mailing list or follow our blog via RSS to stay up to date. If you’d like to contribute financially to help us keep going, we’re on Ko-Fi and Open Collective, all of which are linked both in the podcast description and on our website.

If you enjoyed this episode do share it on social media with the hashtag #startwithpeople and tag us @gfscstudio on twitter and Instagram and @gfs[email protected] on the fediverse, which includes Mastodon. 00:41:16

Outro music 00:41:28

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