shaking up grant-giving

shaking up grant-giving


In the first of our INTRODUCING…. series, I speak to Jan Grey, who is new in post at national social change organisation 2027, to find out who she is and what she’s doing. As part of her role she has three ‘placements’ – York grant-makers into which she will embed herself for the next year to understand how they operate, what works well and not so well, and how she can effect change.

I was absolutely blown away by Jan’s passion for her city, the openness she has to embrace change and innovation, and how – after only a few weeks in the role – she is gaining a good grasp of the sector locally, not just in the challenges we face but also the opportunities that lay ahead. I’ll be making some introductions for Jan over the coming year of her project, and I’d encourage people to reach out and talk to her – tell her what’s missing from York’s grant giving, what’s dysfunctional, where are there gaps, and share some of your solutions. Her contact details are at the end of this brilliant interview.

What’s your role, and how do you benefit the local sector?

I joined Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust in October 2020 and am working with Two Ridings Community Foundation and the City of York Council’s Cultural Commissioning group. It’s a year long post as part of the 2027 programme, which is designed to create greater diversity in the grant making sector through quality work placements within grant-making foundations for people from working class communities. I love how each of my three placements work together and have a similar working ethos. I am struck by their willingness to learn and develop as grant givers.

My aim is to use my lived experience of poverty, and being a person who has applied for multiple grants, to help improve the grant making practice across the city. This includes providing a partnership approach to learning and an opportunity to work across organisational boundaries to better understand their role, function and impact as funders.

What inequalities in York are you most passionate about and why?

I grew up in York with a family who have worked for Rowntrees in varying ways, so I have social action in my blood. I got involved where I could see a need for change, such as raising £92,000 to install a park in Wilberfoss. I helped set up Street Angels in York, and helped to change government policy for child witnesses.

I really get fire in my belly seeing red tape and unnecessary boundaries stopping people from flourishing. Plus, coming from the education sector, I really want a better understanding of the root causes of poverty in finance, education, relationships, health, aspiration, resilience and in love! People could thrive if they had easier access to the help and support they deserve. This is a real learning curve for me.

But interestingly, in my short time in post, I have found out that support and money is there. So, what’s going on? Why did I not know, as a Yorkie, about all these marvellous initiatives and why isn’t there more publicity about successes? I find many crossovers of initiatives as well. So I am asking the question of why these wonderful initiatives don’t work together more, streamlining their goals and making it simpler to advertise their services and support to those in need?

I also hate how money is wasted on consultancy from out of town corporations, where a local group could have saved thousands of pounds. (The Preston Model is a great example of local commissioning that York could learn from)

Have you met any organisations in York yet, and which have really stood out?

Because I am working with three organisations, I am meeting such a wide range of those working for the voluntary sector and volunteers. In fact, I’ve turned to writing each contact in a different colour in my note book so I could remember them better. (Social Vision are green!)

I can tell you that there is a wealth of knowledge and experience out there in York and local areas. It’s such an eye opener! I’ve heard about those tackling poverty, isolation, homelessness, racism, mental health issues, those helping the refugees and many more.

I haven’t been in the community to meet any organisations because of the Coronavirus, but I am deeply struck by the dedication and creativity of individuals and small groups that sprung up this year and quickly delivered much-needed services. The work of the Local Area Coordinators within City of York Council is invaluable for local insights. Then there are those in the community who have dedicated most of their lives to serving others without any fuss or fanfare; they are the ones that have stood out.

I am excited about the work at Social Vision and what a wide range of services are available to any one seeking to improve the wellbeing and social cohesion of communities.

Plus, I admire how Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust are in collaboration with many people and organisations in Hartlepool, through the Hartlepool Action Lab, where we are sharing support and experiences.

What does success look like for you and your role?

That there is more equity and accessibility for those able to apply for and receive grants, and that the money is made available as soon as possible and not sat in a bank account.

Plus, real partnership and collaboration within the local sector with the drive to learn and work across the organisational boundaries to better deliver their services to those who need it most.

How has coronavirus affected your beneficiaries?

The virus has certainly shone a light on how much the voluntary sector is needed. There has been the demands of adapting to Coronavirus restrictions, the loss of personnel and the complexity of needs is increasing. Digital poverty, mental health and isolation are highlighted and the need for enabling fast responses to unmet/emerging needs through unrestricted funding. Plus, many initiatives had to postpone their service or event due to Coronavirus constraints.

Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust looked at IVAR’s (Institute for Voluntary Action Research) research to explore how groups coped in the pandemic. IVAR are an independent charity that works closely with people and organisations striving for social change. They found strengths and needs across the VCSE sector: High levels of involvement and inclusive practice; services to be sensitive, empathic and professional; a welcoming, understanding and responsive approach was needed and a good level of flexibility and adaptability were needed. IVAR found the use of advocacy and grantees’ voice useful. This mirrored Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust’s findings when they did their impact reports from the grants given in the past year in York. All my placements have commented on how they are impressed by grant recipient’s flexibility, speed to react and resilience.

What does 2021 look like?

I will be working on a piece of research to look at increasing access to grant funding for groups and communities which often don’t connect to the grant making world. This feels particularly pertinent given the increasing divides being created by the pandemic.

I want to work collaboratively with grassroots communities and organisations. There can be a lot of overlap of services, that I want to see if there is a way of bringing some organisations together and use their funding more productively. I will be using Social Vision as my go-to for who’s doing what locally, as well as York CVS.

By the time my placement finishes in October 2021, I would like to see more of Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust’s vision of solving poverty and Social Vision’s motto: “a society in which everybody has the opportunity and aspiration to fulfil their potential” becoming a reality.

What do you love about York, and what would you change?

I love the compact, historical beauty of York and how it attracts people from around the world.

I would love more multicultural celebrations and events around the city to be held in parks on a massive scale, where there would be an opportunity for relationship building and barriers broken down.

And finally, how do people get in touch with you?

The best way to contact me is via email:


Want to introduce yourself to York’s social sector?

York is full of amazing people. We all know that. Here at Social Vision we pride ourselves on making introductions and connecting people in the sector – enabling amazing people can collaborate, share and learn to support our city’s most vulnerable, isolated and marginalised communities. INTRODUCING…. is a new blog series that introduces you to people doing amazing things in York.

If you’d like to be featured in the new series, email


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