Civil Society: good practice case studies

Here we share good practice case studies from Civil Society organisations across London. We will be profiling innovative projects and celebrating the work and value of London's Civil Society.

Culture Seeds

Culture Seeds - Anne Hartley, Culture Seeds Coordinator

Culture Seeds is the Mayor of London’s new micro-grants funding programme to support community-led arts, culture and heritage projects across London.

Culture Seeds supports individuals and small organisations who are active within their local
community and have a great idea that supports their community to lead and take-part in arts, culture and heritage projects on their doorstep. We want to reach those who have often been overlooked for funding because they are too small, don’t have a track-record or are informally constituted. In order to do this we have tried to remove as many barriers as possible, and learnt a lot along the way.

A fund for all Londoners

This flagship programme in the Mayor of London’s Culture Strategy, Culture for All Londoners. responds to the challenge that although the capital has a world-class cultural offer, for many Londoners arts, culture and heritage are still out of reach. This can be for a range of reasons: financial, logistical or cultural – some people simply feel that what is on offer is not for them. Culture Seeds aims to address some of these issues by offering grants of £1,000-£5,000 for projects that bring communities together in a creative activity.

Removing barriers

I joined the Greater London Authority as Culture Seeds Co-ordinator a year ago. My background includes grant-giving for Arts Council England, but more significantly in fundraising in my role as a General Manager for several small arts charities. My experience of completing lengthy application forms for small amounts of funding, of not always being clear on what a funder was looking for and of battling competing deadlines has proved invaluable for developing Culture Seeds and removing some of the main barriers to accessing funding.

When creating Culture Seeds, we kept the amount of information requested for both application and reporting appropriate for the level of grant, whilst also meeting our due diligence requirements as a public funder.

Many of the individuals and organisations we are funding are voluntary or have a small staff working part-time, fulfilling a number of roles. We made this a rolling programme to remove the pressure of a deadline so applicants could apply when suited them.

Feedback to unsuccessful applicants is offered as part of our aim to support capacity building for small organisations. Applicants can reapply straightaway if they’re unsuccessful, which means they can address our feedback and have another go (where appropriate).

We also wanted to make sure that our funding was going to small projects where it would make a big difference – so we excluded bigger organisations from applying and we prioritise applicants who have not received public funding before.

Recognising and reaching Culture across London

The main challenge we have is how to reach beyond our usual networks to fund the individuals and small organisations doing great work in their communities – those who might not think that what they’re doing is ‘art or culture’ or is something that they could receive funding for.

To support this, we run Culture Seeds roadshows in partnership with local organisations around London. We’ve worked with local authorities, community organisations, libraries, voluntary action councils and venues in 20 London boroughs to deliver 33 roadshows and workshops since May 2018. Other than visiting funded projects, roadshows are my favourite part of my job. I get to meet hugely passionate people who are making amazing things happen across London and feel like I am helping people to feel more confident in fundraising.

Culture Seeds Community

Finally, we want the individuals and organisations that we fund to grow and develop – to use Culture Seeds as a springboard. So, we have created our Culture Seeds Community – a network of successful applicants who meet 2-3 times a year to learn from each other and share what they’re doing. It’s also an opportunity for us to provide information and training to help build capacity and support individuals and organisations to do more of the work that they excel in.

So far, we have funded 74 projects across London. You can read a brief description of each of them here:

Superhighways - Building data and digital skills

Building data and digital skills in small charities and community groups - Kate White, Superhighways Manager

Superhighways is a small friendly team of five with a passion for helping local communities make best use of technology for social impact. We have been helping hundreds of small local charities and community groups in south London to do more with digital for 20 years.

Our current City Bridge Trust funded Impact Aloud project focuses on supporting organisations across 10 south London boroughs to use digital tools to better capture and communicate their impact. Experiences from this work, alongside the Data Evolution project’s Data Maturity Framework for the Social Sector and The Way Ahead’s Data Sharing for Civil Society (co-chaired by us), has increasingly led to a recognition that data literacy and digital skills go hand in hand, together enabling groups to better evidence need, measure impact and influence local policy.

Data learning events

As a result we’ve recently been testing ways to reach out to small local charities and community groups to get them interested in, and gain a better understanding of, the potential of data.

Following the success of a data event in Kingston, we set about partnering with Croydon Voluntary Action to co-ordinate a data learning event - this time for Croydon groups.

We tweaked the format - squeezing a packed agenda into a morning session - mindful of the capacity of smaller organisations to step away from service delivery.

We approached the GLA and London Plus, both with new Civil Society Data Officer and Data and Intelligence Co-ordinators posts, to enlist their help, and met to collaborate on creating a data resource to give out on the day and discuss some scenario based exercises in relation to the London Data Store.

In addition, we contacted the Croydon Data Observatory and a local Data Scientist in order to utilise local and London wide assets.

On the day

Representatives from 15 small charities and community organisations attended the event and after a little scene setting, we kicked off with some data capture of our own, to get a feel for where organisations in the room were with their use of data.

Small group peer sharing

Then it was time to hear from some Croydon based organisations we’d been in touch with to talk about their data journeys. They shared key tools used for data collection and the challenges around data and partnership projects. They also shared an example of how analysing data had led them to identify a gap in service provision. As a result, they developed targeted services to reach people in this part of the borough. It was heartening to hear one group explain how a new job role with an Information and Communications remit had recently been created, building in-house capacity to do more with data.

Show and tell

We then took to the floor to give a demonstration of some free mapping data tools including Batch Geo, Google My Maps, My Society’s MapIt, London Data Store’s Borough / Ward Mapping Template and Power BI. The aim was to showcase a range of tools available to everyone, and by doing a live demonstration, also reassure the attendees that they are genuinely simply to use. We gave out the co-designed takeaway resource featuring useful tools and data sources and offered follow up support under our funded Impact Aloud project - an obvious bonus.

Local Croydon Data

We then had a great demo from a member of the Croydon Data Observatory team – a self-confessed data geek with a genuine interest in supporting communities utilise available data and happy to share his email for future queries or support required!

London Data Store

The GLA and London Plus data officers were up next as a double act, introducing the audience to the wealth of information held with the GLA’s London Data Store.  They walked through a really useful example looking at borough profiles and focussing on data about social isolation – a key issue that Croydon’s voluntary and community sector address.  It was also an opportunity to promote the GLA’s civil society data office hours and bursary tickets sponsored by London Plus to the first UK Data4Good conference.

Introducing Open Data

Everyone is interested in who is funding who – so we used this slot to showcase the 360Giving data set containing grants data from a range of funders publishing to an open standard.   A local Data Scientist very generously used this data alongside other open data from the Charity Commission to draw together a picture of the funding make up in Croydon.


The event was a great success and from our point of view worked well as an introductory step for these small local groups into the world of data.

We will be following up with groups to find out what they did as a result - capturing success stories as well as any barriers faced when attempting to implement the learning.

Croydon Voluntary Action's Head of Community Involvement said 'As the local voluntary sector umbrella organisation, CVA is really passionate about community groups and their amazing work in Croydon. In today's digital world, data analysis has become more and more crucial in understanding/visualising communities strengths and needs and showcasing the profound impact of the works of our charities. The event offered to groups provided just that: knowledge, tips and inspirations for an easier and effective use of data through accessible inexpensive tools, opening up the doors to commissioning, attracting future funding, partnership and impact'.

See our online round-up of the event for further information including all resources referred to in this blog.

Key learnings

  • peer sharing always goes down well!  Small groups talking about their own experiences can inspire and encourage others to follow their lead
  • collaboration is key – working with others meant we could leverage additional expertise and build relationships for future joint working or support
  • make it local – utilising local assets and focussing on scenarios that are relevant to a particular borough will widen impact
  • maximise learning for attendees –  creating a resource as a tangible take away takes time but will pay off as can be tweaked and re-used time and again
  • use events as a way of capturing data yourself whilst you have a captive audience!  Online interactive tools are a great way to get input from attendees – in this instance benchmarking data maturity and flagging challenges faced
  • check and double check wi-fi!  Be flexible to roll with it if connections go down!

Kate White, Superhighways Manager
[email protected]

Campaigning for Windrush justice

Working together to achieve change - Emma Harrison, Director IMiX and Satbir Singh, CEO of JCWI

Many Windrush people have, since around 2012, been targeted by the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ policy – stopping them from working, renting property, or accessing benefits and services, and in some cases meaning they have been detained or deported – as they didn’t have adequate paperwork to prove their right to live in the UK. Many turned to charities for help.

As a coalition of charities working across race equality and refugee and migrants’ rights, we came together to work out how we could make a difference to the members of the Windrush generation. We wanted to secure their status as British citizens while shining a light on the pernicious and harmful effects of the hostile environment more broadly and its impact on other people who choose to make the UK their home.

To make this campaign successful we knew we’d need the backing of journalists, politicians and the public, and crucially the community itself.

The biggest challenge – and the most rewarding one – was supporting people to step up and talk about their experiences. Colleagues invested a lot of time in meeting people, hearing their stories and then guiding them through the process of media interviews. Critically, we spent time talking to the journalists to ensure they understood what was at stake each time someone spoke out.

From Paulette Wilson, who worked in the House of Commons and was then held in detention, to Albert Thompson, who was being refused life-saving cancer treatment; the members of the Windrush Generation were the real heroes of this campaign. They showed bravery and courage in telling their stories.

Those people and their stories unlocked the support of the Guardian and Channel 4 News, which in turn generated more coverage from across the media spectrum, leading to 77 front-page stories and 20 per cent of the population saying they’d read about Windrush.

With campaigning, timing is everything. We worked with the High Commissioners from Caribbean countries to exert political pressure during the Commonwealth Summit (CHOGM 2018). The government’s initial refusal to engage with the High Commissioners on the Windrush scandal generated significant media coverage and provided a platform for MPs at Westminster to challenge government policy.

In addition to the political and media activity, we commissioned polling to guide messaging and demonstrate public opposition to the treatment of the Windrush generation. We amplified a widely shared petition started by an affected person and invested time in social media to keep the debate going.

The resulting media coverage and political debate dominated the UK news agenda for weeks, even at a time when the UK was taking military action abroad, leading to people from the Windrush generation receiving an apology from Government and a process to confirm their status, transforming hundreds of people’s lives.

We learned so much during the campaign and there are so many things we would have done differently:

  • agreeing on a hashtag would have been beneficial for our social media work
  • involving more groups at an early stage would have helped us reach more politicians, journalists and supporters
  • involving the community more - with them not for them is such an important mantra
  • be ready with “what next” as we achieved our campaign aim (relatively) quickly meaning we didn’t have our plan for dismantling the hostile environment ready
  • our biggest lesson was in working together. Coalition working is hard, but worth the investment. It is all about relationships; honesty, openness and clarity in roles and responsibilities. Leave your ego at the door and don’t worry about the organisational brand. Say thank you often and give your colleagues a lift when the going gets tough
  • finally, celebrate more! Success is hard to come by, when you win, shout it from the rooftops!

Core coalition IMiX, JCWI, Runnymede Trust, Praxis Community Projects and Refugee and Migrant Centre.

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