Earlier this month Head of Business Alun Thorne joined forces with a team from the Co-operative Foundation to hear pitches from five Birmingham charities trying to win funding for projects aimed at challenging the negative perceptions of young people. Here he reflects on the process so far.
When the pitch documents arrived on my desk I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for the postman.
With each pack several inches thick there would certainly be no shortage of information when it came to deciding which of the charities was worthy of £250,000.
In the end there was more information than any mortal, mere or otherwise, could possibly digest so half an hour’s skim reading sufficed as I prepared to join a team from the Co-operative Foundation for a day of pitches at the Ibis Hotel in Birmingham’s Chinatown.
Not that I wasn’t taking the process seriously, far from it – in just that short time flicking through the mass of documents detailing the work that the applicants were already doing with the city’s young people it became clear that these were organisations already engaged in exceptionally valuable work making a difference in the lives of some of the city’s most deprived young people.
And it is making a difference that lies at the heart of this latest campaign by the Co-operative Foundation.
The Foundation’s Truth about Youth initiative was looking for projects being led by young people that would make a difference by challenging and changing people’s negative attitudes – whatever their age – towards young people and the contribution they make to Birmingham.
Applicants for the funding, which will come in the form of £140,000 each year for two years with the option for a third year, were understandably many but these were painstakingly whittled down to five who then joined us at the Ibis to each deliver a 15-minute pitch with their project ideas and then face a further 10 minutes of questions from the panel.
The panel itself was made up of representatives from the Foundation, the Co-operative itself, Youthbank and yours truly. And it was quite an experience.
Having never been involved in anything like this before and having had very little previous contact with the third sector I was not sure what to expect but if I hadn’t realised before then I soon did – this was a serious business.
More than a quarter of a million pounds is not an insignificant amount of cash and the Co-operative Foundation is not about to hand it out lightly.
The five charities had all been tasked with explaining what were the negative perceptions of the young people they worked with, who held them and how could these be challenged and those who strayed from this criteria soon lost marks.
The Foundation was also looking for a charity that was sufficiently secure to be able to administer such a grant over the next two years and the Foundation’s financial officer extracted more than a bead or two of sweat as she probed into the organisations’ accounts.
There was undoubtedly something of the Dragon’s Den about the process but in tribute to the five applicants – BRAP, Envision, Changemakers, the Birmingham Association of Youth Clubs and the Birmingham Royal Ballet – they could all have persuaded even Duncan Bannatyne to get his wallet out.
However, in the end it came down to who was closest to the original brief and whose proposed projects had the best chance of delivering not just short term results but a long term legacy.
After much deliberation Changemakers and Envision were invited through to the next stage and today both charities will make a 30-minute presentation to the Foundation’s 16 trustees at its head office in Manchester who will make the decision on which charity walks away with the grant.
I walked away with a feeling that, whoever is ultimately successful in their quest for funding, the young people of Birmingham are in great hands.