Funders need to offer grants and build relationships with disabled-led and user-led grassroots groups, the leader of a London infrastructure organisation has said.
Tracy Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, a charity that supports more than 70 deaf and disabled organisations, was speaking at Camference 2020, a virtual conference organised by London Funders.
She described some of the challenges and inequalities that disabled people in London have been facing during the pandemic. These include access to basic services and food, changes to the layouts of roads and pavements, unemployment, and accessibility difficulties in working from home.
She said organisations that are helping disabled people face a series of issues around “fatigue and sustainability”.
She said that there is “absolute fear of the funding cliff edge, come March 2021”, and that organisations are worried about the impact that delivering services online long-term will have both on the quality of services and on the mental health of staff.
She added they are also “seeing the continued exclusion or marginalisation from decision-making that affects us”.
How funders can help
Lazard then discussed how funders can support these groups.
She said: “Firstly, the funding community needs to really recommit to tackling structural inequality in a really explicit way, and to prioritise this work. And for us, that absolutely means prioritising funding so that it goes to user-led community organisations.
“It’s also about building long-term funding relationships, core funding, and actually work to co-produce funding programmes with communities that are experiencing structural inequality.”
She said that with unemployment expected to rise at record levels, “community-based peer-to-peer support is absolutely going to be critical”, and that for funders it’s about “getting down and working with those grassroots organisations to understand what they need to make that peer support as inclusive as possible”.
Making funding less prescriptive
The panel also discussed what funders can do to make their programmes more accessible for communities. Speakers suggested they should be prepared to listen and be less “prescriptive”.
Xia Lin, head of research and policy at Toynbee Hall, a charity that works to address poverty in the East End of London, said: “A suggestion, maybe, is not to be too prescriptive. Encourage communities to say what they need, not in terms of the individual, but in terms of what they need as a community, having the bigger picture.”
She said trusts and foundations should be “more open” to the idea of co-designing funds.
“I know it’s less certain in terms of what the funding is going to do. But our experience is that it is so powerful, and much more long-lasting.”
Lazard agreed: “Funders need to go out and start building relationships with marginalised communities, and recognise that the engine of bringing about social change lies with those organisations. It's about how we can provide long-term investment that is much less prescriptive, that is more about recognising their expertise and saying: ‘Go and do what you need to do with that money’.
“I'm not saying forget quality assurance, monitoring and evaluation, but to do it in a way that's respectful and recognises that expertise.”