Kate Hainsworth: ‘Levelling up’ becomes ‘equity’ when you involve communities 

14 Dec 2021 Voices

Kate Hainsworth from Leeds Community Foundation and GiveBradford calls for the debate about 'levelling up' to be reframed as an equity issue

For too long there has been a north/south divide in England, referenced recently as the ‘levelling up’ agenda. 

From the ‘north’ perspective, and in close contact with community foundation colleagues across the south, I suggest such divisions are generally unhelpful, as is the language: what we are really talking about is ‘equity’.

As partners in the DEI coalition, we have been working hard to understand and promote equity across communities and understand the impact it has on lives and communities. 

Our Funding Ecology report 2021 analysed a range of data from the UK Civil Society Almanac, open grant making data from 360Giving and primary grant making data from local funders to generate an interactive dashboard to demonstrate the level of grant funding in the region and identify gaps. 

This was commissioned from researchers Rocket Science by a partnership of the National Lottery Community Fund (Yorkshire & Humber), Two Ridings Community Foundation, Yorkshire Funders Forum and ourselves at Leeds Community Foundation/GiveBradford. 
Simply put, inequity remains: funding support per person in Yorkshire and the Humber lags behind London/the South East to the tune of £374 per capita vs £2,552 (London) or £699 (South East). 

Reframing the discussion around equity

Rather than moan or rehearse the unfairness – I believe it’s more useful to reframe this historic discussion in terms of equity.  Through an equity lens, the current disparity demands redress.  

Equity means everyone can access the tools, contacts, choices and pathways that will open up opportunity irrespective of their circumstance (including geography).  Quite rightly, equity has recently focused on those who have missed out because of racial or gender prejudice, bias, systemic marginalisation or other forms of disadvantage. 

This report shows those forms of discrimination are being further compounded by living in the ‘wrong’ postcode. This geographic deficit hasn’t moved much since 2018 when an earlier research analysis revealed a similar ranking, and recent Northern Health Science Alliance research indicates the impact of Covid has been worse in the north. 

This isn’t a counsel of despair, far from it! Successfully addressing equity could provide a step up for people to engage as equals with the solutions that will help them to thrive. 

As a community foundation, we often see that the chance to co-design and co-create solutions provides communities most affected with seat at the decision table and a powerful voice at every stage of development. When viewed through an equity lens, it becomes unthinkable that investment and engagement plans for the north of England will not include the voices, thoughts and engagement of communities in the north. The same goes for funding. 

There are many findings in the Funding Ecology 2021 report to be examined further and at length – but from a community foundation point of view I wanted to highlight the importance of giving voice to our communities as the whole ‘levelling up’ agenda grows with targeted government focus

Community foundations amplify community voices

As a community foundation our job is to work hand in glove with our most local (and often most marginalised) communities, while at the same time encouraging those with cash to think about local philanthropy, and how to invest on their doorstep in communities lacking equitable access to power, agency and funding. 

This support brings us close to those individuals to recognise their skills, assets and creativity. Working alongside these communities for years, we amplify their voices to share their core needs in our region, and their core assets too, and wherever possible give them a platform to speak for themselves.

We make sure that every penny counts; as do all community foundations across the country. Fair access to funding is vital if we’re going to overcome the inequitable levels of deprivation that still exist. While money cannot solve all hurdles, it helps. 

In Leeds and Bradford, we work with hundreds of groups each year and over many years. We build trusted connections with community groups and individuals to establish resilient communities. We work to understand and facilitate solutions created by the communities themselves. 

As one of the larger community foundations in the UK by grants distributed, Leeds Community Foundation and GiveBradford distributes grants and gives trusted advice to voluntary groups and charities to influence positive change. Driven by creating meaningful social impact for thousands of local people, we distributed £5.8m in 2020-21.  

Central inner-city Leeds and Bradford remain high priority areas for regional inequity, and our aspiration is to work closely to align our resources with public sector and other partners to make the funds go further. 

Alignment and co-design key to addressing the funding gap 

And that is the key: alignment with partners. Fundamental to the solution is co-design, so alignment and partnering with communities is essential. But partnering with other funders allows all our limited resources to go further - and that’s the best outcome that could come from this report.  

The community foundation approach encourages co-design from the outset. As many testify, this level of autonomy and engagement transforms measurable outcomes and builds confidence and long-term change. 

I believe that community foundations right across the north, who know their regions inside out and are dedicated to them for the long term, could better partner with other local and regional funders and most especially with national partners keen to invest in equity and support where funding needs to be directed.  

The process has already begun, I’m pleased to say. Pre-pandemic, the National Lottery Community Fund in Yorkshire and Humber, Two Ridings (North and East Yorkshire) and Leeds Community Foundation/Give Bradford undertook to introduce some national funders to the kind of investment opportunities on offer in parts of North, East and West Yorkshire.  

Since then, we’ve done some amazing work with national funders: Henry Smith, the Pears Foundation, Mohn Westlake, Power to Change, Lankelly Chase, Wellcome Trust/BSA and many more. We’re always looking for new partnerships to leverage additional investment into our local communities. 

If, as a national funding foundation, you are keen to take a more equitable approach – work with us. With intelligent alignment, consider what true equity could mean for the north of England.  

Kate Hainsworth is CEO of Leeds Community Foundation and GiveBradford

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