10 mins

Place based giving schemes (PBGS) are a charitable movement now in progress in the UK.
They are a “resource-full” grassroots approach to address social issues such as inequality, poverty, social isolation and mental health.

This ingeniously simple idea is bringing together and mobilizing thousands of local people, organisations, donors and local authorities.
They work together to understand the needs of the community and
 decide the most effective way to channel resources – skills, time, access or money – for the greatest impact.
By combining their forces to solve local problems place based giving schemes are building stronger communities, one discussion at a time.

Place based giving for social change

Camden Giving is a charity established in 2017. They are part of a wider charity called London’s Giving, a “place based giving movement” that is spreading across London. It’s a movement that is mobilising communities for social change at a grassroots level.

Back in 2017, a small group of local Camden residents, counsellors, businesses and organisations came together. They were looking for solutions to the problems faced by the place they loved.
The community was feeling pain.
There were stark contrasts in health, education and opportunities. The inequality gap was growing and Camden had the second-largest wealth gap in England. 40% of Camden’s children lived in poverty and funding for social services was shrinking.
Solutions had to be found.

One solution to begin the fight against local inequality was to create Camden Giving and place based giving.
Place based giving comes in different shapes and sizes. Camden’s version was a sort of a “by-the-community-for-the-community” crowdfunding charity.
The driving idea was to give decision-making power to people from within the community.

A group of 10 young people involved with place based giving at Camden Giving sitting outside on large, wood steps in an urban setting against a backdrop of a wood fence and a wall of green bushes with a signs that reads "small green shoots"

Image courtesy of Camden Giving – facebook

“The people experiencing the challenges know the best solutions.”

Their approach, called Participatory Grantmaking, meant that the people impacted by the decisions were the people actually making the investment decisions.
Camden Giving has since become a leading participatory funder in the UK.

While it was not a magic bullet, Camden Giving did give the people of Camden something new: decision-making power.
They began taking concrete steps to tackle the ongoing social issues in the community.
They concentrated on bringing people together to build relationships, discuss urgent needs and find solutions.
With this approach, diversity is an asset.
“Camden Giving is based on the notion that everyone has something to give, be that time, skills or money.
We channel those resources into grassroots community action that responds to local challenges.”

Since its start, Camden Giving has awarded over £5 million to more than 160 community projects.
Over 70 community residents have been part of the panels that awarded each of these grants.
Their decisions have supported projects with grants ranging in value from £375 to £100,000.

We recently spoke with Grace Coffey and Nicole N.
Grace is Head of Partnerships at Camden Giving and Nicole is a panellist for the 2021 Equality Fund.
(As always, we have edited the interview for clarity)

“Our top priority is shifting power.
We want a varied range of voices involved in decision-making.”

Camden Giving – how it works

Camden Giving uses panels of residents to address community problems like rising inequality in the community. There are different pieces to this – identifying problems,  fundraising and awarding grants. How does this all work?

Grace Coffey: Well, first a theme arises from the community, whether that is youth safety, accessibility, homelessness etc. We recruit a panel of residents to start a conversation around that topic. These conversations help us identify specific needs and potential solutions.
Secondly, we create a fund based on the needs we identify. At that point, my colleagues and I go out and begin fundraising for that particular fund. We raise the money that will later be awarded by the panel to a range of community groups.
Once raised, we hand the money to the panel of residents for distribution.
For example, when we were raising money for the Equality Fund, the money raised was handed over to Carol and her colleagues on the panel.

The panellists then set up a process to decide to whom the money is granted.


Participatory funding is not new. What is new is how Camden Giving is using it as a way to shift decision-making power in local communities. Carol, you worked on the Equality Fund which is one of the many funds at Camden Giving. Tell us more about the fund. 
Who actually gets the money?

Powered by the people

Carol N:  The fund was started because there was a lot of interest in the community to support Camden organisations – small charities and social enterprises who are supporting women, families, caregivers, people with disabilities, people from BAME (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic) communities, and young people.
We started having discussions about how to make this happen.

Twelve of us then started a panel.
Forming the panel gave us a way for to get to know each other as residents.
This was important, it gave us the chance to begin to form relationships.

Camden Giving then gave us training sessions to build our knowledge on how grants and charities work. We also learned awareness to make sure we looked at the different groups within the community.
For instance, we learned to keep in mind different factors like BAME, current circumstances such as the pandemic, and qualities in the different areas.

The panel met at regular sessions. We created our own grant application for the organisations that were applying for grants.
It was nice to see the process from start to finish.

And in the end, we decided on our finalists. This was a hard decision to make.
10 local organisations were each awarded £30,000 to spend over the next two years. The grants were unrestricted funding. In other words, the organisations can spend the money however they want.
This too is important. It means that the organisations can use the money to meet any and all of their urgent financial needs. The fact that the organisations received flexible funding was a very special thing about this fund.

It’s really satisfying to see the funding going to community groups that we know. These are groups that we ourselves have used in the community.

It was a great experience.

Tough decisions in a safe space

GC: What is also interesting about this is that the panel meetings are amazing safe spaces.
In addition, as Carol said, each of the groups that got funded by the Equality Fund was addressing different types of inequality whether that was due to race, or supporting women and young people.
The fund received a real variety of applications though sadly, more applications than we had funding to be able to support.
In the end, it was quite clear that the panel chose to fund groups with smaller reserves who are facing a more challenging time financially.

Participation, opportunities and volunteering

Camden Giving had been in operations since 2017. The demand for your work was growing and you decided to step back and publish a manifesto.
The manifesto set new goals to measure your performance and see how well you did against your stated values.

How does this manifesto shape the work of Camden Giving on a day-to-day basis?

GC: It turns out that at the end of 2019 we were all so naive to what 2020 was going to look like. But we had sat down as a core team and wrote the manifesto.
And whilst these four points are key to us, the more crucial part is how we deliver.
The manifesto describes how we want things to happen but the way we get there is key.

We’ve already talked a bit about funding, so let’s talk about the three other points of the manifesto – participation, opportunities and volunteering.

Participation? Sure! But who calls the shots?

Our top priority is shifting power. We want a varied range of voices involved in decision-making.
The people who are surviving local inequalities should be the ones we look to for solutions.

So participatory grantmaking and resident decision-making go hand-in-hand and they are non-negotiable to us.

This approach has made us the leading participatory funder in the UK.
As a result, we put together a toolkit, available on our website. It’s a free resource funded by London Giving that explains participatory decision-making.
We lay it all out. – the good, the bad and the ugly.
And we are now spending more and more time in conversations with other organisations that want to learn more about this approach. And we also learn from the “PGM community” ourselves.

Good jobs – money, connection and well-being

Since we build relationships with both decision-makers and the organisations that receive our funding, paying attention to job opportunities comes naturally.

But It’s interesting to see how a subject like this can evolve over time.

To begin with, back in February 2018 three young men were tragically stabbed in Camden, two of them fatally.
It’s a fact that young people in Camden face rising violence, poverty and cuts to the youth services that protect them.
So we created the Future Changemakers fund to support youth services that would help keep young people safe.

A group of 7 young people involved with place based giving at Camden Giving standing outside in an urban setting against a backdrop of plants, trees and bushes.

Future Changemakers Panel 2020 Image: Camden Giving – facebook

We launched the fund with a panel of ten 16-25-year-olds living in Camden.
One of the important findings of the panel was that job security is actually key in keeping young people safe.

And unfortunately, job security isn’t something that can be supported simply with funding. But that got us thinking about job security and jobs that brought well-being and connection to the community.

Coram’s Fields

Now, fast forward to the end of 2019.
We started a youth employment program. It was a programme that we were super passionate about. Unfortunately, the pandemic cut the programme partly short.
But by running this programme we were able to continue the conversations about job opportunities and “good jobs” for Camden residents.

As a result, today we are asking questions like, ‘How do we support young people who are furthest from the job market? What kind of work sets them up to succeed? How do we teach businesses to best support these people?’
There are also questions like,  ‘How do we help people know about what time they need to turn up at work. What do they need to wear to work? How do we help people open bank accounts?’’

What started off as a conversation about keeping young people safe has evolved into a much larger conversation with other partners.

Changing the talk – volunteering

We need to promote volunteering. Funding alone will not tackle inequality in Camden.
The projects we fund have other needs besides funding. And some need help to do a brilliant job of delivering their work.

Therefore, part of what we do is to get people from businesses to come in and help our community organisations.
We look at how businesses can offer strategic support to the community. We get volunteers to come in and do things like look at someone’s social media strategy, or maybe they help write budgets.
And of course, we are always looking to connect people.

We want people to be lending their time and their skills.
But beyond that, I’m on a personal journey to change how we talk about volunteering.
I’m really interested in how volunteering becomes a two-way street.

When you think about it, big businesses can learn a huge deal from the speed at which grassroots organisations work and adapt. Grassroots organisations are so tactile and I think that could learn a lot from this.
And there is a huge value for the individual people who volunteer. They get to go out into communities that they might not be part of and they get the opportunity to learn directly from grassroots organisations.

“I personally believe big businesses could learn a huge deal from the speed in which grassroots organisations work and adapt.
Grassroots organisations are so tactile.”

Community connector

Tell us, Carol, as a panellist, what are the benefits you’ve seen from this approach to grantmaking?

CN: Well I’ve previously worked for a charity in my heyday.
So I’ve seen the traditional approach where you would just submit a proposal for funding and that was that.
This is such a different way of allocating funds to people in the community.

It has been really great to be on the panel and actually construct the application, asking the questions, discovering the organisations and then seeing everything actually come to fruition.

And meeting the other panellists is really nice.
Because of the pandemic, we ran our meetings on zoom so we even had a panel member that would cook her meal whilst we were on, and we would see her menu (laughing).
Some of the people on the panel also have kids at the same school but they didn’t really know each other before the Equality Fund.
So those are new connections and it’s been really nice to see that play out too

As you know, the work of my panel is now finished. All the grants for the 2021 Equality Fund have been awarded.
But I continue seeing people that I used to see in the community and we continue discussing, especially through our Whatsapp group.

The other day, I was walking home from dropping the children to school and a lady from one of the organisations that had just received funding saw me. She came up to me and said “Oh! Carol, I just seen you on the website as part of the panel!”
She gave me a tremendous elbow tap.
She was so happy that her group had been given the funding and that she was now progressing in her vision.

Another thing is that I’ve also gained skills and knowledge from our meetings.
This is both from the outside organisations coming in and giving us talks on funding and also from the Camden Giving employees telling us about how they work.
I’ve gotten so much insight into the decision making process.

And they continue to send us emails with opportunities such as being on additional boards and panels and discussions.
The whole thing helps build confidence so it’s great.

It all happens “on the ground”

CG: That’s a really nice story, Carol, about being out there in the community and seeing what you funded. There isn’t this disconnect between somebody sitting in an ivory tower and the people doing the work.
We are all right here.

CN: It’s true, it’s nice to just see them in the community. And you can see the difference in the energy with somebody who has gotten funding.
They are confident that they can go on and carry out their objectives.

“The power of a mum cooking dinner
making fundamental decisions for the community
…what they are doing is just remarkable”



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A post shared by Camden Giving (@camdengiving)

Ending racial injustice

Your website describes your Racial Justice Strategy. Your position is that you must end racial injustice, wherever it shows up, ig you want to end local inequality.
That puts racial justice at the core of your mission. Tell us more about what you are doing.

GC: Our mission is to increase Camden Giving’s potential to achieve racial justice in and beyond Camden. You cannot end inequality without ending racial injustice.
We have a 5-year plan that we developed in 2020 that’s on our website. This plan describes our commitments and explains what we want to see and how we will get there.

And you‘re right.
It does put Racial Justice at the centre of what we do.

Most importantly, it’s something that has always been part of who we are and is always top of the agenda in the work we do.
However last year we decided to invite lots of people to be part of that conversation – external facilitators, brilliant charities, including one called BRAP based in Birmingham. Likewise, we also worked with the panellists and with the Camden Giving staff and trustees.

By doing this we reaffirmed that Camden Giving should be a great place for people of colour to work and to lead change in Camden.
We are ensuring that Camden Giving’s Community Panels are equipped to fund work that addresses the root causes of racism.
And we’ll communicate more effectively with our supporters about how race plays a significant role in establishing levels of poverty, isolation, safety and power in Camden.
Ultimately, we are striving to end racial injustice and we are very grateful to everyone who supports us in this work.

Learn more about place based giving and Camden Giving

Useful links to learn more about place based giving, participatory funding and Camden Giving
You can also follow them and keep up with what they are doing on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Click here for a quick read on Camden Giving

Feature photo credit: Camden Giving