For many third sector organisations, understanding how European Funding works and links into their projects can seem like a minefield. For Chief Officer of Citizens Advice Halton, Hitesh Patel, this was exactly his experience until a chance conversation sparked a chain of events. Now receiving funding for 5 different projects via the EU the CSI team touched base with Hitesh to find out more about his journey.
Citizens Advice Halton’s European Funding journey
Hitesh told us “Citizens Advice Halton has been around long before EU funding, and yet it took us until the ball of Brexit started rolling before we managed to finally understand it. But we are so glad we did!”
Reflecting on why the organisation had never considered European funding before Hitesh said “I think even the language is confusing. With other funding streams we’ve accessed before the ‘what money is available, how and when to apply’ is all very clear and the process is more remote. You complete an application form tucked away in your office, send it off and await the outcome, there is no lobbying required, and no extra layers.”
It was through a chance conversation with Maggie O’Carroll, CEO of The Women’s Organisation, a social enterprise who have successfully run European projects since its inception, that switched Hitesh on to the possibilities.
“I remember speaking to Maggie about our in-house Leadership Academy and through describing the programme Maggie immediately told me that there was a ‘call’ out at that time and if we looked to scale up the idea it may really work with the ‘LEP’s growth strategy’. This sounded exciting, but it was all like a foreign language to me.”
Maggie explained to Hitesh that each region’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has key priorities they are focussing on at any given time and that these inform their growth strategy and inevitably how they will channel the European Funding that has been allocated for the region. The ‘call’ was basically the notice of opportunity to bid into the pot available and evidence how your project would help the LEP to deliver on their strategy.
Scaling-up the project
Hitesh could now see how their successful project could be scaled up to have a wider regional impact with the support of EU funds. “We evaluated the local growth strategies and tweaked our model accordingly, and it was clear to see how through scaling up we could professionalise what had been a good pilot project and bring in additional technical expertise to make a regional impact.”
Prior to putting a proposal forward for what became the European Social Fund (ESF) supported ‘Advice Skills Academy’ project, Hitesh had first worked with The Women’s Organisation on a Building Better Opportunities Fund project ‘Better Off Finance’. Hitesh told us “With Building Better Opportunities Fund ESF have partnered with National Lottery and so the process is much simpler as need for match funding is taken out of the equation”. Hitesh indicated that he felt match is one of the areas that third sector organisations can get bogged down by, but just picking the brains of someone in the know helped them to put a plan in place.
“I think sometimes European Funding can get a bit of bad press and leave charity and social enterprise leaders worrying about clawback, following all the guidance around paperwork and publicity. But in essence from our experience we’ve realised that EU funding just gives you a chance to take your great ideas and give them scale to increase your impact even further. Yes there are guidelines you need to adhere to, but adding the right logos and getting the correct evidence is really a small price to pay for getting a great investment in your activity.”
Citizens Advice Halton are now a partner in four European funded programmes – Advice Skills Academy and Civil Society Involvement which are part funded by European Social Fund (ESF), business start up programme Enterprise Hub which is part funded by European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), and Better Off Finance jointly funded by ESF and National Lottery through Building Better Opportunities. They have also accessed European Funds directly through and ILM programme which has helped them to expand their staff team and takes their tally of successful European bids to 5.
How can Civil Society Involvement help your project?
Reflecting on his journey Hitesh explained why he thinks the Civil Society Involvement Programme is important to him.
“Not everyone has a Maggie they can go to, someone more experienced with the process who can guide you through how to relationship build at Local Enterprise Partnership level to understand key priorities. Not everyone has someone they can pick up the phone to and ask them to translate the jargon or ask about how to navigate the red tape. I was fortunate, but for others that is exactly why we need CSI. By joining up you can get yourself in the loop of when ‘calls’ are coming out. You can be regularly in receipt of information that will help to unpack the jargon and demystify the process. More than that you can actually make contact with the people who have real influence on how the remaining EU funding is used, the processes, and shape what happens post Brexit.”
Civil Society Involvement is a project part funded by European Social Fund technical assistance programme to support third sector organisations to better understand and have a voice on how the final phase of European Structural and Investment Funds will be used. Through signing up to the newsletter you will receive information that will help you to know when calls come out in your region, understand how to navigate the process, and how EU funds can work for your organisation. Through connecting with our reps who sit on the 9 national subcommittees and Growth Programme Board you can report issues and ideas that will shape the final phase of the programme, and inform the funding landscape beyond.