COVID emergency grants report: tackling gendered poverty during a pandemic

Despite an incredibly challenging year, the Smallwood Trust was able to secure £2.5m of COVID emergency grant funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and The National Lottery Community Fund (TNLCF) to redistribute to the women’s sector.

To view our COVID emergency grants report click here.

The driving force behind this was research that showed that an alarming 70% of organisations that provide vital services to women were in fear of their survival due to the impact of the pandemic, with 37% of those surveyed being BAME-led women’s organisations.

Additionally, it was highlighted that these organisations were facing a quadruple whammy during the crisis due to:

  1. The interconnectedness of complex problems that women were increasingly facing including mental health, domestic abuse and financial loss
  2. The lockdown restricting service delivery with the closure of women’s centres and face-to-face services
  3. Support services such as housing associations and job centres being closed or overwhelmed
  4. A reduction in core funding due to the crisis

What we achieved

Our report details many facts and figures about our emergency grants, however, some of the most noteworthy statistics include:

  • 86% of organisations funded had members on their Boards or senior leadership with lived experience
  • 79% were women-led organisations – confirming the need for specialist women’s organisations
  • 31% were BAME-led women’s organisations
  • 300 essential roles in the women’s sector were funded by the emergency grants

Key takeaways

Through previous research, Smallwood were already aware of the disproportionate effect that poverty and austerity has had on BAME communities prior to the outbreak but a survey that we collaborated with, led by Women’s Resource Centre and Rosa UK in March/April 2020, reported that these communities were being adversely affected during the pandemic, too. Through the emergency grants we were able to increase the number of funds awarded to BAME-led women’s organisations to 31%, compared to 7% for previous programmes.

An analysis of the applications to the funds produced a number of other important findings, such as 84% of organisations reported they were supporting women with mental health issues and 82% reported they were helping women who had suffered violence and abuse.

One of the findings from this research was that many women were facing a complex web of multiple disadvantages, simultaneously, such as mental health, care responsibilities and domestic abuse which was pushing them and their families into further crisis.

What we learned

It’s clear from this programme that COVID-19 has had a devastating and disproportionate effect on the women’s sector with demand for support far higher than the funding available.

However, the Smallwood team has responded well to this unprecedented challenge by distributing 115 grants in a matter of months.

The next major challenge is to support the women’s sector once these funds have been spent by 31st March 2021. This work is ongoing and further funding rounds, including Smallwood matched funding, will be announced.

Although we have made good progress in helping BAME-led organisations, it’s essential that we continue to support them in the future. We also recognise that while 31% of organisations reported that they worked with disabled women, only 2% of these organisations were led by disabled women. Moving forward we will also aim to target additional funding to women aged 50 to 65 and women living in rural areas.

Smallwood will continue to strengthen our diversity, equity and inclusion processes across the whole organisation to represent our values and work.


The Smallwood Trust has learnt a lot through delivering our COVID emergency grants and is fully focused on finding innovative ways to support women’s organisations through the pandemic and the eventual recovery phase.

As the report highlights, we will do this by using the recently adopted Gender Lens Grant-Making Framework and by driving transformational change, including co-creating solutions with organisations that support women facing multiple disadvantages.

Finally, Smallwood would like to invite other funders and interested parties to join us on our journey to help end gendered poverty.

To view our COVID emergency grants report click here.

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