Essential Needs Fund: Reflections

During May 2022 the Smallwood Trust funded five organisations led by and for Black and Minority Ethnic women through the Essential Needs Fund. Through the fund – and our wider Community Grant Partnership Programme (CGP) – local women’s organisations provide hardship grants to individual women alongside core services such as mental health and employability support. 

The partners involved were Hull Sisters, Sandwell African Women Association, Women Today North East, the Kanlungan Filipino Consortium and Kundakala. Each organisation had a track record of supporting women of colour through economic and emotional hardship, but the Essential Needs Fund presented a new opportunity for staff and volunteers to embed a grant-making process successfully used by Smallwood for a number of years. Our Essential Needs Fund partners were supported through a grant-making toolkit detailing the steps toward awarding a grant and eligibility criteria.

How the grants supported women

  • Total number of women/families supported: 234
  • Number of meals/food parcels provided: 598
  • Number of women supported with utility bills: 180
  • Number of counselling sessions provided: 212
  • Number of emergency/welfare packs distributed: 336
  • Total amount spent on hardship grants for women: £48,600

Why specialist by-and-for women’s organisations?

Smallwood is committed to funding specialist women’s organisations who carry out life-saving work and deeply understand the needs of their beneficiaries. As part of Smallwood’s mission to tackle gendered poverty, we understand how characteristics such as race, disability, age and location can impact a woman’s financial circumstances. 

Research into the experiences of UK Black and Minority Ethnic communities reflect this, with the Runnymede Trust reporting Black and Minority households experience an average increase in the cost of living 1.6 times higher than their white counterparts. Meanwhile the Women’s Budget Group highlights Black and Minority Ethnic women experience significantly higher poverty rates. Recently the Domestic Abuse Crime Commissioner spoke of the irreplaceable nature of by and for services despite their continued under-funding

What difference the grants made

Each partner reported that distributing individual grants had a positive impact on both their beneficiaries and staff. For some this was their first experience running a hardship fund, and having grant-making power shift into the hands of women who understand the needs of their own community was transformative. 

Without your trust in us and your consideration of our organisation to be your guarantee to women who would come directly to you for assistance, there would not be much we could do. Your trust in our organisation to be your representative in disbursing cash to women in need has made a huge difference to both us as an organisation and our beneficiaries. – Sandwell African Women Association 

A small amount of money can be life changing. This is a pillar of the Essential Needs Fund, and the larger CGP programme. Small amounts of cash can greatly reduce stress and organisations can assure women that their ‘essential needs’ such as food and bills can be covered.

Overall it was found that domestic abuse, mental health problems, food insecurity and social isolation were common experiences. As a result, many found themselves to be in hopeless situations, particularly during the ongoing cost of living crisis. 

[The Essential Needs Fund] was an amazing initiative across Hull and East Ridings. Being able to provide financial support to prevent and mitigate the shocks and stresses of financially vulnerable women has helped ease their stress. As per many women, the grant has undoubtedly improved relationships with their family, reduced mental tension and contributed to improved wellbeing. Our women feel more confident, happy and supported. – Hull Sisters

The ability to offer immediate financial support deepened relationships between beneficiaries and staff. For example, knowing they could receive a grant from a trusted source helped women open up about further struggles and enabled partners to respond with wraparound support. 

Supporting women with No Recourse to Public Funds

Women with NRPF represented a key demographic for Essential Needs Fund grant partners, and are amongst the most destitute in the UK. Often specialist women’s organisations represent the only safe place a woman with NRPF can turn to. Financial assistance through the Essential Needs Fund meant women with NRPF, including women without access to a bank account which might traditionally act as a barrier, could have more ownership over the food they ate, seek safe accommodation and pay toward legal costs.  

Learning to take forward

Experiences of being a Smallwood Trust grant partner were overall positive. Our grant partners told us that delivering the fund resulted in increased credibility to prospective funders, and success with grant applications for core costs. Related to this, organisations told us that the fund has been a strong addition to their frontline services that they provide around supporting women’s financial resilience.  For others the Fund boosted organisational confidence in piloting a new type of support for women. 

We have loved being a Smallwood Trust grantee: the trustees and our project manager (Rosie Learmonth) are always very engaged and interested in our progress. As this was a pilot programme the founder was able to bounce ideas off Rosie and evolve the initial programme into a more sustainable model. We are looking forward to working with Smallwood in the coming years. – Kundakala

“Everything worked well from the help we received before applying and throughout our funding journey. The Smallwood Trust staff are always there to support. English is not our first language and Smallwood were there every step of the journey… and this helped us a lot. We are truly grateful for this support we received. Our organisation is now one of the most recognised BME organisation in the Northeast and this is because of the Essential Needs Fund.”  – Women Today

The Fund enabled organisations to better understand the financial needs of their beneficiaries. In future, staff are looking toward follow up financial resilience workshops so women can learn budgeting skills and understand how to access all the support that is available. 

Smallwood’s ongoing support

Organisations noted that despite the success of the Essential Needs Fund, in order to continue vital work with women of colour, they need consistent funding from multiple sources. For the smallest partners, there is little access to ongoing grants outside of the Smallwood Trust and staff were working unsocial hours, often on a voluntary basis, to continue delivering vital services. In December 2022 each partner was awarded an Uplift Grant to support them through the cost-of-living crisis and we are now working with them to explore multi-year partnerships. 

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