The value of grants to individual women – Dr Ambreen Shah

Recently I got to better understand the value of grants to individual women. I am lucky enough to be a trustee of Smallwood Trust and at the December board meeting we were presented with a pack of assessment reports from our Community Grant Partners that have supported around 5000 women over the last 3 years. 

These organisations – mostly led by women – provide women with the care and attention they need to help them get from where they are to where they want to be.  The women they support are vulnerable for a range of reasons (for example, they have no recourse to public funds, are coming out of prison, are fleeing violence, been trafficked, experiencing poor mental health, are isolated etc.).  What the community grant partners do is build trust and a relationship with the women they support, working with them over time to help them affect the change they are seeking for their own lives.

Some of these women find themselves at crisis point.  This is, it seems, where the grant to individuals comes into its own.  It’s stating the obvious (but can often be overlooked) but these women can’t look beyond the crisis, and address the more complex, deep-rooted issues that have negatively impacted on their lives, until they feel safe and secure – until the crisis has passed.

Because of Smallwood, the Community Grant Partners are able to provide emergency funds – quickly and immediately – sometimes on the same day as requested.  They have the freedom to use these fund as they best see fit to meet the needs of the women (rather than the women having to fit some criteria before being offered the funds) – this flexibility and autonomy is making a huge difference, empowering organisations to be creative in the kind of support they offer and exercise greater flexibility in how they work. 

I noted how some of the money has been used, examples were:  to access emergency accommodation; to cover utility bills, to buy essential household items, travel/moving/travel costs, clothing (including school uniforms), food (including formula milk) etc.  The average grant is £500 and sometimes very small, for example buying a birth certificate so the woman can claim benefits. 

But the money comes at a time when it is desperately needed and provides much needed ‘breathing space’, engenders trust and supports these women, sometimes at the lowest point in their lives, to reduce the level of stress and anxiety they have been experiencing so they can start to look beyond the immediate and see the possibility of a better future.

“By removing the stress and worry from the situation she can focus on moving forward emotionally and working on her mental health and wellbeing in the knowledge that people genuinely care about her and accepting the help is a positive thing to do”.  

Some of the local evaluations have also shown how the women feel more secure, independent, and autonomous as a result.

There are also lasting positive impacts for the organisations delivering this support.  Many are first time grant makers and learning how this can be done as a core part of the wider package of support they offer (which can include therapeutic/psychological support such as counselling, befriending, mentoring, peer support, well-being support and personal development activities like budgeting and finance skills.

For some it has built their internal capacity for partnership working; strengthened their approach to safeguarding; developed an organisational understanding of how little women have to sustain their lives and those of their children; a more nuanced understanding of how gendered poverty intersects with race; and created a cohort of organisations that through Smallwood have been able to connect with one another to learn and evolve their practice.

It has made me realise – never underestimate the power a small amount of money can make – delivered by people who are closest to the communities they are seeking to serve.

Dr Ambreen Shah, Smallwood Trust Board Member

Scroll to Top