We are constantly being reminded that we are living in an ‘age of austerity’. Community and voluntary groups all over Northern Ireland have been waiting for many months to find out what money, if any, they may receive in grants from Northern Ireland departments. This is making life quite difficult for them – and in turn it is impacting on the life of those most disadvantaged in our community.
There are grant-making bodies out there that are willing to fund projects that provide a long-term benefit to the community. Whilst its grants are not a solution to the funding crisis, with grants ranging from £100 to £2,000, the Cooperative Membership Fund does make a real difference in local areas.
The Co-operative Membership Fund is made up of donations from members of the Co-operative who have chosen to give a percentage of their twice-yearly share of the profits. This year, those donations have provided £1.2 million to local community groups right across the UK.
Successful groups must follow some simple guidelines: they must carry out positive work in the community, although they do not have to have charitable status to apply. The project that they wish to carry out must address a community issue; provide a long-term benefit to the community; support co-operative values and principles; and ideally be innovative in its approach.
One such group that has benefited in Kent is Bexley Swimming Club which has around 130 members of all ages and abilities from Junior Squad to national swimmers. Bexley Swimming Club is
dedicated to giving the finest in coaching and training facilities to allow all [their] swimmers to reach their full potential… [with] an up-to-the-minute progressive, structured training programme, catering for all abilities from the ‘Improver’ swimmer to the ‘Elite’ swimmer.
There are bound to be many groups across the city of Belfast who could benefit from this funding. One potential project, somewhat close to my heart, could be providing a safe space for children of parents who are living with HIV. A space for them to come and play, come and make friends, and come for a rest from the general stresses of living near someone who may be very ill.
But it would not be just of benefit for the kids: the chance to have somewhere for the children to be on a Saturday morning for instance could provide much needed rest for the parents who I know are often exhausted – not just because of the normal exertion of caring for their children, as with all parents – but because of living with HIV which has its own particular stresses and strains.
HIV is a disease which many people in Northern Ireland seem to want to ignore. But it is very real – and there are constantly more people being diagnosed each month. The HIV Support Centre is a local charity of which I am a Trustee. We work with everyone who is affected by HIV, those who are diagnosed as HIV positive, their partners, their parents, children and families. Thankfully nowadays it is rare for a mother in Northern Ireland to pass on the virus to her child. But we still have children living with HIV here.
A small grant of £2,000 could go a long way to providing materials for a children’s group. There could be bean bags and toys, as well as getting some bright coloured paint to make the group’s meeting place more welcoming. Alternatively, it could be used to help pay for rent, light, and heat. In my vision of this idea there is a working partnership of local volunteers, possibly local community groups or churches, as well as staff and volunteers from The HIV Support Centre itself.
Whether this project will work out or not is up to two sets of Trustees – the Board of Trustees of the Co-operative Community Investment Fund would be responsible for ensuring that any funds granted would be given in line with the Charities Commission’s guidelines; and the Board of Trustees of The HIV Support Centre in deciding that this is a project worthy of their time, of their attention, and of their support both now and in the future.
If you think you know a project that could benefit from a small grant from the Co-operative Membership Fund, please click here for more information on how to apply.