Developing a Regenerative Futures Fund — #1

Leah Black
7 min readSep 2, 2022

--

How on earth it’s been 12 months since I last put ideas out into the world about creating and testing a 10-year unrestricted fund, I have no clue, but here we are in September 2022. During this time much has taken place to the point where it is going to be possible to test out this work. This has evolved from an idea around a 5-year unrestricted fund with genuine participatory decision-making and working towards the End Poverty Edinburgh goals; to exploring ideas around 10–15-year unrestricted funding thinking about community wealth fund approaches and how a long-term fund might map and track outcomes.

This is an introduction to this work, some info about what’s happening within the beautiful Whale Arts, with a commitment I am making to hold myself to account to write about what I am learning, regularly.

SECONDMENT & SUPPORT FROM WHALE ARTS

I now understand the power of just putting ideas out into the world, even if not fully ‘formed’. And that if something is in your head and you feel it would make a difference, it’s likely to be in someone else’s head too. And once you start talking to those people with shared ideas and frustrations in their heads, that’s when you can start to make things actually happen!

After many meetings, conversations and negotiations over the last 12 months, two weeks ago on 15th August I started a secondment from the role I have held for the last 4.5 years as Chief Executive of Whale Arts, to Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations Council (EVOC) to develop a (currently named) Regenerative Futures Fund for Edinburgh.

My wonderful board at Whale Arts were supportive of my idea and proposal of a secondment from the first conversation and I am incredibly appreciative of this support. The organisation is in capable hands with Kate Griffin our Head of Programmes and Projects (and one of our longest serving employees, 13 years) stepping up as Interim Chief Executive and a couple of successful recruitments including of our new Head of Operations, Zoe Squair, and some shuffling of projects to make sure all bases are covered. There are wonderful things happening at Whale Arts, we are alive and kicking, despite the rough two + years we’ve all had, and we have such a capable, experienced, and passionate team working alongside our members and local people — including what was a joyous celebration of our BIG 30th Birthday Party on 20th August! In the pipeline are longer-term capital developments, community asset transfer, genuine and sustainable membership development, collaborative cultural hubs work across Edinburgh, a new cafe opening soon, and MUCH more!

Being able to be seconded into EVOC is perfect. I always love working with Bridie Ashrowan having spent a few years working on collaborative networks together in South West Edinburgh while she was Chief Executive of Space in Broomhouse. The EVOC team there are doing such important work across many areas not least trying to improve how existing funding is distributed to community based organisations in Edinburgh, through some interesting and collaborative models such as community commissioning. I’ve had many inspiring conversations so far, and I’m looking forward to learning more.

Here is a little more from the comms team at EVOC outlining the current ideas to date on Regenerative Futures Fund. And the most recent one-pager…

FUNDERS & SYSTEMS CHANGE

The development year will be funded and supported by The National Lottery Community Fund, William Grant Foundation, Corra Foundation, The Robertson Trust, Turn2Us and the City of Edinburgh Council. We will soon establish a funders ‘learning group’ (which may be a ‘Community of Practice’) so that we can learn from each other about genuine participatory decision-making, funding futures work over the long-term, mapping and tracking outcomes, bringing new money in, ideas and action around systemic change within funding, and I’m sure much more.

QUESTIONS (I have SO many! but here are just two for now)

This is all about a future that is regenerative and re-distributive — this also means bringing new money into the system — from where & how do we raise this?

Much rests on raising substantial amounts of money to make this happen. How realistic is this. The ambition is that this should be ‘new money’? i.e. not existing funding recirculated. How might we bring together different kinds of capital? Who do we need round the table to talk about a mix of funds (statutory in the mix with private, corporate, trusts). I love the quote from Alistair Parvin at the New Frontiers conference that ‘ everything we need is already here’ (money, technology, people, ideas) it just needs to redistributed in a fairer way. What other models and financial instruments might we want to experiment with?

What’s the best and fairest way to involve people within community organisations in these conversations?

I know as a community organisation worker that staff and volunteer time is precious as they are always spread too thin. Do we start with some sessions on collective long-term thinking? Is it patronising to assume that organisations can’t do this themselves? Or is there value in doing this collectively?

We’ll learn from each other as we go, citizens groups, funders supporting the development phase, organisations, EVOC colleagues and others. I’m starting to get out and about in Edinburgh to talk to organisations from next week and will begin to form ideas around how we have collective conversations. Also keen to talk to anyone who might have thoughts on the above or anything related.

Is investing in human capacity the most important thing?

Another nugget from JRF New Frontiers conference, I can’t find who said it, but it was long the lines of ‘sometimes the best way to make transformational change happen is just to pay salary to someone in the community to do the work’. This has made me think so much about how hard it is to get funding for staff and salaries, which in fact this is the first thing that should be funded because without people doing the work, we have nothing. And also a conversation with Graham Leicester from International Futures Forum about how people need to be at the heart of everything, and about 21st Century Competencies and remembering a session that Suzy Glass and Graham did at the Firestarter Festival (pre-covid times) about Producer Competencies and how similar I thought that these were to the competencies of community activists I know in Wester Hailes, including the amazing Eoghan Howard (who has the ability to connect everything up together in the most creative ways — and I know will come up again).

READING & INSPIRING THINGS I’VE HEARD

I’m going to need a new notebook as I’m scribbling like mad every day. I enjoyed creating a rough map by hand to get my head around the different aspects of the project to help with project planning, this was fun!

RFF scribble by Leah

Here are a few things that have stuck in my mind so far:

Most people can do imagining but what we are missing is the infrastructure and implementation to make things happen — just one of many nuggets in a mind-expanding conversation with Graham from International Futures Forum, Bridie and Zoe from The Robertson Trust.

The best thing that the funding programme did was to get out of the way (and) The effectiveness of small neighbourhood work that it is ‘one inch wide and a mile deep’ — in an inspiring conversation with Grace Bremner from Local Trust about the programme she has managed, Creative Civic Change (looking forward to more conversations with Grace, couldn’t write fast enough!)

Taking people with us and sitting with the awkward parts — in a conversation with Kate from EVOC (who I know so well from my role at Whale Arts- and I’m so chuffed to be working with now at EVOC!) about starting collective conversations with organisations about if / how we can design a long-term fund together.

Paying close attention to power — in a meeting with colleagues at our newly formed CAPE (Collaborative Anti-Poverty Edinburgh) meeting.

How able will people (individuals and organisations) be to think long-term when dealing with current and ongoing cost of living crisis? — in pretty much every conversation I have had over the last two weeks.

I’ve been looking back at this beautiful use of Miro for recording the Lottery Civil Society Open Enquiries and pondering if we can use this for the development of Regenerative Futures Fund.

I’ve been reading the SCVO Response to Scottish Government Spending Review — with particular interest in the focus on the need for long term multi-year funding.

I’ve been working my way through the New Frontiers conference (which I couldn’t attend as it coincided with my last week at Whale Arts) but it’s full of inspiration and I’m hoping to meet many other who were involved. This was created by Sophia Parker and others at Joseph Rowntree Foundation and I couldn’t recommend this more.

And I’m looking forward to attending this on Monday — Racial Equity in Grantmaking led by Corra — and I have been following #BAMEOnline by Martha Awojobi — and going spend time catching up as I only picked up on this last week via my friend Shasta. Please let me know what else I should be reading, who I should be talking to and what I can share.

Phew — didn’t mean that to be so long, it’s been a mind blowing couple of weeks! More soon…

--

--

Leah Black

Lead, Regenerative Futures Fund Edinburgh; Chief Executive, Whale Arts; Warden, Incorporation of Goldsmiths; MBA student, Edinburgh Business School.