4 WHAT SUPPORT IS AVAILABLE?
Mapping available support for rural community groups
4.1 We have identified a list of over 270 support organisations - these are presented in Appendix 2. These are organisations supporting rural community groups nationally or locally that we identified through our mapping exercise. With such a broad range of support providers at local and national level, it could be argued that there is a "cluttered landscape" of provision for rural community groups. This is in spite of the recent rationalisation in Scottish Government funding, ensuring consistent coverage by LEADER, and directing infrastructure funds to local Third Sector Interfaces with national support through Voluntary Action Scotland.
4.2 All Scottish rural community groups can contact their local LEADER group, their local Third Sector Interface (see Appendix 1), or their Local Authority. In addition there are national support services, which are normally thematic (e.g. focusing on energy or woodlands). Depending on where the community is they may also have additional local support services available.
4.3 We have surveyed over 100 organisations which provide at least some support to community groups in rural areas around funding advice and support. From this we have mapped out the typical provision in any one area based on responses from local authorities, Third Sector Interface partners, national organisations and local authorities. We have found that on average there are:
- 6 FTE staff in the local authority delivering funding advice and support to communities
- 5 FTE staff in the local Third Sector Interface partner delivering funding advice and support to communities
- 2 FTE staff in the local LEADER/LAG body delivering funding advice and support to communities
- Other local organisations supporting rural communities with funding advice have an average 1.5FTE staff delivering this funding advice and support. As we will see, the distribution of these groups is patchy and some are limited in who they can support
- National organisations supporting rural communities with funding advice have an average 5FTE staff delivering this funding advice and support. As we will see, national infrastructure organisations tend to be thematically specialist meaning they are limited in what they can provide support about.
Almost all the respondents to the survey stated that the work of this type that they deliver is free of charge for any group or organisation.
If we conservatively assume that only half of these FTE workers are supporting rural communities (even though we have only included rural focused organisations in our sample) and that there are 19 LEADER groups and 28 local authorities in these rural areas each with a Third Sector Interface then we estimate that there are 100-200 FTE workers delivering free funding advice and support to rural community groups, though some of the national organisations delivering a small proportion of this support are only for groups with certain thematic specialisms. This number does not take into account the fact that other local support groups will be active in some areas, and additional paid-for provision from consultants, professionals and specialists may be available for some groups.
4.4 We have mapped out the type of support these different local and national support organisations offer around funding advice and support for rural community groups. We asked specifically about seven types of support:
1. Advice and information on which funders may have funding relevant to community group needs (i.e. understanding different funds by type, scale, eligibility criteria etc.)
2. Helping community groups to get in front of relevant funders
3. Support for developing proposal ideas to make them more achievable and/or funder friendly
4. Advice and guidance on non-grant funding options such as trading, crowd funding, loans etc
5. Support to undertake feasibility studies and/or write business plans
6. Writing applications or providing advice about writing funding applications for grants/loans
7. Training to increase community groups' capacity in terms of bid writing, project development, governance/leadership or specialist skills.
4.5 We present our findings in Figure 5 (below) which sets out an overview before showing (Figure 5a - 5e) the profile of support offered by each type of organisation. We found that:
- All Third Sector Interface partners feel that their organisation delivers all or almost all of these seven types of funding advice and support
- Most local authorities also deliver all of these support types
- Of the seven types, the lowest number of organisations offer advice around "non-grant funding options", but still around half of the support organisations offer this
- National organisations offer a broad range of types of funding advice but seem to be a little more specific in which combinations of support they offer (and to whom)
- Not all LEADER organisations projects claim to deliver all of these seven areas of funding advice and support; on average they offer around half of these seven types of advice and support.
Figure 5: The type of support offered by funding advisors
Figure 5a: The type of support offered by funding advisors (Local Authorities)
Figure 5b: The type of support offered by funding advisors (LEADER)
Figure 5c: The type of support offered by funding advisors (TSI Partners)
Figure 5d: The type of support offered by funding advisors (National Organisations)
Figure 5e: The type of support offered by funding advisors (other local support organisations)
4.6 We also asked how funding advice and support providers for rural community groups distribute their time between 5 different types of support:
- Providing good practice resource
- One to one advice/signposting/needs diagnosis/peer support
- Intensive one to one advice/mentoring/support (5 or more days to a particular community group).
4.7 Figure 6 below shows that:
- All types of funding advice and support organisations spend more time on one to one support than any other type of support
- Few spend a large portion of their time on intensive one to one support (over 5 days)
- Third Sector Interface partners tend to offer all these types of support whereas others focus on a smaller selection of these ways of working.
Figure 6: Time spent on different kinds of support [Source: Rocket Science survey]
4.8 Finally, we looked at the different types of groups that the funding advice and support providers work with in terms of:
- Whether the beneficiaries are early stage or existing groups/organisations
- Whether the beneficiaries have a focus on trading/enterprise/community energy or not.
Figure 7 (below) shows that, while the majority of support providers are 'generic', they will work almost equally with early stage or existing groups and with trading or non-trading groups.
Figure 7: Typical support available for rural communities in Scotland (from Local Authorities, LEADER/LAGs, Third Sector Interfaces and National Organisations)
4.9 Nationally we found thematic and specialist support - for community woodlands, tourism projects, community ownership projects, community halls, and many others. Apart from SCVO/Rural Direct we did not find other sources of national generic advice (i.e. not thematic or specialist) on available funding.
4.10 Locally there is, in each Local Authority area, a Third Sector Interface (TSI) reporting that they can be a one-stop-shop for funding advice - and also local authority advisers and (in smaller volume) LEADER advisers with broadly similar remits.
Third Sector Interface partners can be called a one-stop-shop in the sense that:
- They offer support in roughly equal balance to groups who are trading and non-trading or who are early stage or existing groups (although some partners are very specific in only working with non-trading groups reflecting that some infrastructure bodies will only work with volunteer based groups).
- They offer all seven types of funding advice and support that we examined. They more consistently offer this full range than any other type of support provider we looked at.
- They offer this through the full range of methods including one to one support, networking, events, resources and training. They more consistently offer this full range than any other type of support provider we looked at.
4.11 We did find local providers with specialist services too; for example, one organisation which specifically only supports existing social enterprises.
4.12 The support offered by TSI partners, but also national and other local support providers almost always involves no charging from any advice provider, even those reporting high levels of one to one support. At the same time, many providers say they have some issues with availability of support as the funding they receive is not enough to provide the capacity to respond to all the requests they receive.
Which support providers do community groups prefer and use?
4.13 Responses to an open question asking community groups to name their first port of call for funding advice were categorised by organisation type (Figure 8 below: note that where respondents expressed an equal preference for a number of sources these were all included). Overall, there was was a wide range of responses but Local Authorities and Third Sector Interfaces (or TSI Partners) were the providers most commonly cited.
4.14 Other common responses were either general internet searching / investigating funders' websites, personal knowledge and experience or national thematic organisations, such as Development Trusts Association Scotland and Local Energy Scotland. A small number of respondents (four) cited Rural Direct as their first port of call, with a further three citing SCVO. LEADER / LAGs were also only cited by a small minority (three respondents).
Figure 8: Community groups' "first port of call" for funding advice
4.15 Our research also suggests that the 'cluttered landscape' itself is encouraging some groups (who have a specific project idea and know which funders are relevant to them) to go straight to funders for funding support and advice:
"We have always consulted funders ourselves and think this is probably the best way to proceed, after reading all the available and pertinent information on the internet."
At the workshop consultation at the Scottish Rural Parliament, the point was raised that the funding advice landscape appears as complex as the landscape of available funding, so it is appealing to go straight to funders for advice.
4.16 We also asked community groups to list their main source of support for each of the seven areas of funding advice and support, to better understand preferences and awareness of provision. These were then collated and categorised - in the same manner as above - to describe the type of support community groups use and from where. These are presented below.
Advice and information on which funders may have relevant funding
4.17 Local Authorities were the most cited first point of contact about support for advice and information on relevant funders, with Third Sector Interfaces (or TSI partners) listed second (Figure 9 below). Many respondents cited their own knowledge or experience / contacts as being their main source of support, i.e. informal support only. Notable comments on this were:
"Much of this has been trial and error and learning from experience."
"Internet - trying to find it. There's no central point."
4.18 It is worth noting that SCVO's new Funding Scotland service may now be able to fill a gap in terms of this type of advice, but no respondent specifically mentioned this newly launched service.
Figure 9: Community groups' main source of support for advice and information on which funders may have relevant funding
Helping us to get in front of relevant funders
4.19 The most commonly cited source of support for help to get in front of relevant funders was 'own experience or own action' (Figure 10). Some people said that this was not particularly a problem, and one respondent said this may be related to groups' levels of confidence:
"Me - no real problem getting in front of funders, perhaps only lack of confidence in groups."
"Direct approach and persistence."
Figure 10: Community groups' main source of support for help to get in front of funders
Support for developing proposal ideas to make them more achievable and/or funder-friendly
4.20 Again, in this area personal knowledge and experience / contacts comprised the main type of support (i.e. informal support only, Figure 11). One respondent clearly found this very challenging:
"Me - fundamental in successful projects is to get them 'fundable' and a major problem for many community groups - I spend lots of time on this."
4.21 Only one respondent noted that they would go to a mentor or independent (non-paid) advisor, though 5 respondents noted that they would use a consultant.
Figure 11: Community groups' main source of support for developing proposal ideas to make them more achievable
Advice and guidance on non-grant funding options such as trading, crowd funding, loans etc.
4.22 There were notably far fewer respondents who gave a named source of support for advice and guidance on no-grant funding options (Figure 12). Interestingly, unlike for other types of support, national thematic organisations were most often cited for support in this area, indicating the specialist nature (or the perceived level of specialism) of this type of support.
Figure 12: Community groups' main source of support for advice and guidance on non-grant funding options such as trading, crowd funding, loans etc.
Support to undertake feasibility studies and/or write business plans
4.23 As for other types of support, community groups often cited their own knowledge and experience / contacts as being most useful for undertaking feasibility studies and/or writing business plans (Figure 13 below). Local Authorities were next most cited. Again, a number of respondents said that they used paid consultants for this, with one respondent indicating that this is what they need:
"It's not SUPPORT we need to undertake feasibility studies and write business plans, it's the funding to contract in the support we need for this!"
4.24 Just Enterprise was cited by a small minority of respondents for advice and support to undertake feasibility studies and/or write business plans: this is the only time they were cited against a particular form of support.
4.25 We note that TSI/TSI partners were only cited by three respondents for support to undertake feasibility studies and/or write business plans. This is at odds to TSI advisors reporting that they provide support across the board, including support to undertake feasibility studies and/or write business plans.
Figure 13: Community groups' main source of support for undertaking feasibility studies and/or write business plans
Writing or advice about writing funding applications for grants/loans
4.26 As for other areas of support, knowledge and experience featured highly in this area, along with a spread of other support, especially from Local Authorities and TSIs / TSI partners (Figure 14).
Figure 14: Community groups' main source of support for writing or advice about writing funding applications for grants or loans.
Training to increase our community group's capacity in terms of bid writing, project development, governance/leadership or specialist skills
4.27 In terms of advice around non-grant funding options, only a small number of respondents were able to provide a named source of support for training (Figure 15 below). Unlike for all other areas of support, TSI/TSI partners were the most often cited by community groups as their main source of support for training.
4.28 A number of respondents instead emphasised that they do not have time for, or do not need, training, for example:
"There's enough experience in our community to do this stuff - it's the time, and attracting the people to help out, which is a problem."
"We don't need training to do this. We all work full-time. We need funding to hire a development officer. This would massively increase our capacity!"
"It would be much preferable if the application procedures could be simplified and made more transparent, then less training would be required."
Figure 15: Community groups' main source of support for training to increase capacity, in terms of bid writing, project development, governance/leadership or specialist skills
Community groups' overall ratings of the support they have received
4.29 Along with providing information on the sources of support that community groups would turn to, respondents indicated how useful they have found the support from these sources.
4.30 Figure 16 shows these ratings, ranked by the proportion of people who rated support 'quite useful' or 'very useful'. Although the sample size of those who rated Rural Direct is very small, it received particularly mixed responses. LEADER staff / Local Action Groups received good ratings from a large number of respondents. Third Sector Interfaces received moderately good ratings, but had the lowest proportion of users rating the support from TSIs as "very useful", suggesting that there is room for improvement in making TSIs a consistently high quality source of support.
Figure 16: Community groups' ratings of the support they have received from different types of advice provider
Reflections with funding advice providers on the research around what support is available
4.31 At the two advice provider workshops we reflected on these findings about the level of support that is available to rural community groups. Participants were surprised at the estimated number of staff in each Local Authority providing funding advice identified by the research.
4.32 In both workshops, a strong theme emerged around the importance of the quality of support provided. The approach that this research has taken has been to map available support with limited investigations into the quality of provision (with the exception of Rural Direct, which was a particular focus of the work, Chapter 5). Participants felt it was particularly important to note that, while Third Sector Interfaces reported in our consultation that they are able to provide advice across all areas listed, the quality of that support is extremely variable. It would be wrong to conclude from our mapping that there is a sufficient capacity of expert support that is universally available to rural community groups across Scotland.
4.33 There was some surprise that Local Authorities were seen by community groups as their first port of call. For some community groups, we suspect that these responses may be related to them using Local Authority funding alerts as the first port of call about sources of funding - and this may also be to do with the close connection between LEADER and Local Authorities.
4.34 Participants also raised the importance of building personal relationships with advice providers, and emphasised that within organisations there will be variable quality of provision, with more able, skilled or knowledgeable advisors being highly sought after by community groups.
4.35 A significant point raised by providers was that the main under-used source of support was drawing on the experience of people in communities who had taken forward a project, and learnt about how to do this and how to raise money for it. A key conclusion reached was that one of the main areas of potential for the future was to find ways of enhancing appropriate peer to peer support.
Email: Liz Hawkins
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