Halifax Foundation NI reflects on the last two years and the future

11 Feb 2022 Jocelyn Horton    Last updated: 17 Feb 2022

Brenda McMullan, Executive Director of the Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland reflects on the last two years. 

In January 2020, the Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland team were excited!

After one year of hard work in consulting the community and voluntary sector and working with our board of trustees, we were launching our next four-year strategy – ‘A Vision for the Future’. This strategy saw the creation of new grant programmes that the Sector told us they so desperately needed – smaller grants to appeal to micro charities, mid-range grants for the more established groups, three year funding and infrastructure grants to support good governance in the sector. All programmes aimed at supporting those who needed help most.

What did you do in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

March 2020 saw the first cases of COVID-19 in Northern Ireland. Very quickly, many charities provided emergency support to those in need. Staff and Trustees of the Foundation immediately reconvened to adapt our strategy tactically to suit the situation we found ourselves in. We had to be at the side of the Sector as they helped the most vulnerable. Adaptations in place, we set about providing emergency funding to charities working on the front line.  

As the pandemic took hold, we saw a 5-fold increase on applications to the Foundation for funding. We mobilised quickly to provide emergency funds in Northern Ireland. We awarded 234 COVID grants, with funding of £893,225, supporting close to 200,000 people in Northern Ireland. We provided funding towards food parcels, wellbeing packs, laptops for those isolated at home as well as core support for charities to be able to deliver.  In addition to supporting the influx of new applications, we continued to support our current grant holders, as many needed to cease operations or change their direction.

The Community and Voluntary Sector in Northern Ireland were exceptional when supporting their communities during what was to become the first wave of COVID-19. Whilst the majority of us stayed at home, they quickly adapted their policies and supported our most vulnerable. Our NHS staff were saving lives in the health setting, our charities were saving lives on the doorstep, providing food and friendship.

Staff and Trustees of the Foundation were extremely proud to have stood with the sector when they needed us most. We will continue to do so as charities attempt to rebuild their services to cope with the ‘new normal’. Charity leaders, staff and volunteers are still coming to terms with the trauma of the last 2 years - burn out in the Sector is real. COVID has also shone a light on the need for succession planning within small charities. It has also brought to the fore the need for multiyear funding, for Core support with flex to allow charities to adapt and move when they need to, and this was something that we strive to deliver on.

After responding to the pandemic, what did/does 2021 hold for you?

As we emerge from the pandemic, and return to some sense of normality, the Community and Voluntary Sector in Northern Ireland will be more important than ever in helping communities get back on their feet. There was already a mental health crisis in Northern Ireland pre-COVID, now exasperated, with many presenting mental ill health for the first time.

Our nurturing and supportive approach to grant making has helped us reach marginalized groups across Northern Ireland.  In 2021, we were delighted to revisit our strategy, and provided 3-year funding for 10 charities, and in addition, much needed infrastructure funding to 7 charities. We will also continue with small supportive grants, all programmes supporting core costs of charities. Our strong partnership with Lloyds Banking Group has allowed us to offer our large grant holders a Bank mentor, support which has proved invaluable to date. We have also offered the Skills Exchange Programme and Charity Support Forums via a virtual platform to our groups, 13 of which have taken up this offer.

Having made grants decisions quickly during the pandemic, we did not want to lose this aspect of our grant giving. In 2022, our board will meet 8 times rather than 4 to ensure grants are distributed quickly, when it is needed most.

Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland is, and will continue to be reactive, flexible and understanding to the needs of the Sector.

Should you have any further queries about their grant programmes, or would like to arrange a pre-application call, please email them on [email protected]

The opinions, views or comments in this article do not necessarily reflect any views or policies of NICVA.
jocelyn.horton@nicva.org's picture
by Jocelyn Horton

Fundraising Advice Officer

[email protected]

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