Community spirit Coronavirus

New research shines a light on overlooked grassroots organisations

Senior researcher Jeremy Yung takes a look at new research by 360Giving and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, funded by Local Trust, which uncovers a world of community activity operating ‘below the radar’

Our experience of working with 150 Big Local communities has taught us that small, locally rooted projects and networks are essential at a neighbourhood level.  

Many Big Local partnerships seek out and support hyper-local organisations; funding activities, connecting them to other organisations and individuals, and even including them in their decisionmaking processes. In essence, Big Local partnerships have found that these organisations, such as Parent Teacher Associations or festival committees, are an essential resource that help to stitch together the fabric of our communities and neighbourhoods in ways that larger organisations simply can’t 

Local Trust commissioned the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and 360Giving to conduct research to better understand these small but vital ‘below-the-radar’ organisations. The research began back in February, prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic has progressed it has become clearer than ever just how indispensable local, grassroots initiatives and organisations are to communities.  

For Local Trust, this has been no surprise. The stories and evidence that come out of the Big Local programme have, time and again, demonstrated the importance of community connectedness and grassroots solutions to solving local issues and supporting the most vulnerable members of a community. Big Local partnerships have been well-placed to provide this crucial support before and during the crisis, utilising the community connections and social capital that they have generated to identify and support local groups, organisations and individuals to reach and support the most vulnerable members of their community. 

What we didn’t know, however, was the extent to which such grassroots organisations exist. Using available data from 2016 to 2019, NCVO and 360Giving found that over 13,000 of these small yet important organisations are in operation across the UK. 13,000!  

And this does not even represent the totality of these organisations. Instead, it provides a glimpse into the less well-known and researched portion of the third sector. The findings shine a light on the grants that support these small groups and organisations, which are often overlooked by grant-making organisations and institutions because of their small size and profile. Indeed, these organisations often are so essential at a neighbourhood level that they are almost invisible to most grantmaking organisations. As well as highlighting the significance of such below-the-radar organisations to connected society, the findings demonstrate the importance of supporting them mainly through small grants so that they can remain both active and reactive enough to best-serve their communities.  

Documenting the existence of these organisations and the funds they distribute is essential if we are to truly recognise the enormous value they add to communities. By exploring the broad range of activities they carry out, their geographical spread and the vital role they play in society, we hope to put them firmly onto the radar.  

Read the full report