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Chris Falconer, Head of programme delivery at Local Trust, outlines what happens on the lead up to 2026 and beyond

The half way point

Big Local is now in its sixth year and approaching the half way point in the programme. Local Trust was set up in 2012 as the charity responsible for administering Big Local and as the programme, and partnerships working to deliver it in the 150 areas mature and become increasingly ambitious, we are seeing a huge range of activities that are empowering and improving the lives of people and their communities.

Naturally, when working on any project or programme thoughts turn to the future, or ‘legacy’ and how to plan for it. No more so than in Big Local which clearly sets out to create positive and lasting change. Whether this is an informal discussion within the partnership, working with partners to define long term aspiration in a plan, or working with other Big Locals at one of the clusters, a number of common questions are arising that this blog can help clarify.

Nothing quite like Big Local has ever existed before and as a programme it intentionally aims to reduce the rules and red tape to give residents the power and control over how best to use the £1million grant. There are, however, some clear parameters that govern the programme that we need be mindful of in planning over the next few years.

The programme will close in 2026

Big Local Trust was set up by the National Lottery Community Fund as an expendable endowment, which means the money must be spent by March 2026. This is the fixed end point that all Big Locals must work to. Ultimately, the intention is for Big Local Trust to close as an organisation in February 2027, though we hope and expect many of the benefits within the 150 areas to endure well beyond this point.

This also means that all grant funding awarded under the programme, and activities supported by it, must be spent and finished by March 2026. There won’t be an option to transfer the £1million grant funding in any form beyond this point and any unspent money will need be returned to the National Lottery Community Fund. This includes the additional £105,000 awarded to all areas in the autumn of 2017 to make the total grant of £1.1m. Clearly this is something we want to help all Big Locals avoid, as our priority is supporting partnerships to spend this money to achieve positive outcomes in their areas, so it’s important to plan with this in mind – particularly over the next few years when many will be drafting their penultimate or final plans. We would recommend aiming to ‘spend out’ by Autumn 2025, just in case there are any delays to any of the activities you are delivering.

A minimum 10 years on plan

Every partnership will have at least 10 years to spend their grant. There has been some confusion over whether this was a maximum or minimum timeframe.

If your plan was endorsed before 2016 you can spend the funding before ten years have passed or continue beyond that – we just ask that you spend the funding before March 2026. This should ensure partnerships have as much time, space and support as possible to achieve their ambitions, and also reflects the fact that we topped up all 150 grants as a result of the income earnt on the investment.

There will remain the flexibility to adapt and change plans up to the end point of the programme where it contributes towards achieving local priorities within the March 2026 timeframe.

Activities with a direct impact on the area

Money awarded through the National Lottery Community Fund endowment has been done so with the intention that it is spent on activities within the 2012 – 2026 timeframe that have a positive impact on the area. We see a vast array of examples of this ranging from employing staff to work with and in the community and events and activities promoting participation, to the purchase of a hub or funding the improvement of the natural or built environment.

Beyond 2026

In thinking about legacy, some Big Locals have been exploring governance and legal possibilities to enable them to continue delivering work in future, either through the existing partnership or perhaps as a constituted body. While it is possible to use Big Local funding to explore options and potentially incorporate partnerships, Big Local money cannot be ‘awarded’ to any organisation to hold beyond March 2026 – it must be spent on activities directly related to the improvement of the area by this point or returned to the National Lottery Community Fund.

Money raised separate to Big Local

We know that some areas have raised funds for their areas in addition to Big Local money. For example, through running community events or making social investments. This money is in addition to the grant funding awarded through Big Local and is therefore not subject to the same rules.

What if we spend out early?

Big Locals start from different points and progress at different paces. A number are likely to have spent all grant funding well in advance of the programme end date. Those areas that do so will still have plenty of opportunity to remain involved in the programme through the learning and networking programme we run over the remaining years, our evaluation and research projects and communications work showcasing the brilliant things Big Local has achieved.

Hopefully this blog provides some clarity on what to be aware of as we all focus increasingly on the peak delivery phase of the programme and plans for a legacy of lasting change. Of course, there will also be issues that emerge throughout and please do discuss anything you’re unsure about with other areas, your rep and staff at Local Trust if there’s anything you’re not sure about.