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A new fund hits the circuit

The Connect Fund was born this spring. The fourth young fund in the Access Foundation stable, it has slowly found its legs, teetered around the field, and poked its nose into the social investment market. The initial task was to map and consult with many social investment actors to design the new social investment infrastructure fund. We left no stone unturned.

By mid-June, the Connect Fund was ready for its first outing, and debuted to much fanfare. The fund’s stated purpose is to ‘build a better social investment market’ to ensure that small to medium sized charities and social enterprises – that make up the bulk of the social sector – access the right kind of repayable finance to advance their mission.

Dazzling debut with daring debate

A diverse crowd of over 95 people gathered at the Foundry in Vauxhall to hear about the Connect Fund. Its stated objectives are to fill gaps in the architecture of the current social investment market, and to better connect existing voluntary sector infrastructure organisations to social investment.

An engaging debate on the state of social investment took off at the starting gate. Steve Wyler, a trustee of Access, quoted Responsible Finance figures to make the argument that social investment isn’t working. Jeremy Rogers, Chief Investment Officer at Big Society Capital, pointed out that £306m of ‘risk capital’ non-bank investments were made in 2016, including unsecured lending, community shares, charity bonds, social impact bonds, equity and social property funds. David Floyd from Social Spider, followed up with a blog to make sense of it all.

Place your bets

Next up was the first round call for Expressions of Interest (EOI) for grant funding, which ran from June to early July. This funding window had a focus on collaborative initiatives to address current gaps in social investment market infrastructure. A primary purpose was to promote sharing of tools, data and resources to lower transaction costs; increase diversity and innovation; and facilitate learning and feedback to move social investment forward.

In response, the Connect Fund received 62 applications, for a total request amount of £3.25m and an average grant size of £49,849. Of these, approximately 40 are best suited to the aims of this first round EOI, for a total request amount of £2.4m and an average grant size of £60,927. The remaining 22 proposals are better suited to the second round EOI, with a focus on voluntary sector infrastructure and membership organisations, and will be shifted to this second stage.

Looking strong, but keep an eye out

Comparing the field, the fund generated a strong range of proposals. There was a positive turnout across nine separate themes. These include business development, capacity building, data sharing, diversity, market information, networks, shared resources, skill development and standards/templates. A number of collaborative approaches were put forward, and the message on partnership was clearly received.

A good selection of ideas is in the running. The need for diversity was well recognised. A number of proposals showed promise to build staff teams, expand diversity of demand-side recipients, encourage new entrants to the sector, and widen the leadership pipeline for social investment.

Ideas for reducing transaction costs, sharing resources and enhancing market information were put forward. Proposals to increase regional representation and eliminate geographic cold spots also turned up. Of the 62 proposals we received, 42% were from organisations outside of London.

A few gaps in the line-up remain. One task for the Connect Fund is to identify areas that are missing or might need further development. Initiatives to develop a shared diagnostic tool, common due diligence, and technical skill development for the sector have been discussed but did not make an appearance.

Key to form is to build learning groups for initiatives that share a common theme. Data sharing is a perfect example of how a ‘community of practice’ could achieve added value to ensure that projects are mutually beneficial and non-duplicative. Capacity building initiatives also have the potential to be greater than the sum of the parts. The Connect Fund will seek to host or promote learning partnerships to accelerate solutions to shared challenges and extend collaboration across organisations working on related topics.

The current task is to sift through the 40 first-round grant applications on the basis of 10 different criteria to finalise the shortlist. Applicants will be notified by mid-August if they will progress to the next round. Shortlisted proposals will be asked to submit full grant applications for final investment management committee decisions in mid-November.

One to watch

Voluntary sector infrastructure and membership bodies should keep an eye out for the second round EOI which will run from 2 October to 5 November 2017. This funding round is designed to foster enterprise-driven initiatives that can connect places or sectors to social investment. A key objective is to extend the reach of social investment by geography, sector, and on an equalities basis to diversify and widen access to new forms of finance. This will take the form of grants for feasibility studies to explore social investment capacity building, brokering, and advice or scoping of social investment programmes.

The Connect Fund will continue to engage with the social investment market to shift the narrative to focus on the funding realities that mission-driven social organisations face. Social investment is one tool for charities and social enterprises to consider as they explore a pathway to generating income and building more financial resilience. Please get in touch if your organisation has good ideas that the Connect Fund could help to support.

 Jessica Brown, the Connect Fund Manager, wrote this blog originally for the Access Fund website.








The Barrow Cadbury Trust, in partnership with Access – the Foundation for Social Investment – is launching a £1.8 million Connect Fund for social investment infrastructure in England.

The Connect Fund will provide grants and investments to build a better social investment market in England. Opening its first round of grant funding with expressions of interest today, Monday 5 June, the fund will support intermediaries and infrastructure organisations to make social investment work for a wider, more diverse range of charities and social enterprises.

Charities and social enterprises may require small amounts of affordable finance, particularly as they develop new ways to earn income. Despite having been set up for this purpose, many social investment intermediaries struggle to provide this type of finance.

The Connect Fund seeks to build a better social investment market by:

  • improving the connection of social investment to charities and social enterprises
  • better connecting social investment intermediaries through shared data and resources
  • connecting existing voluntary sector infrastructure organisations to the social investment market

Helen Cadbury, Chair of the Barrow Cadbury Trust said, “As a foundation, our Board and I have deep concerns that much of the social sector is poorly served by the current social investment offer. We look forward to seeing the Connect Fund supporting new solutions.”

The first phase of grants will look at filling the gaps in the infrastructure of the social investment market by supporting collaboration on data management, skill development, sector networks, or other resource solutions.

For example, social investment intermediaries may seek to partner on blended finance, investment readiness, due diligence, staff skills and diversity, communications or marketing.

As well as supporting the sector to advance shared initiatives, the fund will also gather data from social investment intermediaries to evidence the amount and type of investment required to build resilient and sustainable business models.

A second phase of funding will provide feasibility grants for voluntary sector infrastructure organisations to explore models of enterprise-driven solutions with the potential to connect places and sectors to social investment.

Better sharing of tools, data and resources can lower transaction costs, promote diversity and innovation, and facilitate learning and feedback to move social investment forward. This initiative can bring new voices to social investment to improve its connection to the broader needs of the social sector.

A launch event will take place on Wednesday 14 June. If anyone would like an invitation to attend, please contact the Connect Fund Manager, Jessica Brown.

The Trust has an exciting vacancy for a senior professional to develop and deliver the Access Foundation’s new Infrastructure Investment Fund which the Trust will be managing in order to strengthen and diversify the social investment market.

We are looking for an experienced strategic manager, used to an outward-facing promotional role.  You will have a good grasp of the social investment ‘landscape’ and familiarity with social sector infrastructure.  You will be experienced in managing budgets or funds and, above all, will be keen to build a collaborative community working within a social justice framework.

Read Q and As about the background to the post
Download the recruitment pack

If you have further questions about the post please contact Maddy Rooke-Ley at the Trust on
020 7632 9063 or [email protected] 

Sara Llewellin, Chair of the Independent Commission on the Future of Local Infrastructure , and Chief Executive of the Barrow Cadbury Trust, blogs about the next steps following the recent launch of the report of the Commission and her hopes for “leaner, meaner and more technologically savvy” infrastructure.


Oxford Dictionary definition of infrastructure: The basic physical and organisational structures and facilities needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.


NAVCA launched the Commission’s report to a packed house of VCS representatives from across England at a House of Commons event last week. Although this marked the end of the Commission’s role, it was just the start of a process of change, not an end in itself.


There was no doubt in the room about the importance of infrastructure to the wellbeing of communities and the need to recognise, nurture and enable it, but there was always going to be disagreement about how infrastructure support should be provided and what might need to change to make it work


The economic downturn, austerity, the welfare reform agenda and reductions to central government and local authority budgets are all impacting on social action adversely, with a heady cocktail of rising needs, reduced resources and a climate of anger and fear. Local infrastructure bodies are themselves experiencing loss of income; many are facing uncertainty and looking for new ways to serve their communities with less cash.


The Commission’s task was to undertake an analysis of what the sector needs from its infrastructure and to make proposals about what needs to change for those needs to be met. We knew a call for more money and a return to the previous status quo was out of the question. Things have changed, we’re in a ‘new normal’, and proposals based on asking for things rather than offering a change agenda will fall on deaf ears.


So we went out on the road and talked to people in various parts of England, mindful of the different challenges of the North and South, rural, urban and city settings. Everywhere we went, we found good things happening. Everyone we talked to had good examples of proactive change and some of these are included in the report. Every change we are recommending is happening in some places.


There is every reason to be optimistic about the resilience of community action but no room for complacency about how best to support it. The real punch line is that yes, infrastructure does deserve and need to be financed, but that it also has to undergo a redesign. It needs to be leaner, meaner and more technologically savvy. It needs to act as a lever bringing in new resources to the sector, including social investment, crowd funding and pro bono support. It needs to be the enabler of voice and the advocate of community action. It needs to collaborate and share more cost effectively. Above all, it needs to help the sector with foresight and managing change, because the pace of change is not going to slow.


These were our conclusions, but what will happen next? NAVCA will support and promote the implementation of the Commission’s findings, publishing a review of progress in early 2016. It will provide opportunities for local infrastructure bodies and their partners to learn from each other and offer mutual advice and support, as well as hosting a series of round table events in partnership with NCVO for local, national and specialist infrastructure organisations to create a collaborative approach to shaping the future of local infrastructure, working with funders at all levels to develop creative and sustainable solutions to secure the future of infrastructure, ensure that NAVCA itself complies with and models the best qualities of an infrastructure body as described by the Commission, and continually challenge its members to do the same.   Download the report here.