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Three different emergencies shook the UK in the summer of 2017 - the Manchester Arena bomb on 22 May, the attacks in London Bridge and Borough Market on 3 June and the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June. The emergency response saw funders respond in a new way, dispensing with ‘business as usual’ and mobilising rapidly to provide urgent support to community organisations and services.
London Funders commissioned IVAR to examine the key features of the response efforts to capture learning from how funders delivered differently to support those affected. Four years on, we speak to Grants Manager at Trust for London, Helal Uddin Abbas, about how the Trust’s response to the Grenfell Tower Fire, in particular, differed from normal grant-making, and how the lessons have informed cross-funder collaboration.
Looking back at the initial aftermath of the Grenfell Tower Fire is still very emotional for me. The first thing we wanted to do as a funder was to establish contact with our funded groups on the ground to check how they were. I remember our Chief Executive being very supportive and saying, "Abbas, you know the area. Please find out what we can do."
I walked down to the site and it was a sombre environment. Initially, there were lots of bystanders, people not knowing what to do, what to ask, or who to ask for. I eventually made contact with our six grantees based in the area, and two were directly affected. I had an emotional call with the leader of the Ethiopian Women’s Empowerment Group who had lost three of their members and didn’t know how to go about telling everyone. These groups are not simply about services. They become much more about mutual support and building a friendship group, so losing friends was incredibly difficult.
At that point, as a direct funder, our role was very much about showing empathy by being there for people in such a situation where the lives of many have been lost. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just stand with people and what they're going through, rather than necessarily offering any practical solutions until they are ready.
I think we all stepped up to our role. It brought us as funders much closer together by working in ways that we hadn't before.
With the brilliant guidance and leadership of London Funders, funders across London also came together to look at how we could respond in a co-ordinated manner that identified local need through a bottom-up approach to get resources where they were most valuable. It wasn't necessarily about money but about bringing people together.
I think we all stepped up to our role. It brought us as funders much closer together by working in ways that we hadn't before. Through using a similar structure of distributing funds and resources, we were able to make streamlined decisions, avoiding any duplications and making best use of our synergy. We all have slightly different funding programmes and priorities, but coming together like this complimented them. I think we made good decisions and made better use of our funding. At the end of the day, this meant that funding got to the people and causes we all stand for, in particular those who needed it most at a difficult time.
I think these two disasters - the fire and the pandemic - have raised the point that the issues we are all working on are too big for any one funder to deal with alone
The learning from that experience definitely helped us when it came to COVID-19 hitting in 2020 and the set-up of the London Community Response. We had a model we could build on with us all working together. I think these two disasters - the fire and the pandemic - have raised the point that the issues we are all working on are too big for any one funder to deal with alone. As independent funders, we are not competitive funders but complementary funders. Through a coordinated approach, we have become much wiser decision-makers.
I feel there is still a consensus and positive mood around funders building on these instances of co-ordinated working. If we work together, we can make better use of our funds, not only in difficult times when disasters happen but also in more stable times. We should be looking at how we can be proactive together and deal with the causes of such disasters. I hope similar learnings from other colleagues will help us to look beyond any restrictive funding programmes to consider how they could be stretched for the better, and how can we address gaps between funders.
As independent funders, we are not competitive funders but complementary funders. Through a coordinated approach, we have become much wiser decision-makers
Groups that we funded following the Grenfell Tower Fire such as Justice4Grenfell are still being funded by Trust for London today to try and support better partnership between the local community and the local authority, and to ensure that the voices of local people are heard.
We’re also now looking at developing our next five-year funding strategy, and the learning from both the Grenfell Tower Fire response and COVID-19 emergency funding will certainly feed into that.