From an early stage anyone starting a community project will think about money – is funding available? from whom? how to apply? how much to ask for? and so on. Many perfectly good ideas only get as far as the realization that there is likely to be little or no funding available upfront, especially in the current climate of spending cuts and closures.
But don't despair! There are many different approaches to funding, and there are still funds out there if you know where to look. Advice and help are generally free, so take full advantage before deciding what course to take. However, do make sure your information is right up to date - funds often come and go like mist in the night – and databases of funding bodies quickly become dated and misleading.
Questions to ask
The following questions can help determine funding strategies:
- Do you really need external funding? - can you rely solely on volunteer help/contributions in kind/donations from businesses, etc.?
- Are you set on getting a grant upfront (non-repayable, provided you satisfy terms of the grant) or a loan (repayable, usually with interest)?
- Will your project generate income to repay a loan? Is this clear in your business plan?
- Do you need funding for running costs (e.g. office space, salaries, rent) or capital costs (e.g. purchase of land, equipment, materials) or both?
- Will the loan/grant pay for all costs of the project or will you need other funding?
- Does your project's business model suit the potential funding bodies - some organizations will only consider funding charities and not-for-profit bodies, whereas commercial investors may prefer a community interest company
- Can you or your partners offer matched funding for a bid - this may be volunteer time, loan of equipment, office accommodation, etc.?
- Have you considered raising funds from your community, e.g. through a share issue or business sponsorship?
It always helps if the following apply:
Your project is innovative, cost-effective, well managed, can be replicated, has clear benefits both environmentally and economically, and is well designed technically and managerially.
Main sources of funding
UK government funding - in much of England, including Staffordshire, direct central and local government funding for community energy projects has all but dried up. However, the chances are improved if you can incorporate some element of training, health, economic regeneration, or heritage in your project.
See the External sources of funding page on the County Council website for available options.
Village Halls and Community Centres Grant Scheme - awards 50% match funding for capital expenditure on community buildings or their surroundings, up to maximum of £30,000. Contact Community Council of Staffordshire for more information. Tel. (01785) 242525.
M&S Energy Fund: grants of up to £12,500 for community groups looking to install renewable technology or energy efficiency measures.
Rural Community Energy Fund: £15 million fund providing grants and loans for feasibility and pre-planning work for rural communmities developing renewable energy projects.
Leapfrog Community Energy Fund: low-interest loans to communities, primarily in deprived areas, for help in delivering renewable and energy efficiency projects.
Crowdfunding: there are numerous websites offering a fundraising platform for community projects. See, e.g.,
Lottery Funding - Awards for All funds charities, community organizations, parish councils, schools, health bodies, and companies (grants in range £500–10,000)
European funds - venturing into the labyrinth that is EC funding is not for the faint-hearted, but this is currently one of the best options. Seek help from someone who knows their way around EC funding – Staffs County Council can offer guidance on this. But hurry...Brexit will bring the shutters down on this funding option.
Main European funding streams for energy and environment
FP7 – main European funding source for R&D activities.
Intelligent Energy Europe (IEE) - the EU's tool for funding action to improve market conditions and move us towards a more energy intelligent Europe. Focus is on removal of market barriers to the uptake of new technologies.
LIFE+ - financial instrument supporting environment and nature conservation projects throughout the EU.
Help and support for EU fund bidders
- EU Energy Focus - a free, Government-funded service that aims to ensure that UK companies, research institutions and other organisations are well informed and have every chance of success in applying for and securing European funding for energy-related projects. They produce a monthly bulletin on funding, events and policy information. Tel. 0845 6000 430; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; or www.euenergyfocus.co.uk
Charitable trusts and foundations - there are over 8000 charitable trusts in the UK, giving grants of widely different amounts to projects that satisfy their own particular criteria. Those that are relevant to your particular project can be sifted out using one of the databases.
Company sponsorship - links forged between your project and a company can be beneficial, and bring not only financial support, but also expertise, equipment, or other resources. In return, the company will expect, at least, some good PR, and will need to be sure that yours is a well-run, cost-effective and worthwhile project.