City Bridge Trust and UBS are making another £700,000 available through their Stepping Stones Fund to allow social impact organisations working to better the community within Greater London to test strategies and ideas that will make them attractive to mainstream investors. Tim Wilson, of City Bridge Trust, explains why it is important and how it works.
City Bridge Trust has been a grant funder since 1995 and a social investor since 2012. It is still a very challenging financial environment for the majority of charities and social enterprises, and we want to offer as much as we can, from our endowment and our income, to help good ideas flourish. We also want to work with others who share our interests, and that’s why we’ve been delighted that UBS has joined us on our social investment readiness programme, Stepping Stones.
Through the Stepping Stones Fund, City Bridge Trust and UBS offer grant-funding of £10,000 - £150,000 to charities and social enterprises who wish to consider social investment. Repayable finance, which social investment usually is, involves costs and risks. Stepping Stones grants give organisations some ‘safe space’ to test their ideas and build their capacity before they take on any form of balance sheet liability. This is especially important for small and medium sized organisations who currently face very high barriers to market entry.
So far we’ve awarded £1.6m to 32 groups working across everything from secondary school tutoring, to community transport, to domestic violence, to organic growing.
We’ve been delighted with the progress that our grantees have made. Most are still undertaking their project work but already we have learned about Stepping Stones helping to increase revenue, improve impact measurement, develop new products for market, and strengthen business skills. We are seeing organisations get themselves in much stronger positions before they start engaging social investors. Not only do we expect this to lead to more and better funding for the charities and social enterprises supported through Stepping Stones, but also better opportunities for investors looking for social projects.
One of our grantees is the Forest Farm Peace Garden, a community growing project in north London working with a wide range of people, including many with mental ill-health. Forest Farm is exploring its potential to increase its crop and, along with other organic growers, to sell to local restaurants and food markets. If they can turn this into a viable social enterprise the sale of produce will generate valuable unrestricted income and supplement sometimes scarce grants. Before they borrow any money to buy new poly-tunnels, distribution fleet or greenhouses, Stepping Stones is helping to work through the numbers and check that the charity can afford to realise its plans. If it can, then Forest Farm will increase its social impact by engaging a larger number of programme participants.
UBS and City Bridge Trust are looking forward to supporting another group of organisations in the months ahead.
£700,000 is available in the current funding round. Open to charities and social enterprises working for the benefit of communities in Greater London, the deadline for stage 1 applications is August 15th. Final awards will follow in December. Find out more here.