“People out there actually care”: How participatory grantmaking can give communities the power to make change

Born and bred in Camden, Nazma wanted to make a difference in her community. In this interview she explains how Camden Giving’s participatory grantmaking has supported her to do just that, and why a Community Power Act would help people like her to do more for their community.

Can you tell us about your place?

I’ve always lived in Camden and love living here. I was born and brought up in the King’s Cross area, I then moved to the Somers Town area around 15 years ago.

From young people through to the elderly, people face a range of problems in the area, including food poverty. We’ve had lots of funding cuts and now there’s antisocial behavior because children and the youth don’t really have anywhere to go after school.

Community members are frustrated. They want to make the change; they want to use their talent. But they don’t know how. They don’t have the access and they’re asking for it. The frustration is real and I’ve witnessed this first hand.

What is participatory grant making and how has it made a difference in your community?

I first received a grant from Camden Giving for a local taekwondo group in Somers Town. With the funding I was able to purchase professional equipment so the teacher could run lessons for young people. The success of this project meant I could reapply for and secure a second set of funding to take the young people to Manchester to compete in an international competition. I was even able to get involved myself – and came back with a bronze medal. I am the first Muslim woman in Somers Town to attend such an event – all made possible by the Camden Giving grant.

The opportunities have been endless since. There’s so much more to it than the grant. It’s lives that are changing and transforming. It’s a real eye opener on what’s possible just by being involved in community work.

After successfully applying for a third round of funding to help raise awareness of the importance of learning British Sign Language to engage with the Deaf community in Camden by running three ‘BSL and Biryani’ sessions, after which some of the people who came went on to learn BSL, I decided to join the Camden Giving grants panel.

Find out more about participatory grantmaking

Participatory grantmaking centres citizens with deep rooted knowledge of their communities and the issues that exist. They are the people we should be looking to for solutions because of their direct experiences of injustice. This approach to grantmaking supports citizen-led action and provides a way in for underfunded leaders so money goes to places where it is most helpful.

Danielle Green, Camden Giving

Can you tell us a bit more about the community panel?

The community grants panel is made up of about 10 local people, supported and facilitated by the Camden Giving staff team and guided by their five renewal missions:

  • Access to food for all
  • Representative leadership
  • Eco-friendly neighbourhoods
  • Opportunities for young people
  • Stronger communities

People like me are well placed to make decisions about community grants because we are part of the community and have a deep understanding of what the community needs. We know the grassroots leaders who are doing great work, and we can move money quicker too which means the impact in our communities is felt faster than funding from elsewhere.

We’re a diverse range of panel members, and we learn from each other. One panel member has lived experience of disability, and they bring a different and inclusive lens to our decision-making, creating awareness and understanding for certain marginalised communities. The diversity of the panel members has really helped me gain knowledge, share experiences, and helps us make informed decisions. It’s important that we trust each other’s knowledge and experience to guide our decisions in the best interest of our community. I know people are more likely to apply for a Camden Giving grant than one funded by the council simply because there is more trust when decisions are being made by the community.

The projects we fund are often very innovative, filling a need where there’s nothing in place from the council, government, or other local partners.

What kinds of projects have been funded through community grants?

The projects we fund are often very innovative, filling a need where there’s nothing in place from the council, government, or other local partners.

An example I really like was providing single parent families with the chance to go on a camping holiday. For some people that’s a cheap weekend away, but for this group of single mothers, it was a luxury. Camden Giving’s community panel recognised the need for this type of project for the mental health and wellbeing of struggling families. For these families, it’s hopeful to know that their community actually cares about them enough to go through this process.

This is a wonderful example of one person identifying a need in the community and a group of decision-makers recognising and understanding this need; this combination was key to making this initiative come to fruition. There is so much value to funding a thousand small projects like these, but it requires trusting that communities know what’s best for them. Camden Giving makes that happen.

What are your hopes for the future of community power?

There’s lots to be done still but now I know I can make changes locally. I’m really happy about that. It feels like I have been heard.

Despite my busy lifestyle I’ve been able give some of my time away – and you know what? It’s been worth it. It’s like a trickle effect. Not only have I been able to help myself, I’ve also been able to help individuals within the community by mentoring and coaching them to do similar work.

A Community Power Act would enable more people to use their lived experience and invaluable understanding of local needs to serve their community.

I’ve gone on to be part of a local committee, sit on a steering group member and I’m due to be a judge for an environment competition. The opportunities are endless!

A Community Power Act would enable more people to use their lived experience and invaluable understanding of local needs to serve their community.

About Camden Giving

Camden Giving has three core funds that each have their own community grantmaking panels and focus on priorities and strategies that have been co-created by an Alumni of former community panelists and citizen grantees like Nazma, including the We Make Camden Kit.

The Alumni are the experts on good participatory practices and have the opportunity to be paid to provide advice to other grantmaking organisations on how to implement participation in their approach to funding.

Participatory grantmaking can lead to better outcomes for communities. But it needs more support and resourcing if it’s going to be embedded in Camden and beyond. A Community Power Act would put participatory grant making on the radar of those in power, paving the way to infrastructure that could nurture and grow this way of working.