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Digital programme opens with grants of up to £10,000 on offer

Digital programme opens with grants of up to £10,000 on offer

A new £840,000 digital programme has opened for applications, with grants of up to £10,000 available for charities and other civil society organisations in England.

The Sector Challenge Programme will invite charities to form small groups – or clusters – with other charities. There will be 12 clusters in total, and each cluster will work in partnership with a digital partner, to develop digital solutions to issues that have arisen or been made more severe as a result of Covid-19.

Clusters will work in four different cause areas: early years; mental health and wellbeing; sexual abuse and domestic violence; and financial wellbeing. To be eligible to apply, civil society organisations must have that cause as one of their primary areas of operation.

Questions the clusters are being asked to address include:

  • How can we create a more supportive digital environment for staff and volunteers at mental health charities?
  • How can we provide remote support to service users claiming Universal Credit?
  • How can we make digital signposting to early years services more centred on parents’ needs?
  • How can we translate traditional counselling techniques in the domestic violence field, so they work in a digital environment?

The programme is looking to work on these and other questions with charities whose experience and knowledge of the sector will inform the development of potential approaches, prototypes and solutions, which digital agencies will help create. These findings will be shared widely across multiple organisations in the sector area to support the practice of re-use. 

Cluster members will be entitled to grants of up to £10,000 which are intended to compensate them for the staff time that will have to be committed to the work.

Funding will come from the Catalyst and The National Lottery Community Fund COVID-19 Digital Response, which is a partnership between The National Lottery Community Fund and Centre for The Acceleration of Social Technology (CAST), with support from the Catalyst network. The programme will also be supported by Shift, a design charity, and DOT PROJECT, a digital cooperative, which will provide support to two cause areas each. 

Applications opened on 16 November and close on 27 November. Clusters will work together for 11 weeks, beginning on 11 January and ending on 26 March. 

Dan Sutch, chief executive of CAST, said:

“The way in which we respond to this crisis is part of creating the new infrastructure that will help our sector become more responsive and resilient in the future. Digital, data and design are key parts of this, but so are the ways in which we organise ourselves to harness that potential to support our communities to thrive. I’m really excited about the collective ambitions within the Sector Challenge Programme and how we can work best together to address shared challenges.”

Cat Ainsworth, co-founder of DOT PROJECT, added:

“From the beginning of this year communities have rallied to support each other. This has led to community driven initiatives which are responsive to needs as they emerge. There is huge opportunity to leverage collective responses at this time. As a cooperative we deeply champion collective efforts and we are looking forward to supporting such efforts through the Sector Challenge Programme which will support communities hardest hit by the pandemic.”

Melanie May is a journalist and copywriter specialising in writing both for and about the charity and marketing services sectors since 2001. She can be reached via

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