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Insufficient funding for community organisations a key barrier to tackling health inequalities

Melanie May | 17 April 2024 | News

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Insufficient funding is forcing community organisations to subsidise contracts with their unrestricted pots and impacting on their sustainability, according to report from by ARCHES (Arts and Culture in Health Ecosystems – a project run by Locality, Leeds Beckett University and Social Life).

Drawing on examples from Bedford, Halifax, Birmingham and London, the report highlights the key role community organisations and local charities play in addressing health inequalities and the need to include them when developing health strategies.

It found that despite their key role, the knowledge and expertise of community organisations is seldom included in health service design with one size fits all projects ‘parachuted in’ without considering local needs, and that many of the key barriers faced by these group are around funding – particularly the limits of “competitive and transactional funding”.


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The report also states that:

These issues, it states, hinder the ability of community groups and small charities to provide specialised support, to sustain themselves, and lead to burnout and staff turnover.

Pembroke House in London, one of the case studies in the report, is attempting to address these issues by engaging funders in their work in different ways: 

“One thing we do is invite funders, challenge funders on what they’ve asked us to do and invite them into a space of greater understanding of what we do. We’ll say, we don’t think this thing you’ve asked us to measure is very meaningful, how about we do this instead? We find if you’re willing to share insights, they are keen to understand the work and its impact. But that also takes time because it’s about developing a deeper conversation with funders”.

Halifax Opportunities Trust is also quoted: on what it considers to be the key issue: We can’t make plans unless we’ve got money. It all comes down to that”.

Commenting, Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive of Locality, said:  

“These findings show the critical role played by community organisations in addressing health inequalities. It provides the evidence for what Locality members know – that trust is the key to reaching those most in need.  But trust isn’t inherent; it must be earned. Community organisations have deep roots and are driven by passionate local people – they have an acute understanding of the interests, needs and barriers facing local people.


“Despite their unique ability to reach some of our most marginalised communities, these organisations struggle to find funding and are rarely involved in the development of health strategies. If we are serious about addressing the huge health inequalities we face, we must collaborate better across sectors. This means sharing assets, spaces and resources and building robust, respectful partnerships for the long-term.”

Professor Mark Gamsu, from Leeds Beckett University who led the Arches research team said:

“The way that local community organisations work in communities who experience inequalities is often a tremendously positive story, building relationships and trust through engaging with local people sometimes over generations. Like the communities they serve this role is seldom acknowledged and poorly understood by commissioners – particularly the NHS. If the NHS is to make progress on reducing inequality the important contribution made be community anchor organisations must be better understood and supported.”

Among its recommendations, the report calls for better cross-sector collaboration including sharing of assets, spaces and resources, and fairer funding and commissioning that accommodates community organisations.