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Environmental grant making for the first time – from audit to action

Over the last 18 months, for the first time in our 500 year history, grant funder Cloudesley chose to get involved in environmental funding. How did we go about it, and what did we learn?

We wanted to do something “special and different” to mark our 500th anniversary, in addition to the usual grants we make for the upkeep & repair of local churches here in Islington. The trustees decided to focus the special anniversary project on making our beneficiary churches more energy efficient.

So how to go about it, as a first timer?

Well – step 1 – get expert input.  We called on advice from the Head of Environment and Sustainability at the Diocese of London, Brian Cuthbertson.  Brian guided us to link audit to action, by starting with environmental audits of each church and then offering grants linked to the findings. The Sustainable Church Buildings Projectwas born.

This approach of linking audit to action has proved to be a recipe for success. Each of the 24 churches took part in a thorough audit of their buildings, carried out by specialist firm AECOM, which Cloudesley funded. These environmental audits gave the churches detailed findings, with costed recommendations, alongside the estimated environmental impact of each proposal.

The churches then applied to us for two kinds of grant;

  • Small (up to £10k) uncompetitive grants – so thateverychurch could benefit. These small grants did not require match-finding; the objective was that every church could take part, and implemented one or more of the findings from their audit.  This created a very positive engagement in the project across the whole Islington Deanery.
  • Large (up to £50k) competitive grants, aimed at those projects with the highest environmental impact.We ranked every application by the tonnes of greenhouse gasses saved per £ of grant required, and we funded the most impactful projects. For most churches, this was either low energy LED lighting or solar panels.

The environmental audit reports also helped in other ways.  Firstly, they helped the churches gain match-funding from the Islington Community Energy Fund. Secondly, they helped with planning applications and the parallel “faculty” process within the Church of England.

Because this was a new kind of grant-making for us, and we were working in new ways, our trustees needed to be flexible.  For example, we made the large grants into a two-stage process with a simple first stage “Expression of interest” and we took decisions on the small grant quickly through delegated authority. Throughout, we focussed on the end result we were trying to have and designed the processes to have the highest environmental impact.

Alongside the grants, we ran events at which churches representatives could network, share information, and get expert advice, all of which really helped the projects develop.

The impact? If everything we have funded goes ahead to implementation, then we will have cut the carbon footprint of the eligible churches by 15%.  This is a sizable saving. The cost-savings on energy bills will also help these vital buildings in the heart of their communities stay open.

What have we learned?

  • Gather expert input early on, if you are starting a new form of grant-making,
  • Recruit a specialist grant manager, with knowledge of the field,
  • Put lots of energy into engaging your beneficiaries,
  • Link audits to grant-making, so you can make well informed decisions,
  • Use non-competitive grants to engage, alongside competitive grants to maximise impact, and
  • There are huge benefits from playing a ‘convening’ role where you bring beneficiaries together.

Catherine Ross was the Anniversary and Sustainability Officer at Cloudesley, an Islington-based grant making trust. She has recently left to take up a position as the Open and Sustainable Churches Officer at the Church of England, trying to make 16,000 churches more sustainable. Another important result of the 500th anniversary grant making programme!

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