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Making climate action everyone’s business at the UK’s leading community funder

By John Rose, The National Lottery Community Fund, 16th May 2022

As the largest funder of community activity in the UK, The National Lottery Community Fund plays a critical role supporting communities to unleash their energy and potential, especially on important issues such as the climate emergency.

In the last five years alone, we have awarded £3.4 billion in 72,000 grants, supporting amazing things to happen in communities across the UK. Since 2016, we have awarded £397 million through more than 6,000 grants which involve environmental action, including action on waste and consumption, energy, transport, food and the natural environment.

As the UK’s leading community funder, we’re now reflecting on the difference we have made, and drawing on the knowledge, foresight, experiences and ambitions of communities to ensure our grant funding works for everyone. And we want to hear from you as part of this.

Everyone’s business 

We’ve always been an environmental funder – it is written into the Act of Parliament that created us some 27 years ago – but more recently we have developed an environment strategy that aims to deliver three main outcomes:

  1. Improving ourselves as an organisation by reducing our carbon impact. We have achieved Planet Mark certification, have been carbon neutral since 2019, and have recently agreed our Net Zero target of 2030 with our Board.
  2. Providing funding for environmental and climate-focussed work, such as our £100 million Climate Action Fund, which opens for its third phase in July, and Together For Our Planet – a small grants programme supporting a legacy of ongoing climate action projects after COP26.
  3. Supporting our grant holders, not just those focused on environmental activities, but every project we support with National Lottery funding, to be more regenerative and sustainable. 

Underpinning this strategy is buy-in from across our organisation to ensure we’re moving away from climate activity being seen as a ‘green thing’ and making it a key part of everyone’s business.

Environment strategy in action 

In Wales and Northern Ireland we have been trialling Climate Action Boosts where we work with non-environmental community organisations – charities that don’t have a strictly environmental purpose – to help them think about how they take steps to address the climate emergency. We provide expert support, from Renew Wales and Severn Wye in Wales, to create practical plans and provide ‘top-up’ grant funding to implement them.

The combination of support and funding is important, and it’s been successful with groups keen to take part with results including energy and water savings, creation of habitats, increased knowledge and skills, changes in behaviour, and being a catalyst for other ideas.

We’ve also created a Climate Action Hub – a dedicated space on our website to house our insights, learnings, grant holder stories and news about our climate funding. And we’ve added guidance across many of our funding programme pages about how projects we fund can manage their environmental impact.

We’re also developing capital guidance which is aimed at supporting community organisations to incorporate sustainability into capital refurbs and builds and are looking at guidelines around transport and vehicles too. We know there is appetite for this guidance as people and organisations understand how the climate emergency will affect them.

Food for thought 

As we’ve been providing millions of pounds in National Lottery funding to community groups taking climate action, we have come across questions which we’re still working out, and you may well be too.

For example, how do we balance inspiring people and organisations to make changes in their behaviours with a requirements-based approach? As more than 80% of our grants are under £10,000, often to smaller organisations for relatively short-term projects, does the length of a funder’s relationship with grant holders affect their ability to exert more influence?

Working in partnership with others is good for exploring these questions, and, specifically for us, other National Lottery distributors are great allies. But networks, especially the Environmental Funders Network, are also great for hearing what others are doing and trying out.

Putting Communities First

We’re already trying our new approaches to environmental funding and having an impact in communities, and now we want to build on this to better understand the challenges, hopes and opportunities in communities across the UK. A few weeks ago we launched an organisation strategic renewal process that will shape how we continue to invest in communities into the future. This exercise is about learning from our past, taking forward the best bits and building upon them – and we want to hear from people, partners, and communities across the UK.

Visit our microsite to get involved and use #TNLComFundStrategyRenew to join the conversation on social media. But also continue to share with us, and others, what you are trying out with your environmental funding, and we’ll continue to do the same.


John Rose is the Director of The National Lottery Community Fund in Wales and their Environment Lead. The National Lottery Community Fund is the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

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