Laying the Groundwork for success

29 Sep 2016 Ryan Miller    Last updated: 4 Oct 2016

Illustration by Patrick Sanders
Illustration by Patrick Sanders

Groundwork NI has recovered from the doldrums and is now finding a way to help other organisations – especially smaller ones – flourish, according to its new CEO.

Third-sector organisations expect to be effective at their stated mission – but being good at what you do is not always enough to make the most of your organisation.

Organisational infrastructure is also very important but often these matters are outside the remit of not-for-profit groups.

The third sector is an extremely wide parish. Massive transnationals like Amnesty International and the Red Cross will of course have their own solid corporate infrastructure, covering finance and HR and the like.

At the other end of the scale, many groups represent the endeavours of one or a handful of people, and will have been established to tackle a specific and local problem.

Mostly this small scale will be manageable, if a tangible effort, for those involved. But moving away from day-to-day business and into more transformative infrastructure can be tricky.

Planning is one such area. An organisation might have expertise in mental health, or preparing people for the jobs market, but if things are going well and they want to expand or just improve existing premises this can be a bureaucratic minefield – even if funding is secured.

Groundwork NI is a not-for-profit organisation “working for sustainable neighbourhood renewal through environmental regeneration in areas of high social and economic need.”

It has been a tough couple of years, when links were established with the UPRG and a viable pipe bomb targeted loyalists in their Duncairn Gardens offices.

New start

The organisation has swept an effective broom through the system and it is now focused entirely on doing great work, according to new CEO Paula Quigley.

She came into post eight months ago and this week spoke with Scope about how Groundwork is helping local organisations grow by navigating various barriers and complexities in planning.

“For community groups, it is hard to get money in a general sense, but for planning it can be even more difficult.”

One major issue that Groundwork has identified in recent times is woven into the nature of some funding streams – whether this is the Local Investment Fund, Social Investment Fund (depending on the area), or other capital grants.

Put simply, often funders are happy to release money for capital costs, but these are solely for the bricks, mortar and the labour of putting these things together. Technical work, such as architectural design, surveys, and other professional fees are often not included and this can create blockages.

Ms Quigley said: “You can have a situation where a given organisation will have had a good idea that requires capital development, the idea is good enough to secure funding for the building, but the gap between

“This can be true of any organisation but is particularly a problem for the third sector. Charities and voluntary groups do not have spare cash lying around, particularly the smaller ones – and these are the ones most likely to run into this issue.

“So you can have great idea, and you can know what you want the end product to look like, but not know how to get from A to B.

Tying things together

“I think where we are really making a difference is in our ability to tie all the different processes together. Organisations might have knowledge in some areas but not others, but often people simply have no idea where to start.

“We have the knowledge to offer advice on both all the technical processes that will take a good concept that requires capital work and make that a reality, and also on the funding streams that can help pay for all this.

“By being a one-stop shop for relevant advice we are able to make huge differences for various organisations across Northern Ireland.”

Ms Quigley says that the knowledge she and the organisation have around flexibility in available funding streams – such as landfill funds across Northern Ireland.

Of course, helping people with planning is not the only thing Groundwork has its eye on at the minute. Its brief, and its work, remains general – and they are currently heavily involved in Meanwhile Spaces, a scheme whereby local people are able to transform land within their area that has no use at the present time or in the immediate future.

Groundwork has helped facilitate several community gardens across Northern Ireland in deprived areas – including several projects on land owned by the Department of Social Development and funded by the Public Health Agency.

It has also been involved with administration of the hugely successful Alpha Programme – which has been running for nearly a decade, funding community and biodiversity projects - and worked with the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland and others in the five-year, £15m Space and Place fund aimed at encouraging collaborative projects within communities by providing appropriate capital funding.

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