Member Spotlight: Smallwood Trust – Pushing the boundaries of our grant-making

We spoke to ACO member Smallwood Trust about their Community Grant Partnerships, the lessons learned since distributing these grants and what is next for the future. 

Who we are

The Smallwood Trust has been helping women out of poverty for 136 years. This year we launched a new Strategic Plan 2022-2024 to challenge the systems that cause gendered poverty and enable women to be financially resilient so they can build a confident, positive and secure future.

While we will continue to meet the immediate needs of women facing financial insecurity, we will also increasingly focus on tackling the root causes of gendered poverty.

Introducing our community grant partnerships

Smallwood’s Community Grant Partnerships is one of our key grant programmes. The programme is a strategic initiative to help us shift power for grant decision-making to local community organisations, the majority of which are led by and for women. Smallwood provides the funds, support and an operational toolkit to enable local community-led groups to increase their impact. The community groups award the funding and integrate the grants into their specialist service delivery, enabling women to access a holistic model of support. Support services provided by these local women’s led organisations include housing, domestic abuse, mental health, criminal justice and employability.

Typically community grant partners are awarded £25,000 per year for three years which includes 20% for their operating and overhead costs and 80% for grants to individuals.

The main objective of the community grant partnerships is to support those women most at risk of poverty, including women of colour, women with disabilities, young women and women with no recourse to public funds. The model was originally piloted with two community grant partners in 2018 and three in 2019, expanding to 29 across England in 2022. Some 27% are BAME-led groups.

What are we learning?

 “It doesn’t have to be a large amount to be life changing”:

The purpose of the grants distributed by the partners is far-reaching. For example, they pay for private housing which reduces violence against women and children, as many are homeless or in a refuge to escape abusive partners. Small amounts of money allow women to start their own business, attend computer classes, buy work equipment or make their home safe. Ultimately, community grants support women towards a life of dignity and safety that has been otherwise denied.

“The fund enables us to respond immediately”

Overall, partners have found that the community grant partnerships are a flexible way to help them respond quickly to situations that need immediate resolution.

The Community grants have become an integral part of the support package organisations offer their beneficiaries. They are often working with the most marginalised women in society, including those with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).

“It’s Smallwood grants or nothing”

Community grant partners report that there are few other sources of immediate funding for economically vulnerable women. On an organisational level, the programme frees up staff time who would otherwise be scrambling around for other avenues of grant funding for their beneficiaries.

“We’re stronger together”

There is a strong sense of collective power amongst the community grant partners. It was agreed amongst all partners that they hold a vast amount of raw data concerning women’s economic and social positioning across the board and this information should be pulled together and utilised within the wider sector. In addition, many are looking to wider systems and policy change in order to see local and national improvements.

What is next for the community grant partnerships?

The Covid pandemic underlined the fact that UK poverty is gendered and the community grant partnerships programme was an integral part of Smallwood’s response.

The cost of living crisis has exacerbated the situation for many women and demand for funds has increased three-fold. Over the next three years we will continue to evolve the programme as a key initiative to help us deliver our Strategic Plan and improve social and economic outcomes for women. Next steps include:

  • Co-design a streamlined monitoring and evaluation framework to enable community grant partners to encapsulate the broader impact of their integrated grants and support model
  • Explore how we can use data and learning more effectively to influence and challenge the systems that cause gendered poverty
  • Host ongoing peer support sessions for community grant partners to share resources, advice and establish rapport with one another to build more resilient networks and communities
  • Explore further avenues to devolve power to community grant partners and their beneficiaries to support the ongoing development of the programme

Please visit for further information. If you would like to find out more about the community grant partnerships please email