Connect Project Evaluation
Buttle UK has been providing financial support for children and families for over 60 years. We make grants to around 10,000 families a year, typically providing up to £300 worth of household goods (e.g. cookers, beds, washing machines) for families who are struggling both financially and in other areas of their lives. This helps fix an immediate problem, allowing a child to have a hot meal each day, go to school in clean clothes or get a proper night’s sleep.
Over the years we have seen how important that small contribution can be to family life and it has made us consider what could happen if we were able to provide a little bit more. What could the families we support achieve with a grant of around £1,500, a committed front line support worker and a little bit of imagination?
The Connect Project has been all about testing this. In May 2014, with the support of the Big Lottery Fund, we began work in Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire seeking out support workers and families to work with.
In the following year we have made grants to 227 families worth a total of £300,000. Grants have been designed to meet both families’ immediate material needs but also to address longer-term issues. The money has been spent on all sorts of things from household goods, to sports activities for children, to therapy.
The key findings from the project have been:
- The use of a small amount of funding can have a disproportionate impact on the lives of vulnerable children and their families, if it is used to meet material needs and in combination with existing services and provision. Many families living in the sort of difficult circumstances that we have seen through this project simply do not have enough money, and the cumulative effect of living in such deprivation over a period of time has a profound effect on everyone in the family – but particularly the children. Families living on benefits or low income simply cannot afford even small capital spends. Alleviating that difficulty by astute use of a relatively small amount of cash can have benefits way beyond the practical or monetary value of the award. At a level of around £1500 a grant directed in this way has the potential support the outcomes of other service providers, and move a family beyond a crisis point and towards a turning point in their lives.
- Local service provides, however, committed they are to their clients, are constrained in how they think about the work they do by both organisation funding and procedure. The kind of grant funding available through this project has the potential to help them work beyond these constraints.
- Children living in poverty do not only suffer material deprivation but are also socially deprived. Their families are unable to afford even a limited range of the social activities enjoyed by most children and this is a really important issue to children. The use of existing, ‘extra-curricular’ activities of the sort funded during this project in particular could be a cost effective intervention if used more routinely for children who are experiencing developmental issues, and could be considered as services in their own right.
- Connectivity in local services may be more about knowledge of the value of other services than the availability of information about their existence.