The Connect Fund

The Connect Fund has been set up to strengthen the social investment market in England to better meet the needs of charities and social enterprises.

The fund provides grants to develop shared infrastructure resources and supports tools, partnerships and initiatives that advance a more open and accessible social investment market.

Previously known as the Social Investment Infrastructure Fund, the Connect Fund is managed by Barrow Cadbury Trust in partnership with Access - the Foundation for Social Investment.

The £3m fund supports intermediaries and infrastructure organisations to make social investment work better for a wider range of charities and social enterprises.


What is social investment and intermediary and infrastructure organisations?

Social impact investment is repayable finance for social enterprises and charities that provides financial return for investors while creating a positive social impact.

Social enterprises and charities can use repayable finance such as impact investing funds or social bonds to help them increase their impact on society, for example by maintaining cash flow, buying an asset, growing or kick-starting their organisation. They can choose to access this finance from social investors motivated by their social mission.

According to Big Society Capital, social investment finance intermediaries receive funds from larger investors to invest smaller amounts in a number of frontline social sector organisations.

How does the fund work?

There are two funding streams organisations can apply for.

The Building Infrastructure Fund aims to fund projects that help voluntary and community sector enterprises (VCSEs) with social investment.

  • Existing Connect Fund grantees can apply for grants of up to £30,000
  • New applicants from infrastructure organisations in England can apply for grants up to £60,000 for new initiatives.

In addition, the Enterprising Ideas Fund supports social investment intermediaries to finance the development of new business ideas. Awards are made on a rolling basis with the next round due in November. Social investment intermediaries in England can apply for:

  • Small grants of up to £10,000 to develop feasibility, financial projections and a business plan
  • Social investment of up to £50,000.

Eligibility criteria

Applicants must be:

  • Voluntary sector infrastructure organisations; membership bodies; umbrella organisations; sector, place-based, or equalities networks; or community foundations.
  • Incorporated and registered as a charity or social enterprise.
  • Want to build on existing learning to develop new initiatives to engage VCSEs with social investment or address gaps in the market, ideally in partnership with other social investment organisations.

The Building Infrastructure Fund will support high impact initiatives seek to achieve the one or more of the following:

  • Develop a sustainable model for service provision
  • Increase engagement with social investment through Access Reach Fund access points and/or place-based investment
  • Embed knowledge and skills for VCSEs taking on social investment
  • Address barriers to social investment
  • Increase diversity in the social investment sector
  • Work collaboratively with social investment intermediaries and market networks.

Is this the first round?

No, the Connect Fund has held two large funding rounds in 2017 and 2018. A total of £2m was awarded and 46 grants made.

In round one, 62 applications were received and 17 grants awarded; while in round two, 85 applications were received and 29 grants awarded.

Application process

There is a five-stage application process for both funding streams. This requires an initial expression of interest involving submission of a short online form, an initial assessment to ensure the application meets the fund requirements, a full online application with supporting documents, a more thorough assessment with a decision provided within four months.

Final decisions take place at the Barrow Cadbury Trust investment management committee meetings, held quarterly.

Successful applicants are required to complete online reporting every six months.

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  • Environmental charity Groundwork has partnered with Comic Relief to offer grants of £4,000 to support community projects across England. The Comic Relief Community Fund will invest in grassroots community-led organisations. Key themes include supporting children under the age of five to grow, play and learn in safe environments; and projects that champion women and girls.
  • North East Lincolnshire Council has been awarded £4m through the government's Town Deal regeneration programme to develop a new youth zone in Grimsby. The money will allow the council to work with national charity OnSide to develop a youth zone in Grimsby.
  • A total of 39 councils that will share £15.5m as part of the expansion of successful family support initiatives have been named by the Department for Education. As part of the DfE's Supporting Families; Investing in Practice programme, 15 new family drug and alcohol courts will be established in Leeds, Walsall, Milton Keynes, Gloucestershire, London, Coventry, Stockport, Birmingham, Newcastle, Southampton, Bedfordshire, East Sussex, Somerset, Essex and Kent.

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