The ongoing saga of funding for community halls continues, with the recent release of an equality screening report, however all is not as it seems with this pilot scheme and the fall out from it.
As a firm working on the front line of funding we have seen how discrimination can develop, often it is not by design but by default, but the results are every bit as worrying. However in this case it is the response to the funding which is most interesting.
Perhaps the most enlightening aspect of the criticism of the Scheme is that hundreds of Orange Halls, church halls and other buildings associated with the Protestant Community were not granted funding, indeed the percentage from this community which were unsuccessful, is greater than the failure rate for the GAA or AOH – yet there has not been the chorus of criticism from them.
No newspapers from the Protestant Unionist community have championed their cause and no MLA has raised questions over the handling of the scheme. There were clear deficiencies and discrepancies in the scheme not least where the 1.5 million of additional funding was found. While all pilot schemes are by their nature a trial and error affair they must nonetheless strive to be fair.
Having worked with several clients to prepare both successful and unsuccessful Applications we registered in number of concerns with the civil servants involved in the scheme. Our concerns focused on the fact that many organisations still lack the capacity to engage in even relatively simple funding programs.
We balanced our comments by commending the Department on the straightforward process and the quick turnaround time. Sadly, the present criticism appears more concerned with sectarian point scoring and political grandstanding as opposed to with the real issues.
It is clear and well borne out by research that the Protestant Unionist community lack capacity confidence and capabilities to engage in many of the community development and funding programs available. Add to this the religious problems with lottery money and we find that this entire Area has become cold to Protestants.
There has been much discussion over the question of a ‘cold house’, for Protestants, but in our experience working in community the lack of investment in community halls another facilities mean literally a cold hall for many. Despite the lack of even basic facilities such as Electric, toilets and kitchen facilities many rural halls still provide valuable services to their communities.
The solution is not to engage in positive discrimination for political purposes but introduce non-lottery linked funding, a range capacity building programs, the removal of predetermined outcomes and appreciation of the valuable work many of these organisations across both communities are involved in. While the Department of Communities has admitted that a community hall scheme is weighted in favour of the Protestant community, in a revised equality screening document – it is clear that the scheme really just exposed the real need that exists.
The department said “any impact is expected to be positive in that the funding will help improve access to the facilities in community halls across Northern Ireland”. Described as a ‘section 75 screening form’, the document said the community hall programme was designed to prioritise “low capacity” organisations and “organisations that have not attracted previous funding”.It claims that some “faith based” groups, including the Orange Order, do not to apply for lottery funds because “this is regarded as benefitting from gambling”.
Only 34 Orange halls were among the 90 successful applicants to the scheme, given the number of halls in the country and the number which applied the success rate was not as high as many media commentators would like to allege. Indeed, the Independent Orange Order which had a number of applications were denied funding while two Ancient Order of Hibernian halls have been awarded cash through the scheme, which offered grants up to £25,000 for the upgrade of community halls.
The real story here is not who got, but the reaction of those who did not. The concert of criticism led with front page coverage and in depth analysis, questions from nationalist MLAs, and a forensic examination of the scheme stands in contrast to the muted response from those from the other community who were unsuccessful.
This demonstrates just how funding really works in Northern Ireland, it is a fine example of the old adage that a creaking gate gets most oil, and there are some very well oiled gates in Northern Ireland. From a professional point of view, we admire and welcome this concerted effort and continually advocate it to clients. Funding is more than the mere completion of application forms.
It is the follow up, the pressure which is maintained. If a cause is worthwhile, if a project is needed, if a building requires funding then it is surely worth more time and effort than one application. Groups must be prepared to see this as a process, with time and indeed money invested in seeing it through to the end.
Funding by its nature is competitive, and only a small percentage of applications will ever be successful, the key to success is to continue pressing towards the goal. If an application is unsuccessful then appeal, if that is unsuccessful apply political pressure and appeal to the press. If a funder know that you will not simply file your letter of refusal away and accept it, but will fight on then in future they will think twice about refusing.