Northamptonshire Community Foundation turns 20 with £20 million in the bank to keep helping county to thrive

'I'm proud to support so many groups and see them grow and develop and be there for the community - that's really exciting'

Since its creation 20 years ago, Northamptonshire Community Foundation has given around £17 million in grants to more than 4,000 good causes in the county.

The charity has come into its own during the coronavirus pandemic, handing out almost double its usual yearly total to help hundreds of much-needed groups survive.

But chief executive Victoria Miles is just as proud to have reached a £20 million endowment, meaning the trust's invaluable work should be able to continue for another two decades.

Winners at Northamptonshire Community Foundation's annual awards ceremony in 2019

"We've worked tirelessly during this time while still building the endowment pot," she told this newspaper.

"We've got on with the day-to-day and making sure the money is there for those who need it the most.

"But we've also worked with generous philanthropists and donors around the county giving large sums for the security and safety of the community in the future."

The community foundation was set up in August 2001 as a charity to support Northamptonshire's voluntary sector as well as promoting and managing its philanthropy.

Northamptonshire Community Foundation chief executive Victoria Miles

It had just £400,000 in the bank with very few members of staff to co-ordinate and gather donations plus dealing with applications.

Victoria joined in 2007 and is proud of its growth with fond memories of all of the organisations it has backed over the years, with many still going thanks to its grants.

Groups like Northampton Hope Centre, the Sikh community's new gurdwara and Adrenaline Alley skate park in Corby have benefited from its funding.

"Whenever I meet voluntary sector colleagues, they often say that if it wasn't for the foundation, we wouldn't have survived a year not just the longevity we have had," she said.

"So I'm proud to support so many groups and see them grow and develop and be there for the community - that's really exciting."

Covid-19 has brought unprecedented challenges for every walk of life and none less than the voluntary sector which has lost so much in fundraising when people need them most.

Not to mention the social, economic and mental difficulties that people have had to deal with because of lockdowns, social distancing and tragedy.

The community foundation had to rapidly speed up the time it took to give out cash to far more applicants while everyone had to work from home.

Despite the issues, it managed to award £2.4 million to nearly 400 groups in total, including just over £1 million in 315 grants specifically to deal with the pandemic.

Victoria said: "We've never known anything like the past 12 months so it's phenomenal to get that amount of money out really quickly.

"That was, not exciting but a big thing to do in an emergency, it's outstanding, all with the same numbers of people working from home and changing systems overnight so we could do everything by email.

"To be able to turn around a grant in 24 hours has been hugely exciting and has changed the way we work going forward."

The pandemic is far from over so the community foundation is preparing for more applications to support unemployment, mental health and cultural charities as the lockdown eases.

The chief executive said the best thing has been seeing her team and the wider community pull together like never before to respond to the crisis.

"We made a huge difference - people who had money gave back, people who didn't have money but had time gave back, all to suppose those people in desperate need," she said.

"That has been really sobering and makes me wake up every day and feel very grateful for the job I do.

"I think this is a pretty special time as we can see everyone working towards the same goal and there's a real sense of kindness around the county and I'm heartened by the wealth of support we have seen."