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Ten years of growth

By Adrian Barrott
Published on 16th Jan 2024

Writing this at the end of just over ten years in the Sussex Community Foundation Grants Team, I realised that my working career after leaving university started out in a Grants Team. So, in a way I really have come full circle!

After 27 years in the British Council (where I started as a Grants Officer and then took on a variety of different roles), I took the plunge, heading into the voluntary sector in Sussex, working for three very productive years in a volunteer hub, managed by Crawley CVS. It was there that I first heard about the Foundation and its philanthropic work, supporting communities across the county. I can still recall a slide from CEO Kevin Richmond’s presentation, which featured a filing cabinet. But this was not just any filing cabinet Kevin explained, this had been purchased by a group using a grant from the Foundation to bring order to its office! From that moment my attention was grabbed, and interest in the work of the Foundation was born.

It was serendipitous that the closure of the volunteer hub in 2013, coincided with the Foundation recruiting for a Grants Administrator, for which I immediately applied. I arrived to join a very friendly and supportive team of five based in Lewes, and I always knew when it was Wednesday as the gentle aroma of brewing beer from Harvey’s brewery would greet me as I stepped off my train at Lewes Station.

There were just two people in the Grants Team in those days, and I found myself on a fast learning curve (not least discovering just how extensive the voluntary sector was across the county). At the same time, the Foundation was implementing a new system to manage its grants – an exciting challenge, but not without its stresses!  

I recall a busy office, and being a small team frequently meant all hands to the pump. Inevitably administration occupied a significant proportion of our time, but there were plenty of opportunities to interact with applicants, whether on the phone or in person. At that time, we were giving out just under £1m in grants (a figure that would rise to over £4.2m during the height of the Covid pandemic) across four grant rounds. I recall panel meetings for which mountains of papers had to be meticulously prepared (and worrying just how many trees had been cut down in the process) and always feeling a certain sadness that there were always more worthy applications than we had money to fund. 

Under three inspiring managers, both the scope of the Grants Team and my role in it grew and developed. As well as playing a largely administrative role, I became gradually more involved with specific programmes, especially those funded at a national level by statutory and private sector partners and those developed in partnership with UKCF. There were local initiatives too, including those embracing the arts (a passion of mine) such as the Westdene Fund, which supports talented young musicians. One of the delights of administering these awards was meeting young inspirational people, who were so passionate and knowledgeable about music. 

Interaction with community groups across Sussex was an especially important part of my job, and it was a delight to get out of the office to witness what was being achieved with our grants. It was little surprise that my interests were soon focused on encouraging and advocating the work of infrastructure (Voluntary Actions) and ‘second line’ groups – something I am still passionate about and believe in today. The partnerships formed are some of the most positive aspects of my time at Sussex Community Foundation and I leave this behind as my legacy.

The past ten years have seen considerable growth in the Foundation’s grants activity, and a doubling of the grants team to four full-time staff in response. Online systems have replaced paper files, and we (mostly) marvel at the relative ease with which we now process applications that previously had required much ‘copy and paste’. Increasingly we work with our colleagues in Voluntary Actions delivering training and workshops to help potential applicants access our funding: which has helped develop a special relationship between the Foundation and these organisations.

There have been many highlights for me during my time at the Foundation. This includes the huge honour of being invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party in 2018, in recognition of a particular programme I had worked on. 

I couldn’t end though, without mentioning the amazing work the whole Sussex Community Foundation Team put in during the Covid pandemic, often under very demanding circumstances. Untested, untried, hitting the ground running this work was exciting, challenging, at times frustrating, but ultimately hugely impactful and life changing. It was humbling to be so regularly involved in activity that presented the voluntary sector at its very best, and which achieved such remarkable impact.  

I leave the Foundation with many happy memories, colleagues past and present who have become friends for life, a real sense of achievement, but above all heartfelt thanks for the privilege of 10 years of helping make Sussex a better place to live in for those now and future generations.

Adrian Barrott

Grants Officer from 2013 to 2023

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