Nepotism does not rule on lottery grants

Calling all playgroups, youth clubs, and organisations promoting lifelong learning or working with excluded school pupils: Janet Paraskeva wants to give you money.

Ms Paraskeva is the chief executive of the National Lottery Charities Board in England, which is now sending out application forms for its fourth grants round, the theme of which is New Opportunities and Choices: Learning Throughout Life.

It wants to fund projects outside mainstream and statutory education which help disadvantaged groups back into learning and volunteering (see details, right).

The current theme is particularly close to Ms Paraskeva's heart - she has been a teacher and inspector as well as chief executive of the National Youth Agency.

She is proud to point out that no one - Cabinet ministers, board members or anyone else - can influence which organisations get money.

Applications are judged purely on merit and a previously-decided list of criteria, with an elaborate system of checks to ensure cash goes only to the most deserving cases. Letters from Ministers asking the board to look favourably on pet projects are answered only with a polite acknowledgment and the explanation that board rules do not allow such interventions to be taken into consideration.

Even the themes are not decided by individuals. So far, all have been determined from a massive market research project among the country's voluntary groups.

"It really is about what you know, not who you know, as to whether your group gets the money," said Ms Paraskeva. "It doesn't matter how small your group is, because the grants are decided on merit.

"Submissions from small groups tend to shine off the page because they are written by the people who are planning to do the work and know all about it. The ones written by consultants just do not come to life - you don't need them to get a grant from us if your project is good."

The largest single grant so far - Pounds 680,000 - has gone to a community centre in Gateshead. Typical awards tend to be Pounds 70,000 or Pounds 80,000 although some organisations have received as little as Pounds 500. The success rate tends to be around one in seven applications overall, but slightly lower - around one in 10 - in the South-west and London.

The new round is expected to be very popular, with schools encouraged to form partnerships with local youth and voluntary groups to initiate projects with excluded children, and voluntary nurseries also likely to request cash.

Application forms can be requested by phone: 0345 919191.


The National Lottery Charities Board wants to provide grants for projects extending non-formal learning or volunteering opportunities for people of all ages.

This might include adult education, youth work, early education, family learning projects and initiatives to encourage volunteering among groups which are traditionally less likely to be involved.

It also wants to extend learning opportunities to disadvantaged groups, enabling them to use mainstream education and training opportunities. There is a particular interest in supporting voluntary projects working with disadvantaged children and under-25s, including after-school activities, work with school refusers and excluded pupils, home-school liaison projects, initiatives to involve parents in their children's education and projects enabling children with special needs to get into mainstream schools.

Finally, the board is keen to hear about projects promoting self-help, community regeneration, and enterprise-through-learning projects.

Private training providers and statutory bodies are not eligible for funding and it is not the board's policy to make student support grants or to give grants to schools, parent-teacher associations or similar bodies, private or state nursery schools, mainstream activities of further or higher education institutions.

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