The voluntary sector, vital to the well-being of a large number of educational and community activities, is to get a helping hand from lottery proceeds.
The National Lottery Charities Board will open a telephone application line throughout the UK on January 20, inviting bids for projects that promote lifelong learning and community development. Organisations will have until April 4 to make their pitch.
This is the board's fourth main tranche of grants and has been dubbed "the education and training round", an oversimplified description that irks Louise McCulloch, the board's development and policy officer in Scotland. "This round is not about schools and colleges," Ms McCulloch says, "although voluntary organisations using their premises will be eligible. Neither will there be funding for vocational training or grants to individuals."
That means the lottery is forbidden to support parent fund-raising, for example. The board's guide states that it is "opening up learning opportunities through non-formal learning to people of all ages, extending learning advantages to disadvantaged groups, or promoting community regeneration and enterprise through skills development, IT courses, etc".
Ms McCulloch comments: "This is an exciting round for the Scottish voluntary sector which has been weaker on the learning side than in the rest of the UK, partly because of the relatively greater dominance of the state sector. "
In the first three rounds the board, which receives 5.6p for every pound spent on the lottery, was inundated with seven to eight times the number of applications for which money was available.
The first two phases channelled more than Pounds 35 million to 521 projects dealing with poverty and youth issues. The third handout announced on December 12 benefited 239 health and disabled organisations by Pounds 16 million. Grants have ranged from Pounds 500 to Pounds 660,000 for the Strathclyde Poverty Alliance, the board's biggest to date. The average amount is Pounds 70, 000.
The NLCB has been working with community education staff and voluntary organisations to ensure applications are properly drafted. Ms McCulloch says: "The main mistake groups make is to plead how much need there is in their community. There is, of course, need everywhere whereas what we are looking for are plans which address that need but in an appropriate way which fulfils the group's aims. Have they, for example, consulted locally to find out if their plans fit in with people's actual wishes or requirements? Applications must be related to the needs of individuals not the organisations providing the service.
"We are not looking for grandiose schemes but for realistic local projects. We are not a honey-pot: there are no millionaires on a Saturday night with us."
The board will start getting its message across two days after the hotline opens with "how to apply" meetings for organisations in the four cities and Inverness. These will be open to community-based organisations not "professional form-fillers", the board states. Ten surgeries will be held during March for prospective applicants from Shetland to Galashiels to discuss their plans in more detail.
Applications have declined by 25 per cent in the rest of the country but have remained static in Scotland - a reflection, Ms McCulloch suggests, of the adverse impact on the voluntary sector of council reform and local authorities' funding crisis. Some 11.5 per cent of grants come north of the border, rather than the 8.8 per cent per capita share, to reflect Scotland's relatively greater disadvantage.
"We like to feel that those who are spending their money on the lottery and who are often disadvantaged are getting their money back in other ways by having investment in their communities," Ms McCulloch states.
Decisions on how the money is to be spent are taken by committees for the four home countries and one for the UK as a whole. The Scottish committee is chaired by Graham Bowie, former chief executive of Lothian Region.