Our Trustee Josie Stevens is a member of our Grants and Engagement Committee and tells us what it's like to get to the heart of decision making at Stratford Town Trust.

"I have been a member of Stratford Town Trust since 2015 and became a Trustee and member of the Grants and Engagement Committee in September 2020. At that time, the Trust was dealing with the effects of the global pandemic on both our own business and on the operations of the charities we support to aid their work with some of the most vulnerable in our town. I became Chair of Grants and Community Engagement in September 2022.

Grant making is fundamentally STT’s core purpose and, when I joined the Board, what struck me immediately was the thoughtful and insightful way in which the Trust approaches it. Essentially, we offer grants and support to community groups and charitable organisations that are working to enhance the lives of the local community. Our funding must be used to support people who live, work or study within the town and we support a wide variety of work including vital counselling and hospice services, activities for young people and social groups helping to combat loneliness and isolation. We also give annual grants to our local college and schools. 

Our grants are made possible by income generated from a mix of equity investments and the rental of commercial and residential property within the Trust's endowed portfolio. We have around 100 commercial properties all generating an annual rent for the Trust. Each year we award around £1 million in discretionary grants.

In September 2020, our income was much reduced because of the pandemic, meaning we had less money to give at a time when charities supporting our town’s most vulnerable needed help the most. Taking an active role in decision-making alongside fellow Trustees, Sara, James, Catherine and the team was a real inspiration, with the focus firmly on the needs of a community that was struggling. Three years on and our revenues have recovered, allowing us not only to do more but also to think differently about how and who we fund. But those early days fostered strong relationships and a one-team spirit and cemented my strongly held view that the Town Trust is not just at the heart of the community but is a force for good in our town. 

The Committee meets every two months to consider applications brought forward by our ace Grants team lead by James and Catherine. They work hand-in-glove with applicants to help guide them through our thorough but not onerous process. All applications are assessed against set, agreed criteria based on a simple but effective scoring system. Trustees review details in papers we receive a week before our meeting and then discusses and debates each at our face-to-face before taking a vote. 

We often invite organisations to join our meetings to hear from them directly and these informal discussions are incredibly powerful at bringing to life the needs and challenges of the communities charities are working hard to support. Most recently, the Committee has talked with Citizens Advice South Warwickshire; Safeline, which supports survivors and those at risk of sexual violence; Home Start South Warwickshire, which supports families facing mental health difficulties, post-natal depression, isolation, loneliness, the effects of domestic abuse and physical health problems; and Myton Hospice.

Post pandemic, we continue to look at bold new ways to support those who live, work and study in our town. We’ve made a commitment to move towards participatory grant-making, the practice of ceding power to affected communities by allowing them to decide who and what we fund. Keen to improve the lives of young people in Stratford and conscious of a lack of provision, we’ve brought together five organisations with a proven track-record of working with young people locally and we’ve committed an initial £100,000 to this community collective to ensure it can develop a strong foundation from which to build something meaningful.

These five organisations - Escape Arts, New Meaning Foundation, ILEAP, Lifespace Trust and Warwickshire Pride – have now established the Stratford Youth Collective, with a shared vision, a strategic plan, a delivery model and a new home, The Ministry on Birmingham Road. Most importantly, it has set up as an organisation that is run both for and by young people with the support of experienced professionals.T here is a steering group of young people, called Stratford Youth Together, who are decision makers on all aspects of the new charity and up to 50 per cent of the charity’s trustee board will be made up of young adults aged 16-25. 

This is a bold initiative which needs time to establish itself, something the Trust is invested in through our initial financial support and our commitment to participatory grant making. Learning to cede power and handover decision-making is not for the faint-hearted and we are learning in partnership with the Stratford Youth Collective. Members can also learn more at the Town Trust AGM on Wednesday 13 September at 7pm."

In the meantime, our 2023 grants round remains open until the end of September and James and Catherine are standing by to hear from organisations in need of support or with a big idea. They can be contacted on 01789 207108 / 207114 or via applications@stratfordtowntrust.co.uk