Meet our new Trustees – Susan Connor

Meet our new Trustees! We are profiling three brilliant new Trustees, elected to our Board at our June AGM.

Here we talk to Susan Connor, a Funding Manager in The National Lottery Community Fund, about her experience of working in social finance, and why she chose to join us.

‘My work now is within the social investment team though I’ve been with the Fund for 16 years, and in that time, I’ve worked on a few different programs. Within my current role, I’ve worked in areas including social impact bonds, infrastructure programmes and for the last six or seven years, I’ve been managing the Growth Fund – a blended finance programme. So my experience of social finance here has been varied.

I’m really interested in the way we at the Fund, and the sector more broadly, provides support for VCSEs. When research showed there was a need for smaller loan deals for social enterprises, we worked to develop The Growth Fund and it’s run in partnership with Big Society Capital, and delivered by Access The Foundation for Social Investment. Essentially, it was designed to provide the finance that charities and social enterprises need for growth or for diversifying their business models.  By blending  loans (from BSC) and grants, (from the Fund) in the form of small, flexible, unsecured loans it became more accessible for organisations that might not have considered social investment before…. So the Growth Fund makes up to £150k available; it’s a really different scale to what’s been on offer before.

Social finance is so important, in that it can provide an opportunity for organisations to take back a lot of control as to how they use money. Grant money comes with restrictions, and it is often project based. Social finance gives that little bit more freedom for an organisation to diversify their income and try out something in a slightly different way than they may have thought of before. Because of that it’s really exciting – an organisation which has a fantastic idea can jump on it straight away.

 I’ve seen some fantastic projects develop. One organisation I remember was looking at erecting a straw bale building. As we chatted, I realised they didn’t have a sense of how much money they were making – they didn’t recognise that the money they were bringing in from providing school services was income. It was great to work with them, to draw out their ideas a little more so that they could see this could be used to grow. And another project, early on – it was coffee shop training ex offenders to be baristas. They were looking for a really low amount of money, under £10k, as social investment. It was such a tiny amount, and they wouldn’t have got it anywhere else.

The Growth Fund is coming to an end in its current form and the learning from it is already being implemented by others in the sector,  to develop new funds and products, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next, and how my experience can play into my new part in CCF.