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Author Debbie Lye
Chief Executive, Spirit of 2012
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Happy families

Debbie Lye

At Spirit, we pride ourselves on our relationships: with our grantees, with community and government contacts, with the National Lottery Community Fund whose money we disburse and with the people around the country – the beneficiaries – who take part in, and are changed by, the projects we fund. 

These relationships hold together what we call our Spirit ‘family’ – and, as with any family unit, we work at these relationships to make sure everyone is happy, fulfilled and included. One aspect of this is making sure that all the people who deliver the programmes we fund feel that we value and are learning from their great work.

Which is why today we’re bringing them all together – 29 projects across our three active, connected and creative funding strands – for a learning event in central London where we’ll spend the whole day helping each other understand who our beneficiaries are, what they are gaining from our projects and, importantly, how we can best reach them. 

When Spirit of 2012 was founded, almost five years ago to the day, we identified several core themes to focus on:  

  • The potential for events to act as catalysts (both as the inspiration for projects and as focal points within them)  
  • Changing attitudes and perceptions towards disability and impairment (including self-perceptions)  
  • The importance of wellbeing   
  • The need to tackle loneliness   
  • Building healthier and happier communities  
  • Developing intergenerational relationships  
  • Making volunteering provision as good as it could be

Thought leaders are beginning to recognise the value of including Spirit and our partners 

We’re proud that these themes are increasingly central to the national conversation, and that thought leaders are beginning to recognise the value of including Spirit and our partners in it. For example, there is now a Minister responsible for a national loneliness strategy that sits across several government departments.

Understanding how government and the voluntary sector can contribute to wider community wellbeing is also a hot topic.  

Earlier this year the Government published its social integration strategy, and Professor Ted Cantle – with whom we have worked closely on our Breaking Boundaries project – has asked me to join the advisory group of Government and third sector representatives focused on this topic.

In the field of physical activity, the Scottish Government has invested over £2m through Spirit to encourage more people to be active, as well as to help build a more gender-equal society.

And Scotland isn’t alone in reflecting on the wider wellbeing value of physical activity – Sport England has just issued a call for evidence about the impact of sport and physical activity and volunteering on wellbeing to which we have responded.

At Westminster, the social impact of both sport and culture is currently the subject of a DCMS Select Committee enquiry and next week I am glad to have the opportunity to respond to their invitation to present oral evidence on Spirit’s experience of putting social impact at the heart of project evaluation.

In the arts and culture domain the wave of creativity, goodwill and pride that Hull 2017 UK City of Culture generated has been a big national story. We believe that Coventry 2021 will create a very different but equally successful boost to local pride, intercultural understanding and community wellbeing.

An increasingly prominent national story is the value of social prescribing. In many GP practices some 60+% of appointments are taken up by the same few people who suffer from loneliness, mental ill health and low mood.

If we could help those people become active, connected and/or creative and to feel happier about their lives, it would significantly relieve the stretched NHS and free up valuable resources.  

Hull City of Culture volunteers

Two of Hull City of Culture's amazing army of blue-clad volunteers

The expert and committed work of our grantees is at the coalface of all this.

Their projects add real value to people’s lives, and one of our tasks as their funder is to ensure they feel best equipped to reach those who can benefit most, and to inspire and empower people to improve their own wellbeing and that of their communities.

Now that Spirit is halfway through its ten-year endowment term, we have amassed a substantial body of learning through our grantees.

In turn, we have committed to sharing ideas, expertise and best practice with them. Today’s learning event is part of that commitment, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can achieve, celebrate and plan out, given a whole day of co-production with a real powerhouse collective of so many partners.  

There has never been a more important time to focus on collaboration: at the heart of our mission is the drive to improve individual and social wellbeing, increasing the store of personal happiness and building on what unites us, as people and within our communities, rather than what divides us. 

It’s what family is all about.