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The Phoenix Way: 2023 Reflections from Yvonne Field OBE

December 15th, 2023

As I reflect on the development and achievements of The Phoenix Way over the past year, I am reminded of the famous following quote by Margaret Mead: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’   

The level of dedication shown by The Phoenix Way (TPW) Partners, a group of 12 experienced community leaders from Black and racially minoritised communities representing six regions across England has been quite extraordinary. We originally came together to co-design and implement the £2.4m Phoenix Fund in 2020 as a response to the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on our communities. We developed a participatory grant making approach which centred racial equity. Since then, we have continued working together holding a shared commitment to increase investment in our communities and create more equitable outcomes in grant making for Black and racially minoritised groups across the UK. We have also begun to develop a five-year vision to ultimately transform the UK’s grant-making system.

Our culturally diverse partnership supports different leaders and leadership styles, differing levels of experience as well as various perspectives and approaches, (not all People of Colour think or behave the same!) We have invested thousands of hours since 2021, attending over-night sessions, day-long and evening meetings to gradually get to know each other, strategise and plan and to create trust. Given our shared colonial and more recent histories which were built on the premise of divide and rule, creating strong and trusting relationships has not been an easy task. 

This journey has needed real resilience; the creation of several work strands and common agreements as well as establishing systems and processes has all occurred alongside leading and, in several cases, growing our own sub regional, regional and/or national organisations. One of the most exciting developments over the past 6 months is the beginning of rebuilding regional infrastructure: regional and sub-regional groups are convening; new staff are being employed to help provide much needed systems of support to local organisations.

Of course, we cannot mention The Phoenix Way, without referring to the funding.  The establishment of The Phoenix Fund (within TPW) occurs within a wider partnership. TPW collaborated with Global Fund for Children (GFC) to secure £13.7m over three years from funders including The Youth Endowment Fund and The Lloyds Bank Foundation.

As grant administrators, GFC continue to walk beside us offering their 30 years expertise in grant making and management, assuming some of the risk as the accountable body, and offering professional guidance and support when required. This allyship allows us to focus on the important task of partnership building, developing our grant making strategy as well as designing and delivering other key strands of work including Regional Infrastructure, Leadership Development and Systems Change. TPW is still in conversation with The National Lottery Community Fund about the £50m ring-fence which will hopefully be signed off early next year.

Earlier this year, we deployed £1m of funding to support work with Children and Young People at risk of becoming involved in violence, through a cost-of-living emergency fund. We awarded 50 Black and racially minoritised led organisations £20k each towards their core costs. A new funding pot for £2m closed in early December. We invited applications of up to £50k from across England and Wales to support project-based costs. 

Small but significant differences are already emerging because of our grant making strategy; the learning and impact of this work will be captured by BRAP and Clearview Research helping to shape our future endeavours.

It is extremely difficult to write a ‘good news’ story against the backdrop of the devastating war that continues to rage in the Middle East, particularly when members of communities that TPW supports are being impacted. However, our first gathering of Phoenix Grantee Partners took place in Leeds recently and shed light on the positive work that TPW is now supporting and the stories of exclusion, lack of recognition and under investment shared by Grantee Partners strengthened our commitment to this work.

Yvonne Field OBE: Lead Convener, The Phoenix Way

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