By News Reporters

Fund target area.
Projects need to benefit the target area, which is also the BID area.

Something must have pricked Derwent London’s corporate conscience, for the real estate investment trust have announced a financial package of £250,000 towards community projects in Fitzrovia, an area where they hold a large amount of property.

The announcement this week comes ahead of the start of one of their most controversial construction projects — the part-demolition and redevelopment of the Saatchi & Saatchi building in Charlotte Street which was given approval by Mayor Boris Johnson after being rejected by Camden Council.

Rather tellingly, Derwent have said “The communities in which we operate are becoming more vocal and knowledgeable about development activity. As a result it becomes ever more important that we maintain our high standards and willingness to engage with stakeholders.”

But how far does that willingness extend?

Several of Fitzrovia’s charities and community groups have now been invited to bid for the share of £200,000 of grant aid, while £50,000 will be kept back to administer the fund and held for contingencies. The fund will have a life-span of three to five years and can only be used in a tightly defined geographic area and which coincides with the business improvement district (BID) they masterminded and brought into being in August 2012. Another scheme that was itself laced with controversy.

Community groups will be invited to bid for a share of £70,000 in June and July 2013 with the balance of the money being opened for bids during the fund’s life-span.

Derwent say the Fitzrovia community funding programme has been worked up in close co-operation with Camden Council’s officers and local councillors to ensure the grant aid suits the local context. But much of the development of the programme emerged from research carried out by community engagement organisation Soundings who descended on Fitzrovia in 2012 canvassing opinions from local people about Derwent London.

“Following on from this research exercise, Derwent London have developed a community investment strategy which will make funding, as well as investments in kind, available for local groups,” say Derwent.

This June local groups will be invited to bid for a share of £60,000 to deliver two large projects with at least one of the projects delivering “physical improvements to a public space or street environment” within the Fitzrovia business improvement district area. Other project proposals will need to demonstrate another form of community benefit in the same district area.

In July groups will be given the opportunity to bid for a share of £10,000 for smaller projects.

Derwent London are also offering “investments in kind through staff contributing their time and offering their skills to community projects”, and for a trial period they will offer their gallery space on Whitfield Street for community use.

The announcement by Derwent is likely to be welcomed by community groups operating within the Fitzrovia BID many of whom face declining funding opportunities while experiencing rising costs.

However, there is only a three-week window in which to submit applications for a share of £60,000 and then there will be a second stage process in early July where groups who have their project short-listed will be asked to make a presentation in front of their peers.

Community workers who spoke to Fitzrovia News complained it was a very short time scale to design and cost a project and have it submitted for the deadline of 20 June. The project guidelines also rule out funding for core costs (the money that is needed to help run organisations and contribute to overheads like rent). These will have to be met by other funding.

More progressive funders allow organisations to apply for full cost recovery. Community organisations working in inner London face much higher core costs because of having to pay high rents due to the rising land values, factors that actually benefit landowners like Derwent London.

Our sources criticised Derwent London for being too impatient to see visible results of projects, particularly environmental improvements in their newly created business improvement district, without looking to improve the financial sustainability of Fitzrovia’s voluntary sector. Rather than investing in communities they appear to be bolstering the value of their own business improvement district.

Derwent London were heavily criticised for not providing enough quantity of new open space within their forthcoming Saatchi block redevelopment. Now they are looking for voluntary sector organisations to improve the quality of the existing open spaces and streets without being prepared to pay the full costs.

While it is admirable of Derwent to offer payment in kind by their own staff contributing as volunteers to projects, volunteers do need to be managed and there are costs associated with this. Use of space for community activities and exhibitions is likely to be broadly welcomed.

Soundings, also no strangers to controversy, will be processing the applications on behalf of Derwent London who will make the final decision on awarding the grants within four weeks of the project presentations. Derwent London expect the projects to be delivered by mid 2014.

Update 7 June 2013: Derwent London have now told us they have extended the application deadline to 30 June 2013 (large projects) and 15 July 2013 (small projects) for the first tranche of this funding.

Update 10 June 2013: Having realised 30 June is a Sunday, Derwent London and Soundings have now announced deadline for receipt of applications for large-scale projects until 5pm on Monday 1st July 2013.

More information and how to apply is on Derwent London’s website.