Esmee Fairbairn Foundation – Main Grants

The Foundation aims to improve the quality of life for people throughout the UK by supporting work that focuses on the arts, children and young people, the environment, food and social change.

Maximum value: £ 500,000

Objectives of Fund

The Foundation aims to improve the quality of life throughout the UK and takes pride in supporting work that might otherwise be considered difficult to fund.

The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation has launched a new funding strategy, which provides much more definition about what the Foundation will fund and details of its plans to introduce a single funding platform and develop an impact and effectiveness framework.

Value Notes

Applicants should apply for the amount that they need. The Foundation does not set limits and makes grants across a fairly wide spectrum of sizes. However, the Foundation rarely makes grants that are smaller than £5,000 and it makes only a small number of grants in excess of £500,000. It is unusual for the Foundation to give a grant of this size or larger to an organisation with which it does not already have a relationship.

Funding is available for core or project costs, and this includes staff salaries and overheads

Match Funding Restrictions

Match funding is not required. However, it may help to have funding commitments from other sources and a credible investment raising plan.

Who Can Apply

The Foundation invites applications from charities and not-for-profit organisations that are properly constituted and benefit a group of people in the United Kingdom.


The following will not be supported:

  • Work that does not have a direct benefit in the UK.
  • General appeals or circulars.
  • Grants to individuals or to causes that will benefit only one person, including student grants or bursaries.
  • Work that is common to many parts of the UK such as:

o    Mainstream activities of organisations that are part of a wider network (including branches of national organisations).

o    Services that are provided in similar ways in many locations such as refuges, hostels, night shelters and standard services for homeless people, sports associations, playgroups, play schemes, out of school clubs, supplementary schools, playgroups, youth clubs, and general capacity building/ professional development.

o    Routine work to improve employability skills such as training on CV writing, interview skills, literacy, numeracy, communication, ESOL courses and activities to increase self-confidence.

o    Routine information and advice work.

  • Recreational activities including outward bound courses and adventure experiences.
  • Capital costs including building work, renovations, and equipment.
  • Energy efficiency or waste reduction schemes such as recycling or renewable energy schemes unless they have exceptional social benefits.
  • Healthcare or related work such as medical research, complementary medicine, hospices, counselling and therapy, arts therapy, education about and treatment for drug and alcohol misuse
  • Work that is primarily the responsibility of central or local government, health trusts or health authorities. This includes residential, respite and day care, housing provision, individual schools, nurseries and colleges or a consortium of any of these, and vocational training.
  • Funding to replace or subsidise statutory income, although rare exceptions may be made where the level of performance has been exceptional and where the potential impact of the work is substantial.
  • The independent education sector.
  • Animal welfare, zoos, captive breeding and animal rescue centres.
  • The promotion of religion.
  • Retrospective funding.
  • Work that is not legally charitable.


Eligible Expenditure

The Main Fund is open to requests for support across the following broad range of interests:

The Arts

The Foundation wants to support the artistic and financial sustainability of the sector and make sure that the widest range of people can participate. Funding is available to support core costs, periods of transition and risk-taking.

Funding priorities are as follows:

  • Organisations at a pivotal point – organisationally or artistically – funding for successful, stable organisations trying out new business models, governance or staffing structures, or artistic programmes. Ideally they will be working with other organisations to develop innovative collaborations and partnerships. The Foundation is interested in how these changes can help organisations become sustainable and resilient and how this might encourage the broader sector to adopt new models.
  • Development of emerging talent – funding established organisations to nurture the next generation of artists. The Foundation expects open and accessible recruitment processes and an awareness of potential barriers, for example for artists with a disability. These programmes will provide genuine support and contact and offer progression routes or good signposting opportunities after they have ended. There should be a link between the emerging artists and the organisation’s main artistic programme.
  • Art as an instrument for social change, community cohesion or participation – funding for programmes that use the arts to address social change. They should offer artistic excellence and social impact. The Foundation is looking for programmes that address difficult issues and/or increase the participation, involvement and engagement of harder to reach groups. Priority will be given to projects that link arts and social change organisations and offer opportunities for further development.

The Foundation wants to see the following as a result of its funding:

  • Organisations and artists testing out new practice without compromising their financial situation and/or artistic reputation.
  • A better long-term artistic future for the organisation or individual, with a wider funding/earned income base and an enhanced profile, skills and network.
  • A better experience for audiences and participants as a result of the organisation’s new model/practice.
  • Genuine, long term social change, with future pathways/sign-posting for participants.
  • Opportunities for engagement to continue and the breaking down of barriers through the participants’ involvement with the arts organisation.

Children and Young People

The Foundation supports the social, emotional and learning needs of those young people at greater risk of being left behind educationally or who have been left behind. Funding is available for work that challenges public policies and practices that reinforce educational inequality. The Foundation supports early intervention and long-term support. Applications for unorthodox approaches, work that looks at the whole picture and does not ‘treat’ its users in isolation are welcomed. Where the Foundation sees a particular gap it will partner with a specialist funder or solicit a cluster of applications.

Funding priorities are as follows:

  • Early years’ development – funding will focus on early years (0-7 years) services where the Foundation can have the most impact. The Foundation is interested in the social and emotional development of children as well as their learning. Support is available for work that involves parents in educational and care services, work that provides stability for children during early years (particularly those at risk of entering the care system) and that get children ready to enter school.
  • The rights of vulnerable children and young people – the Foundation’s main focus is on children aged 5 –18 years within the school system. The Foundation aims to protect their rights and provide long term investment to tackle persistent inequalities that are difficult for others to support. The Foundation is interested in ambitious, expansive and innovative programmes of work to level the playing field for more disadvantaged children. The Foundation believes this is best done by backing organisations that ask questions of, as opposed to alleviating the symptoms in, the system. For this reason, funding is available for whole system approaches, rather than direct delivery in schools.
  • Addressing root causes of low educational attainment and challenging behaviour – support for long-term interventions, holistic approaches and second chance opportunities for 14-25 year-olds from challenging backgrounds or those who did not get the most out of the education system (such as care leavers, pupils with special educational needs and gang-affected-girls). The Foundation focuses on exacting and unconventional work that addresses young people’s overall emotional wellbeing rather than a single outcome, such as employment. The Foundation is looking for long term impact.
  • Civic and political participation for young people under-represented in decision-making – The Foundation is interested in organisations that can nurture and provide progression routes for young people who are under-represented in decision-making. The Foundation supports organisations able to help create young leaders and challenge systems. The Foundation is looking for work that inspires leadership, enables social mobility and social action and encourages enterprise.

The Foundation wants to see the following as a result of its funding:

  • The identification of unmet needs and a plan to meet them. This could include supporting those children and young people not yet identified in policy or services, such as gang-affected-girls.
  • A lasting impact beyond the lifespan of the programme.
  • Campaign work that ‘speaks truth to power’, advances the rights of the powerless and changes policy, including at a local level.
  • More young people taking up leadership roles and becoming involved in civic engagement.

The Environment

The Foundation aims to address environmental degradation and biodiversity loss, and challenge environmental inequality in people’s lives. The Foundation funds organisations that see people and communities as an asset to support the sector’s sustainability and take positive and practical action to address environmental challenges.

Funding priorities are as follows:

  • Connecting people with nature – the Foundation funds organisations that know their communities well and encourage them to engage with nature, enjoy it and take action to protect it. They can sustain this and, where appropriate, develop it into more meaningful engagement to improve the environment. The Foundation is particularly interested in projects that prioritise groups that may be disconnected from nature, for example in urban areas.
  • Large-scale conservation of natural environments on land and at sea – the Foundation favours conservation work on land delivered at a larger scale rather than confined to specific locations or species (i.e. conservation along ‘linear pathways’ such as hedgerows, cycle routes and canal towpaths to emphasise the interdependence of the natural world). This approach is ambitious, involves expansive thinking and planning, and relies on collaboration, for example between landholders, communities and statutory bodies. The Foundation wants to build resilience to the multiple threats faced by our seas through raising awareness and adapting practice to strengthen the health of sea life in the UK’s coastal waters. The Foundation aims to protect and encourage a better appreciation of its natural heritage. This is linked to the economic viability and cohesion of coastal communities that depend on the sea for their future prosperity and, in turn, relates to their culture, heritage and sense of place.
  • Countering the effects of damaging human activities – poor quality environments have an unequal impact on communities (e.g. people without access to parks and open spaces are more vulnerable to the effects of pollution). The Foundation is interested in work that exposes and challenges harmful practices at all levels – in local communities as well as UK-wide. Support is also available for work that mitigates the effects of climate change through community based projects, especially those that can demonstrate both social and economic value (e.g. renewable energy to reduce fuel poverty).
  • Lesser known plants, animals and organisms – the Foundation recognises the vital value of plants, animals and organisms in sustaining and improving life. Many are little acknowledged and so support is available for work that increases understanding of their value in underpinning life and important systems. The Foundation wants to highlight the value of aspects such as soil health and uncharismatic plants in enhancing the natural environment and our quality of life.

The Foundation wants to see the following as a result of its funding:

  • Greater and long term individual and community involvement, ownership and stewardship.
  • Change in culture and systems through engagement with statutory, policy and regulatory decision-makers, as well as change in broader attitudes and behaviours.
  • Work that appeals beyond ‘green’ audiences and provides practical solutions.
  • Outcomes that are not exclusively environmental.

Social Change

The Foundation backs work that contributes to a just and inclusive society at every level (individual, community and system). The Foundation believes that the best solutions are built by and for communities so funding is available to enable them to thrive and deliver long term impact, whether by place or particular theme. Support is available for work that removes barriers preventing marginalised and isolated people from participating and making a valuable contribution to society. Funding also aims to protect and promote the rights of those who suffer the effects of systemic, cultural and institutional injustice.

Funding priorities are as follows:

  • Participation – marginalised and excluded individuals and groups – the Foundation believes that there are many people, including the increasing ageing population, with valuable contributions to make to their communities, workplaces and wider society. Often outside factors prevent them doing so – poor institutional practice, a lack of connections, taboos, isolation, prejudice or discrimination. The Foundation works with organisations that are led by these communities, overcoming the barriers to participation. The Foundation aims to position people within broader communities to avoid the unintended consequence of dissociation.
  • Place – revitalising community life – the Foundation funds independent organisations rooted in their community. They are best placed to identify and channel the potential of an area. They can exploit opportunities for coordinated community action and make the best of their connections with other agencies. These organisations are based in economically marginalised, isolated communities and/or work with a particular group of excluded or vulnerable people. They are the driving force or ‘anchor’ for that community, providing stability, identity and the potential for renewal. They create the conditions where people themselves generate ideas and activities. With their communities, they encourage active citizenship, ownership and participation to remove barriers to social exclusion and poverty. In particular, the Foundation looks at less predictable and practical ways of anchoring communities such as village shops, arts, food, community transport and energy.
  • Injustice – systemic change around injustice and inequality – the Foundation aims to raise awareness of issues or uncomfortable viewpoints about unfairness for particular sectors of society. These issues are often complex, divisive, entrenched, unpopular and uncomfortable. They can be characterised by silence, social pressure and a lack of understanding. The Foundation supports organisations that protect the rights of people who are more vulnerable to popular prejudice, harmful action or inaction by public authorities. They will routinely identify principles and practical measures that will guide and result in reform. The Foundation looks for work that strengthens democratic, representative and transparent institutions. Support is available for programmes led by expert, tenacious and fearless people who can articulate what is needed. The Foundation is looking for a commitment to evidence and rational debate with realistic outcomes that are likely to make change a possibility.

The Foundation wants to see the following as a result of its funding:

  • Ownership and voice for those who are not heard in the process of change.
  • Greater understanding and momentum around an issue or a constituency group.
  • Greater opportunities and potential for those in the most neglected communities.
  • Change in culture and systems through engagement with decision makers, as well as change in broader attitudes and behaviours.
  • Ambitious, long term plans, underpinned by practical improvements and steps towards reform or renewal.

How To Apply


Applications may be made at any time.

Frequency: Rolling Programme.

Link to guidelines

Useful information:

Applicants should first complete the online eligibility quiz.

The Foundation operates a two stage application process. First Stage application forms are available to complete online at the Foundation’s website.

Successful applicants will then be invited to complete a Second Stage application form.

To find out what other funding is available in your area please visit TVA’s Funding Portal by clicking here

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