After an infuriating three-week period of being 'under embargo,' we can now tell the world our news. Old Trafford News has won the lottery! And what's more, we didn't even have to buy a ticket. In their impeccable wisdom, the awards panel at the Big Lottery Fund have agreed to fork out precisely £143,497 to cover the core costs of our project over the next three years. So if you've ever bought a lottery ticket or a scratch card, thank you, I owe you. If you've bought about 144,000 scratchcards lately, then I guess you own me. I'll give you a backie on my bike to the super-casino when it opens.
I'll confess to a modicum of smugness. Just appplying for Lottery funding is an ordeal. It involves two separate application stages; each of which requires you to disentangle a raft of near-impenetrable questions and then answer them with brevity and clarity and supported by externally verifiable quantitative data. Imagine sitting an examination that has been set by Michel Foucault which you know will be marked by a four-year-old.
If you can actually make enough sense of the application form to submit your bid, that's just the beginning. If you get through the initial appraisal, you can expect a telephone interview from an assessor, who will carefully pick apart every sentence of your bid - if you cannot easily explain or justify your claims you're in trouble. Our first interview went on so long that our assessor went hypoglycaemic and needed three days to recover, after which he phoned back to complete the process. The combined calls took nearly two hours.
After that, it really is out of your hands. A mysterious panel of wise men and women meet in an enchanted castle somewhere in Northumberland, looming across a round oak table with incense burning and magical incantations hanging from the walls, to consider the applications and point their imperial thumbs up or down. (Some of the above may not be strictly true.)
On this round of awards, the panel had a budget of £150 million to give away. It sounds like a lot, until you learn that the bids submitted totalled £1.5 billion. For every pound they give away, about ten pounds are refused. We managed to stumble over the finishing line. Many other projects fell at the last hurdle. To put this in perspective, I began the process of applying last May. The decision was made at the end of January. That's about nine months of work and stress, nine months of keeping fingers crossed.
So all our smug celebrations are tinged with sympathy and sadness for other community and voluntary projects who didn't get the money they needed. Many of these will have been excellent and necessary projects, and their failure to win funding means people will lose their jobs, communities will lose resources; life-changing opportunities for those in need will simply never arise. Many of these bids will have been rejected because the people involved just aren't as good at filling in forms, not because they are not brilliant as community development workers, youth workers, sports coaches, mentoring administrators or whatever. The community and voluntary sector is vital to the social fabric and welfare of the nation and in financial terms we are scrabbling around for the scrapings from the barrel. Meanwhile the lottery pot is being raided for the London Olympics - but I'll save that debate for another day.
There's a popular joke within the community sector that the most surefire way of getting money out of the National Lottery is to buy a ticket. So with due apologies to all those who didn't, we bloody won it!