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The Spotlight Fund, revisited

Food being served at Growing Together Levenshulme

The Spotlight Fund, launched in Spring 2019, was the Oglesby Charitable Trust’s first open application fund, designed to help us increase support to North West organisations working with refugees and people seeking asylum. The Fund reached around 60 organisations and networks, and supported 10 organisations with grants totalling £313,640.  

As we approach the United Nations’ International Migrants Day (18th December 2021) we are sharing some reflections from this programme to date.

One of our internal goals for Spotlight was to gain insights into this sector by engaging with those 10 organisations. Almost three years later, none of us are where we imagined we would be: the Covid-19 crisis meant that many couldn’t deliver the work they had planned, and the usual opportunities for review and discussion were no longer possible or a priority.

In November 2021, hopeful that the most intense crisis mode had passed, we invited Spotlight grantees to meet with us again to share their experiences of this challenging period, their learning, and plans for the future. These conversations have been revealing – illuminating the real challenges and distress faced over the last 18 months; as well as reminding us of people’s resilience, alongside their ongoing concerns about the future.  Some of this feedback is shared below.


  • The level of basic need in the community is intense – for food, but also for laptops, mobile photos and data, and for social connection. Some described the community centres that had to close during lockdown as the only source of social connection for many in their community; 
  • There is a sense that this work is just a sticking plaster for a policy environment that has created these problems – and that worsened during the lockdowns;
  • Home working during lockdown highlighted the intense and distressing nature of some of the work; some staff struggled to provide phone support for traumatised people for fear of their own family members inadvertently coming within earshot. 

Resilience and determination

  • Organisations could not, and did not, turn their clients and community groups away, despite the challenges. Vaccine clinics were set up in charity premises; drop-ins mobilised to deliver food to people self-isolating; one charity spoke of providing multilingual support to people whilst they queued for their vaccinations.
  • Many organisations were inundated with requests for support, but despite this, they can now reflect on the quality of the deeper connections that they forged during this time;
  • Some displayed a heightened sense of their own agency, having successfully met new and changing demands under incredibly tough circumstances.

The future

  • More support needs to be offered to VCSE leaders who are at risk of burn-out;
  • More funding is needed to maintain pre-existing services alongside new, additional offers developed during the pandemic;
  • Organisations want to resume in-person services and see these as crucial to their work; many have embraced hybrid working for efficiency and improved accessibility – both are now a permanent dimension to the work.

 The challenges faced by this sector can feel insurmountable, and hostile national policies can make support efforts seem trifling. But hope for a more secure, integrated future for people seeking refuge was evident in the outpouring of public support we witnessed when Little Amal came to Manchester, and our city showed itself to be a place of multicultural welcome. It has also been evident in the conversations above, that touched on determination, perseverance and collaborations. 

It has been a privilege to spend time again with those organisations we first connected with back in 2019. We encountered a group that may be exhausted, but also continue to be powerful and unflinching allies and advocates for their communities. Some of these conversations led to further funding, others to non-financial support; for others, we have simply reaffirmed our commitment, and agreed to keep in touch.

As the number of displaced people in search of refuge continues to grow globally, we will continue to learn how our response here in Manchester can be most effective, and to reiterate our support for this under-funded, largely invisible work.

To find out more about the incredible people and organisations we connected to through Spotlight, please follow the links below:

4 Wings

BRASS Bolton

Broughton Boxing Academy

Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit

Growing Together Levenshulme

Liverpool Communities Link

Rainbow Haven

Refugee Women Connect

Safety 4 Sisters

Women Asylum Seekers Together


Louise Magill & Emily Vickers