My 2027 programme experience – Mary Wilson

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Mary Wilson is a current associate on the 2027 programme. They joined 2027 and launched their career in grant-making in 2021 through a placement at the National Lottery Community Fund. In this blog, they talk about their experience applying to 2027, including some useful application tips, share insight into their job, and cover what the most valuable part of the programme is to them.

My placement experience

I work for the National Lottery Community Fund (TNLCF) which is the largest community funder in the UK in terms of reach and budget. I usually work from home, although we can book a desk in the office in advance if we choose to, however, it isn’t mandatory to be office based. On a typical day, I take grant applications from a queue and carry out a few legal checks before I can assess them fully. Most of the applications we receive are based around community groups, but these can be based around anything in terms of activities on offer or the beneficiaries. I’ve had (and funded) a range of applications from groups who wanted to offer a film club for the deaf to Afro Caribbean celebration festivals, domestic abuse survivors and single mothers groups, and then also, much smaller bids for things like community gardening classes.

I really like Friday mornings when applicants receive their email informing them their bid has been successful and the money is on its way to them. I once spoke to a customer over the phone who told me it was an early Christmas present to know her project could go ahead, and she had not stopped smiling all morning. I love being the difference between a yes or no decision, all influenced by my own life experiences.

What I valued the most about the development programme

  • Networking and making connections with my peers
  • The support – I’ve met people who offer support to each other, whether it’s been sharing knowledge to help us learn from each other or offering to call when someone (and that someone is me) simply needed a chat with another human being. 
  • The learning sessions – I enjoy the sessions because they allow opportunities for me to hear new perspectives and to hear from people who have decades of experience in their fields, something I would not have had the opportunity to experience in my previous roles.

The application process

I enjoyed the application process, largely because of how transparent it was from the first webinar. There was no jargon, no ambiguous statements or vague promises, but open, clear communication delivered in a friendly way by Ben and James (the 2027 team). I came away from that first webinar wanting to be on the programme more than I had before.

2027 are hosting another webinar on 24 March, 6 – 7 pm. Register here to come along by clicking here.

Application advice

Be honest. Don’t try to sound impressive in your interview by talking about what you think the interviewer wants to hear. I considered talking about work experiences in my interview, but it didn’t seem to fit or flow very well when I rehearsed and it didn’t feel like the side of myself I wanted to show. Be authentic. In my interview, I spent the first five minutes talking about a hobby and skill I’m learning that has nothing to do with grantmaking, but it helped to show who I am. It worked out!

The 2027 programme is currently open for applications and will close on 30 March, 1 pm. Apply by clicking here.

My 2027 programme experience – Jowita Szyszka

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Jowita Szyszka is a current associate on the 2027 programme, they joined 2027 and launched their career in grant-making in 2021 through a placement at the NHS Charities Together. In this blog, they talk about their experience applying to 2027, share insight into what they find valuable about the programme, and give advice to potential applicants.

My placement experience

I initially stumbled by 2027 during my search for work back in 2021. At the time, I was working 2 jobs in the third sector and doing an unofficial grant-making internship with an organisation I used to work for, so the programme seemed almost like a perfect fit, though I’d never really considered coming into the sector on my own before.

My experience itself has been quite unique, as I have now been on two placements after being made redundant from the first placement I was on. It’s been great to have the support and effort of the 2027 team behind me to organise another placement and I couldn’t be happier to be where I am now, which is at the NHS Charities Together

During a typical day, I’ll assess an application or report and ask for guidance on anything I need help with. However, not many days are the same as I’m prone to going on visits, team away days, or meetings, so every so often I actually spend my days either catching trains or planes or working away from home. Hopefully, as the country opens up in 2022, I’ll be looking to go on more site visits and see some of the projects we have funded. My organisation is still developing and changing, so there are a lot of things going on sometimes, but the team is extremely supportive, I don’t think I could survive without them!

What I value the most about the development programme

Connecting with my peers and developing a network

It’s really hard to think of the most meaningful experience on the programme as I’ve been privileged to have many. I think one of the things I’ve treasured the most so far, is the time I am able to spend with the other Associates. Everyone on the programme has been lonely and being able to talk to like-minded people is irreplaceable. I’ve had the pleasure to travel with my organisation, and knowing that there is an associate, willing to even meet me for lunch in a city is heart-warming, to say the least.

My growth as a person

The programme itself is a little bit different to what I originally expected, as it’s more focused on yourself and empowerment to make a change. As I’m used to being more academic and directed in my learning, it’s been a big learning curve, but I’m really happy to have had this development opportunity so far. I feel as though the programme has helped me grow a lot as a person and the way I think about my career and the sector as a whole.

Application process insights 

  • The application process happens from January to August, so be prepared that it’s a lengthier recruitment process than for a regular job
  • Have fun! I was surprised at the range of assessment activities and things we participated in, but they were honestly great fun
  • Keep in mind you’ll be finding out your outcome from July to August. I think the only thing that made it stressful was how long it took to find out my outcome but when I did, it was the best news I could expect! I was then matched and signed my contract with an organisation within the space of about a week, which was pretty extraordinary

My advice to applicants

  • Don’t let imposter syndrome get in the way!
  • Be proactive and open
  • Reach out to others for help –  be realistic that sometimes your placement may be challenging and you’ll be going against the grain depending on what organisation you’re in but don’t shy away from reaching out to others; they’ll be your saving grace in the moments you feel like pulling your hair out
  • Put in what you’d like to get out of the programme – the programme is what you make of it. It really pays off to be active, try different things and get others involved, that’s when you really have interesting conversations and develop a drive to change 

The 2027 programme is currently open for applications and will close on 30 March, 1 pm. Apply by clicking here.

The 2027 team are also running a live information session, 24 March, 1 pm. Register your attendance here.

My 2027 programme experience – Kathy Siddle

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Kathy Siddle is an associate of the 2027 programme, they joined 2027 and launched their career in grant-making in 2019 through a placement at the Smallwood Trust. In this blog, they talk about why it’s important 2027 exists, share insight into what it’s like working in a foundation or trust, and the most valuable part of the development programme for them.

My placement experience

When I found out about the 2027 programme, I decided to apply due to two major reasons. I believed the programme was something that would upskill me, and give me job opportunities, which as an older applicant, I felt were often closed off. At the same time, I felt it would give me a focus on relevant and current issues, giving me the opportunity to explore these more deeply and allowing me to see how I could effect change.

Through the programme, I was placed in the Smallwood Trust, a grant-making organisation that supports women on low incomes, and I fulfilled the role of Grant Manager. The initial 3 months in the role were challenging due to my organisation receiving COVID emergency funds that had to be spent in 3 – 4 months. This challenge did teach me lots of very practical, grant-making skills, although, I felt a divide from the discussion issues on my 2027 days. However, once we got to the end of the grant run, I saw that my organisation was also interested in working to create systems change for the individual women we support, which then helped me connect my placement to the programme discussion topics.

The specific responsibilities I completed in my role were varied, starting at the point of checks, and contracts, (post-assessment), through to being responsible for up to 99 organisations. Throughout, I was called upon to do data analysis in my role; I had little experience of this pre-2027 but as I was given support in my placement, I was able to grow into this role and enjoy it. I also became responsible for my organisation’s commitment to the IVAR Principles (set of principles to make grant reporting a shared, more meaningful and mutually beneficial experience) with discussions to shape this meaningfully for my organisation. Another area where I was able to grow my knowledge was when I became involved in the Participatory Grantmaking Community. While my organisation eventually went down the route of co-production rather than PGM, I continue to grow my understanding and see lots of cross-over between these two approaches.  

What I valued the most about the development programme

Every part of the programme taught me something, was useful and enjoyable, however,

  • The Master Classes – I loved this aspect, it gave me training and insight to help me grow my knowledge of the grant-making sector and develop new skills for my career growth
  • The network of peers – I think what made the programme most interesting overall was having a group of people who were going through similar journeys, and you always had someone to call upon. Even though the formal programme has now ended for my cohort year, we have continued to share problems online and look to each other for support.

Why should people apply to 2027?

If you’re thinking of applying, do it! It’s a wonderful opportunity to:

  • Learn new skills, 
  • Have time to consider wider issues 
  • Meet a bunch of people, who while going through quite different journeys, are basically heading in the same direction and provide a realm of support 

It’s important that the 2027 programme exists as it’s a way of bringing people into the grantmaking world who have lived, practised, or learnt experience of structural inequities; and who can bring that to bear on grantmaking. It provides a great opportunity for associates to not only learn through the Master Classes but to be exposed to other skills and wider sector and societal issues. The programme can only exist and change can only happen if people with the latter experience apply, so if this sounds like you, go for it!

The 2027 programme is currently open for applications and will close on 30 March, 1 pm. Apply by clicking here.

My 2027 programme experience – Kayzi Ambridge

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Kayzi Ambridge is a current associate on the 2027 programme. She joined 2027 and launched her career in grant-making in 2021 through a placement at the National Lottery Community Fund. In this blog, she talks about her experience applying to 2027, including some useful application tips, share insight into her placement and covers what she wished she’d known before starting the programme.

My placement experience

I found out about the 2027 programme through my volunteering work in the community and applied to 2027 due to my relevant experience supporting communities. At the time I applied I was working on multi-agency flooding related issues and supporting affected communities. Outside of my work life, I volunteered in the community, supporting European nationals to obtain their Settled Status to remain living, studying and working in the UK.

Through the 2027 programme, I have been placed with the National Lottery Community Fund. In my role as Funding Officer, I have been able to use my community and thematic knowledge of our local patch from my volunteering which has informed and provided additional insight to our collective decision making. From day 1, I have been able to get stuck in and contribute. Due to COVID, I’ve not been out and about in the community as much as I would have liked but it’s still early days and I’m looking forward to throwing myself back into visiting funded projects as I’ve always loved the community engagement aspect of all my jobs.

In terms of organisational culture, my team are great! It’s an inclusive culture, very supportive and we’re always open to learning from each other.

The application process

When applying to 2027, I was impressed with the recruitment process. I normally am terrible at applying for roles with competency-based questions even though I knew I could do the job (possibly due to my dyslexia and other neurodiverse conditions). However, I found the 2027 application process to be independent, impartial, refreshingly and consciously unbiased. You are assessed on attitude, co-operation and potential rather than having an established track record in grant funding. I remember being so amazed at the rich diversity reflected in my 2027 cohort. I would encourage potential candidates to put themselves forward to be the change they wish to see in terms of increased diversity in the grant-funding sector.

All recruitment should be like this! The 2027 recruitment process looks for reasons why to include candidates who fit the behavioural aspects in an equal way and not through an adversarial unequal power dynamic process that seeks to exclude them.

Application advice

Go for it!
I didn’t think for the life of me that I would achieve a place on the 2027 Programme. However, I was curious, got out of my comfort zone and I’m now 5 months into the programme. If you have doubts like mine about being successful, my advice is to give yourself permission, take a chance and have a go.

Your lived experience will shine through and you have nothing to lose. I even found the assessments fun and not scary at all, the 2027 team really want to see and get the best out of you.

Specific application tips

• Read the instructions and take your time
• Ask someone you trust to review what you have written
• Be honest, open, and be yourself
• Check the 8 competencies and make sure that you have covered them in your application
• Ask questions – James, Ben, Dean and the rest of the 2027 crew are really constructive, supportive, and I have full confidence in them (which is a rare thing for me to say!). Feel free to contact them if you have any queries or concerns, especially around reasonable adjustments, I have found 2027 really accommodating towards my workplace challenges

Things I wish I’d known before starting the programme

• Don’t worry about whether you are too old … or too young! It’s the quality of your lived experience that counts; don’t let yourself (or more importantly others) put you off applying because of ageist beliefs

• 2027 is not a competition it is a collaboration, you will learn so much from your peers on the 2027 programme. We support each other and celebrate their successes as well as our own, similarly we support each other when things don’t go so well.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity! I’m glad I’ve invested in ME through the 2027 Programme and taken a chance to see what potential I have, what I can do and to be the best I can be using my lived experience to inform funding decision making.

The 2027 programme is currently open for applications and will close on 27 April at 1 pm. Apply by clicking here.

2027 – A Look To The Future On Expertise in Grant Making

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The Big Lottery Fund, the UK’s largest funder of community activity across the UK, has today announced a grant of more than £500k of National Lottery funding to support 2027’s work to bring new experts into the grant making sector.



The Big Lottery Fund’s grant to 2027 will last over ten years and seeks to achieve long-term lasting change by diversifying the voices, expertise and experience in a field that was last week revealed to be 99% white, 68% male and 74% above median income at trustee level.

The Big Lottery Fund’s ambition is to support people to have the confidence and power to influence decisions that affect their life and their community. What better place to start than ensuring those involved in funding decisions are reflective of the communities funders seek to support.

Most people know little about the world of grant making and wouldn’t see themselves as working for a trust or foundation. People who are frontline workers themselves from working class communities are likely to feel that such careers simply ‘aren’t for them’ even though the value they can bring to us as grant makers is vast.

This is exactly the challenge that the 2027 coalition is helping us and other funders to overcome – they are running a leadership programme for brilliant frontline workers from diverse, working class communities to help them take placements (and later careers) in the world of grant-making.

This is a really exciting opportunity for the foundation and grant-making sector to reap the benefits of having diversity in our staff teams. We can become more knowledgeable, innovative and well-rounded – making better decisions about the issues impacting on communities. Momentum is building and 2027 provide reason for optimism!

Bringing lived experiences into grant making

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Great funding practice is an ongoing conversation between a foundation and the communities they wish to support. The issue many of us in the foundation sector are trying to resolve is how we can embed these experiences and perspectives meaningfully as a core part of our operations.



Much like the wider society we operate in, the foundation sector lacks diverse voices within positions of power. Recent data published from the Association of Charitable Foundations revealed that 60% of trustees on foundation boards over the age 65, 99% are white and most are recruited through close pre-existing networks. While many in our sector may be well versed in holding consultations and focus groups with the various community groups that we work with, it creates an uncomfortable divide between those within leadership and decision-making roles, from predominately white and middle class backgrounds, and those expert by experience who are sometimes mined for their knowledge or included when we need them. We need a far better integration of people with lived experiences working within our organisations in a more meaningful way.


This is why Esmée Fairbairn Foundation are thrilled to support the 2027 programme; a 12-month placement programme that places talented frontline workers with lived experience of social issues or injustice into funding roles within the foundation sector. Crucial within these roles, is the opportunity for each Associate on the programme to use both their skills and experiences to make strategic and meaningful decisions about where and how funding is allocated. More broadly, the programme will also give us an opportunity to learn and take a fresh look at expertise, diversity and equality in everything we do from recruitment practice to decision making. There is also a 2027 campaign for better governance which encourages foundations commit to ensuring that a minimum of 40% of their trustees identify as from the communities they most exist to serve by 2027.


Foundations are an integral part of the civil society and, as the world we operate in changes, then so must we.  This is about building better funding practice and developing alongside colleagues that bring different expertise and experience.. As the programme launches in October, we look forward to hosting two Associates at Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and we look forward very much to welcoming them.


For more information on the program see

Interested in hosting an Associate? Please contact Jake Hayman ay