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After a four-month closure, Arts Council England has reopened its project grants programme to more people and organisations than ever before.

ACE says it wants to fund live projects that can be delivered safely

Laura LaRose

Project grants are likely to be smaller or fewer in number as Arts Council England (ACE) reopens its funding programme with a reduced pot of money.

National Lottery Project Grants (NLPG) reopened for applications on Wednesday after a four-month closure during the coronavirus lockdown. £59.8m is available until April 2021, compared to £65.2m granted to projects over a period of the same length last year.

ACE used more than £140m of National Lottery money to create its £160m emergency response package back in March. It ringfenced some funding for future project grants at that time.


While ACE expects an initial spike in NLPG applications, fewer grants for National Activities – a significant bite of the NLPG budget – are anticipated in the coming months.

“National Activities … ordinarily supports high levels of touring work happening in venues that is unlikely to be in high demand for the first period,” a spokesperson said.

“Although we can never definitely predict demand, given the likely variation in demand for different activity types, we’re confident that we can manage the available funds to keep success rates stable.”

New conditions

Project grants applicants will need to prove they are coronavirus ready, ACE’s guidance says.

“If an activity involves working with the public, you will need to have a plan in place to do this as safely as possible and manage risks effectively.

“You’ll need to … tell us how you can feasibly deliver the project you’re proposing, and what you’ve done to make sure it is safely delivered. You’ll need to think about contingency plans if the situation changes.”

ACE says it wants the programme to be “more responsive to the needs of smaller independent organisations and individual practitioners”. 

A usual requirement for 10% match funding has been relaxed in response to the challenging funding environment at present and the funder is aiming for “at least equal” success rates for individuals and organisations while other programmes like Developing your Creative Practice remain closed.

The fund is also open to libraries for the first time. Library applicants will need to prove their project meets one of four Universal Library Offers – reading, culture and creativity, information and digital, and health and wellbeing – meaning projects that do not engage the public or fall under libraries’ statutory duties will not be eligible.

These changes were in the pipeline before NLPG was suspended. More significant changes to the programme are planned for Spring 2021 and will be the subject of consultation.

Looking forward

A post-coronavirus world will require different decisions around funding, ACE says.

“We know that we will receive a high number of applications, and we will need to prioritise where our investment can make a significant difference at the moment.”

The funder says it is “particularly keen” to support projects from individuals, research and organisational development projects, and “live activity that can be safely delivered within this period”.

It says it will make decisions on funding applications as quickly as possible – “more quickly than our standard turnarounds of six weeks for applicants under £15,000 and 12 weeks for applications over £15,000”.

However, it warns the return of project grants is by no means set in stone.

“We hope to keep the programme open, but we reserve the right to withdraw the programme at any time in response to changing circumstances relating to Covid-19.”