If you’re one of the 200,000 people lining the route of the annual Pride Community Parade, you’ll see The Rainbow Fund’s banner leading the way. If you’ve partied at Brighton Bear Weekend, enjoyed the Pride summer Games, been delighted by a 12-hour drag marathon or attended Pride’s Preston Park festival or Kemptown Village event, the chances are you’ve contributed towards the work this local independent charity fund.
While it no longer conducts its own fund raising, The Rainbow Fund originally began as a collective effort to construct a ground-breaking AIDS Memorial in Brighton’s New Steine. After this project’s completion, its founders looked at what kind of legacy their organisation would have. Now operating as a grant-giving hub, the Fund provides support for a wide range of local organisations.
With widespread cuts in local authority funding, their work is perhaps more important than ever. “The council used to have various budgets and schemes that could support local charities and organisations, but that money isn’t there now.,” Chris Gull, The Rainbow Fund’s chairman, tells me. “So, it is important that we’re there, especially for seed funding initiatives as needs change.” Often fledgling organisations encounter trouble engaging with most traditional funders, finding they are reluctant to get involved until there’s a track record. By working with new groups, The Rainbow Fund can respond quickly to an ever-evolving social environment.
Local voluntary bodies like MindOut, Lunch Positive, Allsorts, Sussex Beacon, Brighton Our Story, Older & Out, LGBT Community Safety Fourm, Pride Accessibility, Out In Brighton, FTM and GEMS have all benefited from grant funding. There’s an annual main grants round, where allocations are made by an Independent Grants Panel. Any volunteer-led organisation can apply for core funding, which covers running costs aside from staff wages. Everyone at the Rainbow Fund is also a volunteer, ensuring no salaries or operating costs are paid for by donated money. There are no overheads, beyond the certificate frames at grant-giving ceremonies. The scope of organisations it helps is eve-growing. “Work around people living with HIV has changed. 20 years ago, it was about supporting people who may die, nowadays it’s about supporting people who have survived and living with the effects of the early medications.” There’s also a lot of work with organisations supporting young people. Even now, there’s stigma around HIV and LGBT which can lead to bullying, leaving education early or isolation.
At the other end of the scale support is given to older members of the community. Many men were widowed during the spate of AIDS-related deaths. “There are also a lot of women who were the designated sibling to look after elderly and sick parents. They then find they haven’t built up enough money to get a decent pension or haven’t got partners. Where do they go, to build up a circle of friends and a support network?”
There’s now a move to look at working with projects which engage with the city’s homeless. “In Brighton about a third of rough sleepers are LGBT. A lot of them are youngsters who are there because they’ve been bullied or have been thrown out of home. They are sleeping rough and are really quite vulnerable.” The support the Fund offers is not just financial. They’ve become a useful hub for like-minded people. It actively encourages joint initiatives, connecting parties with a tangible synergy. Last year it also held an LGBT and HIV sector summit, discussing issues faced and how to work with people who were difficult to reach. The Fund is also a major force in creating a dedicated LGBT centre in the city.
He admits it’s difficult to pick a favourite moment. “If I am proud of anything, it’s the fact we’ve managed to support and enable a lot of work in the community with a relatively small amount. The way that we’re able to use that money to support volunteers, who provide a huge amount of services, that’s something we should be very proud of.” The work of the Rainbow Fund profoundly affects a complex local community, which faces a dynamic range of issues. And this community is only increasing in its diversity and requirements. “The only thing that unites us is that we have a minority sexuality. It’s a huge umbrella, but as far as we’re concerned the ‘sector’ that we support is made up of all kinds of different needs and opinions – and we’re trying to be there for the people that fall through the net.”
Or, if you’re attending the Brighton Pride weekend on Fri 3 – Sun 5 Aug, make sure you donate towards their vital work.