All not-for-profit organisations face the ongoing challenge of raising funds for their major projects and ensuring their organisation is on a sustainable financial footing. Although having a steady regular base of funding is important to keep the organisation going on a daily basis, specific projects will usually need to find particular sources of income. This page gives you some ideas of where to look for funds and some tips on how to apply, along with those grant funds that are available through Community Rail Network.


Funding available through Community Rail Network

Community Rail Network administers a number of grant schemes, on behalf of national and regional government and some train operators. The current schemes include the Community Rail Development Fund, Small Grants Fund (England), the Integrated Sustainable Transport in Community Rail Grant Fund, the Transport for Greater Manchester Small Grants Fund and the South Western Railway Station Adoption Fund. You can find out more about these on our dedicated page.


Other rail specific funding

Most train operators now have their own funding for community rail. Some of this is done through providing core funding for community rail partnerships, however many also operate schemes in to which you can bid. If you don’t already know what funds your train operator provides then get in touch with their community rail, communities or stakeholder manager.

Network Rail do not provide specific funding for community rail projects, although they will often be a key partner in any projects involving their property. However, all of their staff have volunteer hours they can dedicate to projects over the year. Find out more here.

The Railway Heritage Trust can provide grants and advice on the repair, conservation and restoration of certain buildings that are owned by, leased from or to be sold by Network Rail or the Highways England Historical Railways Estate. Do make sure you check the criteria carefully though and they’re always happy to talk through your project.


General sources of funding

To find out more about sources of funding, you can draw on a number of national and local sources of information on grant providers, such as NCVO’s Funding Central and your local community foundation. The Prince’s Trust has a great list of organisations who make a variety of grants, as does the Getting Funding website. The Rural Services Network has a monthly digest of potential funding sources.

A whole range of grants are funded through the National Lottery, with the The National Lottery Community Fund especially relevant to a lot of community rail projects. A full list of National Lottery grants is also available.

Many grant-giving bodies are currently prioritising or exclusively giving to support organisations get through coronavirus. NCVO has helpful advice on contingency planning and dealing with financial implications and Locality also has a regularly updated list of funding sources available.

Community Rail Network works with a number of organisations who are able to offer free advice and guidance to our members. The Plunkett Foundation is available to support people setting up or running community businesses.

If you are aware of other funding streams available that are especially relevant to community rail, send us an email and we’ll feature it.

Government grants

Government departments often offer grant funds. Some of these, such as the Department for Transport’s community rail funds, are provided via other organisations such as Community Rail Network, but if you have a project that may be of benefit beyond just the rail industry there are often other sources of funding. Find out more here.

Local funds

Although local authority funding has reduced in recent years, they usually still hold a number of grant schemes. Many councils also have staff who can help advise you on where to find funds for local projects. If your community rail partnership is hosted by the council there may be restrictions on what you can bid for, but it should also be easier to access advice from other council departments. Many councils also have ward, division or area committee funding pots that local councillors can direct towards community projects they support.

Check on the council website to see if they offer help to organisations to find funding or to help you write grant applications. Some councils (see this example from Derbyshire) have webpages outlining schemes they operate or are aware of.

All parts of the country have organisations that support the third sector, such as members of the community foundations network or ones that are purely local. They can provide advice, support and training on finding funding as well as other aspects of running a not-for-profit organisation. In many cases they may ask you to join them as a member, but this is often low-cost, and has the benefit of connecting you to other useful local organisations.

Tips on grant funding

  • Before you start looking at grants, be clear what you need the funding for. Usually grants are provided to specific projects that can be delivered over a given timescale, with clear and measurable outcomes. Make sure you are clear about what success will look like as well as what the project will look like.
  • Try to have some project ideas ready for grant applications. The deadline for some grants can be imminent, so if you’ve already done some of the work you’ll be less likely to miss out.
  • Many grants are targeted at specific demographics. Are there ways you can tweak some of your projects so they meet the specific group that funding is available for without losing the spirit of what you’re trying to do?
  • Read the criteria for grants very carefully. Grant bids are often rejected immediately if the information provided does not expressly show how it matches the criteria. Similarly, make sure you follow the process they specify such as forms, timescales and evidence required. Many grant-giving organisations offer advice in advance of any bid to talk through your proposal and this is tends to be worth taking up.
  • No grant application is guaranteed to succeed even if you meet all of the criteria. Many are massively over-subscribed, so don’t assume you will get the money until they’ve confirmed it.