What do we know about ‘severe and multiple disadvantage’?


*Please note* we are not currently accepting new proposals for partnerships in the knowledge fund. We will publish information about the (first) group of grants made soon, alongside any updates on next steps and further funding opportunities.


We are opening a new fund which aims to continue our exploration of how knowledge about severe social harm is created, interpreted and used; by whom; using which methods; for what purpose; and under what assumptions, frameworks and mindsets.

We are doing this because we think our ‘knowledge system’ is holding back transformational responses to severe and multiple disadvantage. Some voices and methods are valued more than others. Fundamentally social and structural issues are commonly individualized, even medicalized. ‘Effective interventions’ are examined mainly through the lens of services judged under a performance management paradigm. People are seen as having and even being problems to be managed or ‘fixed’, rather than humans living in communities, in relationships with others. We rarely question the assumptions and orthodoxies which sit behind all of this. Even our own language of ‘severe and multiple disadvantage’ is rooted in many of these unhelpful assumptions, and holds us back from bigger and more inclusive visions of justice, healing and liberation.

We’d like to explore what alternatives are out there, what they look like, and how they can form a critical mass of examples which show that we can think and act differently in how we understand inequality, marginalization and disadvantage. We intend to fund a set of new partnerships which explore, demonstrate and model:

  • Principles of participation, democracy and equity in the creation, interpretation and use of knowledge
  • Collective sense-making and the involvement of different perspectives, particularly at local community level
  • Working across and/or challenging academic and evidential hierarchies, including equalizing the relationship of power and prestige between clinical, learned and lived experience
  • Exposing and questioning core frameworks and assumptions (eg about what and who is deemed valuable, or concepts of progress, productivity, growth, success etc)
  • Challenging the way that knowledge is created and used to separate rather than connect people, issues and communities.

A fuller explanation of the fund’s background, aims and priorities is available here. We’d invite you to read this before continuing.

Decision-making process

This is an open-call, open-access fund.

We have not run a fund of this kind in some time. We are aware of the practical and ethical shortcomings of funding processes based on ‘applications’ and ‘assessments’ and the imbalances of power and knowledge that these entail. We know that we’re not necessarily the best people to decide ‘what is needed’ here; indeed, it is precisely because we don’t know this territory that we feel an open call is appropriate and necessary. Our hope and intention is that this process will expand the range of people and ideas that we’re exposed to and bring others into the decision-making process over time.

Assuming there is interest in this fund, decisions on an initial group of ‘knowledge’ grant partners will be taken primarily by Lankelly Chase, with input from existing partners who are already working on the themes and questions outlined above. We hope that the initial group of grant recipients will then become part of the decision-making process around next steps for continuing the work. This will include revisiting any proposals not taken forward this time in the run-up to the next financial year, to ensure that others have the opportunity to see what we might initially miss.

Funding available

We are looking to support the core activities of people/organisations/networks/communities who are exploring the themes above and who are modelling what a different future might look like (ie it doesn’t have to be a ‘new project’). We have small-scale core funding in mind (up to £30,000 per grant) which would enable us to resource a group of partners over the course of the next year or so to a) create space to develop their thinking and activity on the creation, interpretation and use of knowledge about social harm and b) engage in some kind of collective inquiry and shared learning process. We are also open to paying for people’s time for small-scale products like blogs and even opinion pieces, as we try to build a foundation of thinking and material which can support further work.

Proposals and applications

We would like to be open and flexible in our approach, without being so vague that it’s unclear what we’re after (and therefore the grounds on which we might say ‘no’ this time round). The main thing we’d like to know is how your work addresses the five themes outlined above. This could be any or all of them – we realise the boundaries are fluid.

Our other ‘red line’, given our mission, is that the work must be focused on, or at the very least clearly relevant to, people facing severe marginalization and disadvantage, however you might interpret that terminology. We recognize that the work we want is not currently prevalent in our ‘sector’, which is largely concerned with language about ‘multiple needs’ and ‘effective interventions’. We are making a concerted effort to reach beyond our current networks.

If you would like to apply for funding, please email oliver@lankellychase.org.uk outlining how your work fits the brief as described above, and indicating the funding contribution you are looking for. If you already have materials (written or otherwise) which explain this then that’s fine too. We can arrange informal telephone conversations or Zoom calls with people who’d like them. We are also planning online drop-in sessions for anyone who wants to find out more or discuss the issues raised, the first of which will be on Monday 14th December from 2-3pm. Please email us as above for the link.

Organisational setup is not a concern, as long as we can resource the work openly (and legally). you don’t have to be a registered charity, for example. Contracts are possible as well as grants.


The deadline for initial expressions of interest was the end of January 2021. The first group of partnerships, as well as the level and nature of interest in the first funding call, will help  to inform how much we budget to develop this work further in the next financial year. Again, this is a process we are keen to devolve and distribute with partners rather than retaining entirely within Lankelly Chase.


If you have any questions feel free to email oliver@lankellychase.org.uk.