Bringing funding opportunities and community engagement together. A blog by our customer voice officer, Sam.

" I have worked at Progress Housing Group for around 15 years, and I've always been proud of how, as a social housing provider, we involve our tenants and communities.

We want to help our tenants feel proud of where they live and are always looking for new ways to involve people in building happier and stronger communities.

We set up our Community Investment Fund in 2009 to support community projects that help local communities flourish and bring people together.

The funding is managed by a panel of tenants and board members. The panel decides how the money is spent to make sure it has the greatest impact for our tenants and their communities. The fund has been a huge success and has helped grassroots community groups start up or grow, along with supporting community activities and events.

After a few years, we started looking at ways to be more inclusive and engage local groups that may not be formally established but which still make a big difference to their local communities.

We took inspiration from the Detroit SOUP model, a community-based crowdfunding project where a neighbourhood comes together over a shared meal to vote for a community project to receive funding. We thought we would inject a bit of fun with the Soup Dragon from The Clangers children's TV show along with the format of the TV series Dragons' Den. And this was how 'The Soup Dragons' Den' was born.

The Soup Dragons' Den event takes place twice a year, and since its launch, applications for funding have grown considerably, with each session now receiving around 20 applications. Funding applications are welcome for any community group or project operating in one of our communities. The application form is simple, and bids can be up to £1,000. A panel of tenants, non-executive directors and a director shortlist six projects to attend the event and 'pitch' their project.

We invite local residents, applicants who did not make this round, previous pitchers, colleagues and, of course, the groups who are pitching who bring their network and support with them. The events last for around two to three hours and have been described as 'a really fun and entertaining night out.' Over 90 people attended our last event.

At each event, we share soup and dessert whilst previous winners attend to talk about their projects and how the funding has supported them. Our most recent winner was the Connect Community CIC. The choir is open to anyone of any age and musical ability, and they wanted to host a community event aimed at bringing people together to enjoy a good singalong and spread love and joy at what can be a difficult time of year. Their pitch was fantastic, and it was clear how helpful the funding would be to them.

The Soup Dragon's Den has also provided funding to projects such as community football, sporting opportunities for older adults and people with disabilities, community gardens, a local pain support group, self-harm first aid kits for young people, a community café, money towards the purchase a new defibrillator and special days out for young carers.

Each group or individual pitches their idea, and everyone gets a chance to vote; it has been known for pitchers to vote for another project and not the one they are pitching for, which I always think shows great community spirit. Those in the room often share ideas and resources with pitchers, too, to help their projects.

The winning pitch is then announced and will receive the full amount of funding they applied for, up to £1,000, with the other groups receiving up to £200. So everyone gets something!

Our Soup Dragons' Den is becoming a well-known event in the areas where we work, and because of it, we meet a lot more of our community members. We find out what is happening in the areas where we have housing, and we are helping communities to support themselves, making them better places to live. It's been a really creative initiative, which has invigorated our community investment activity."