The National Lotttery: Changing our lives for two decades

BIG MESSAGE: Ricky Tomlinson is helping the Just Imagine campaign.
BIG MESSAGE: Ricky Tomlinson is helping the Just Imagine campaign.
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The National Lottery has been with us for twenty years now. Your numbers may not have come up, but your tickets have been changing lives, as Neil Staveley discovers

In the 20 years since its iconic blue crossed fingers wheedled their way into our national consciousness, most of us have played the National Lottery at some point or other.

We’ve also played the compulsory accompanying game of ‘When I win, I’ll spend it on....

We have made imaginary yet detailed lists in our heads of how we would share the money, how much we could give to relatives, whose mortgage we could pay off.

And then we have let out the deflated sigh when, once again, we didn’t win.

What we often don’t think about though, is that away from this seemingly hopeless dream, we have all been quietly raking in another windfall.

Not a personal one, but one that is life-changing for more people.

Because it turns out that every scrunched-up ‘useless’ Lottery ticket is actually very useful, and every ‘pointless waste of money’ curse is wide of the mark.

Since 1994, by giving 28 per cent of each ticket (currently 56p of £2), some £31billion of National Lottery funding has been amassed.

And it has created, supported, built, encouraged and saved some 420,000 projects across the UK.

In Leeds we can see those effects across the city. Over those twenty years, this city has received some £324million, and that money has been spread over a massive range of groups and organisations.

It can sound worthy and dry, but the effect of that cash can be massive, make people in Leeds happier and healthier.

This year, more than £300,000 has been given to a family development centre run by Barnardo’s to give struggling families a chance to stay together and live a better life.

At the same time, almost £9,000 is helping children learn about the true horrors of the First World War project and £50,000 has gone to the Roundhegians rugby club to help drain its pitches.

Grants to Leeds have ranged from the huge to the smaller but equally essential. Raynville Primary School in Bramley, Leeds, received £10,000 to make a nature garden with a pond. Welcome to Yorkshire was given £995,000 to help pay for the Tour de France Grand Depart which takes place in Leeds this summer.

Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange was given £9,000 to help fund Lee Gap Fair in Tingley, which has become a tourist attraction and Leeds charity Mind was also awarded £9,000 to set up a physical exercise programme for those with mental health problems.

Newly developed parks; art galleries; youth theatre projects; sports tracks; leisure centres; brass bands; new swimming pools - these projects are everywhere we look. Yet the majority of us fail to really see them.

“Even among those who are aware of the projects, they’re often not aware of the extent,” says Vicki Kennedy, director of the National Lottery Promotions Unit.

“The National Lottery has been quietly transforming communities and changing lives on an astonishing scale for almost 20 years, and yet people visiting the museums, art galleries, charities, leisure centres and parks are often unaware they were built or improved by money raised by National Lottery players.”

The foundation’s new Just Imagine campaign is aiming to highlight this, asking us to picture what our world would be like without Lottery funding, and letting us be “wowed by the size and scale of Lottery investment”.

Think the soaring Angel of the North, partly funded by Lottery money, and the London Olympics. Some £183.5million of investment in Olympic and Paralympic sports came from Lottery funding.

Perhaps most critically though, the campaign aims to simply “forge a sense of knowing participation and ownership among National Lottery players”.

Because for all the jazzy TV shows and photos of jackpot winners and their new Ferraris, that low-level sense of participation is what the National Lottery is about; a community of players giving money for a selfish pipe dream, but eventually knowing that their money will channel back into the communities around them.

How this money is distributed is not decided by the Lottery itself, but by the Government, with 12 independent distributors - in some cases taking public votes into account - covering everything from sport to arts to heritage. They look at grant applications, for which anyone can apply, and basically decide who needs what.

Currently, 40 per cent goes to the voluntary sector, supporting charities, and 20 per cent each goes to arts, sports and heritage.

While this may appear an even-handed split, there has been some criticism about financial divisions within Lottery funding. For example, it’s recently been reported that the Lottery-backed Arts Council England give just £5.59 a year for every resident in the North-East, compared with £21.33 per head in London.

While this may at first glance seem unfair, it is probably inevitable. Wealth and need across the country is never going to be equally spread, and the Lottery’s project funding will therefore be a little lopsided too.

The National Lottery also points out that on average, there are 135 Lottery grants per UK postcode district - certainly, a look through their Good Cause Finder ( soon shows that wherever you live, there is, in some guise or other, a Lottery-backed scheme making your life, and the whole community around you, better.

Kennedy says people are “gob-smacked that so many charities and places around them have been helped” and hopes the National Lottery will start to do more to let people know just how much of an impact their money is making, and ensure funding is not “taken for granted”.

Of course, it’s very safe to say this will never happen among people who have received grants.

“We were so grateful to receive funding,” says Anthony Holdom of Misfits Theatre, a company allowing people with learning disabilities to be creative through the arts, and who received almost £150,000 of funding. “We’ve been able to reach out through theatre to increase the confidence of those with learning difficulties”.

The £132million granted to sustainable transport charity Sustrans is helping to transform the country through cycle routes.

“The funding helped us to improve walking and cycling routes across the UK,” says Sustrans chief executive Malcolm Shepherd. “And if you’re a cyclist, chances are you’ve been touched by National Lottery funding.”

Back to the Olympics, gymnast Beth Tweddle says that “without Lottery funding, I wouldn’t have been able to compete in the sport I love” or, of course, bring home that bronze medal.

Not that the Lottery is about medals, though, or winning the big prize.

Of course, you might rake in the multi-million jackpot, and for that tiny-but-always-glimmering sliver of hope, human nature means we will continue to dutifully buy our tickets.

But if, and when, your numbers don’t come up - when you realise it ‘couldn’t be you’ after all - don’t feel deflated. Remember, the ultimate winner could be, and is, all of us.

* The Just Imagine campaign asks the nation to imagine how different lives might be without the £31billion raised by The National Lottery. A 90-minute film, created by Blue Zoo and featuring Ricky Tomlinson, Chris Hoy and Beth Tweddle, shows the impact the money has had on the nation.

For more information, to apply for a grant or watch the Just Imagine video, visit

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The National Lottery was launched in 1994

National Lottery players have raised £30 billion for National Lottery projects since 1994

The National Lottery generates over £35 million for local Projects every week

The UK National Lottery returns a higher proportion of Lottery revenue back to society than any other Lottery operator in the world

More than 400,000 grants have been given out across the arts, sport, heritage, charities, health, education and the environment

More than 70% of all National Lottery grants are for £10,000 or less – helping small projects make a big difference in their local community

There is an average of 128 National Lottery grants per postcode district.


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