The Story So Far with Community Shares
Since September 2013,the Trust in collaboration with Co-operative Alternatives, have organised a series of thematic workshops exploring community shares and how crucial they have been to the development and regeneration of communities across the UK.
With more than 120 successful share offers made since 2009, Co-Op Alternatives invited speakers with first-hand experience of the initiative who could bring a real understanding of why the use of community shares is thriving.
Based on feedback from communities in Northern Ireland five different themes were selected which could be a starting point for building awareness and share information in Northern Ireland.
Workshops were then designed around projects with a Community Benefit Society legal structure (with the crucial asset lock rule) with a successful community shares offer, allowing us to explore local reactions and collect ideas on the adaptability of such initiatives in Northern Ireland.
The first workshop was on community buildings and heritage. Buildings can be co-owned by a community and ‘community shares’ are used to raise the capital necessary to purchase and develop the asset.
With many local communities now investigating the possibility of a community asset transfer, the workshop heard from campaigner Chris Hill from Unity Hall in Wakefield and community shares practitioner Jo Bird from the Co-operative Enterprise Hub.
Chris described how crucial is community participation in costly projects involving buildings. The focus must be about the use that the community can make of the buildings so that, in Chris’ words, “a building may be beautiful but it is what the people do in it that it makes it exciting”.
The second workshop was on rural community shops. At a time when communities are faced with closures of local shops, pubs and postal offices; communities all over the UK have responded with an innovative business model that has prevented the complete disappearance of important services from the high street and small towns.
The Plunkett Foundation has helped around 310 community owned shops in UK, with many using community shares to raise long term risk capital and to recruit members. This business model uses a Community Benefit Society legal structure which allows communities to intervene in situations deemed a “market failure” or not profitable enough for private ownership.
Community-led food initiatives are increasingly popular in Northern Ireland, with communities getting together to produce their food either in allotments, community gardens or in collaboration with local farmers.
Interest is growing for Community Supported Agriculture models and this was the theme of the third workshop.
Kirstin Glendinning, from the Kindling Trust, was invited to talk about how these models developed around the world, and Mark Simmonds form the Co-operatives UK, Making Food Work project, explained the use of community shares in this context.
The fourth workshop looked at community owned energy.
Community shares have been widely used to finance many wind energy, hydro and solar schemes attracting social and ethical investors from a wider community of interest.
Alongside Drumlin Wind Energy Co-operative, the first example of a successful community shares offer in Northern Ireland raising a staggering £2.7million and are now building three 250KW turbines on three different sites, Torrs Hydro presented a hydro energy community-led initiative, which raised their finance through a funding mix made of grant, loans and community investment.
According to Esther Jones, Torrs Hydro has benefitted their community at more than one level, it boosted a sense of local identity “putting New Mills Torrs on the map”, it enhanced local commitment, it created many opportunities for education and learning and it benefited the local industry.
Presentations and resources, detailing all of the workshops are available on the Co-Operative Alternatives website.
Tiziana O’Hara, who is heading up this initiative for Co-Operative Alternatives, said: “Co-Operative Alternatives and the Trust will continue to raise awareness on community shares in 2014 through public workshops, group work and meetings with communities interested in community shares.
“The next workshop will be on community owned sports and leisure facilities (date and venue to be confirmed).
“It is open to community groups, and existing sports clubs, who may want to explore the possibility of developing modern, accessible and sustainable sports facilities. Community shares provide long term risk capital and can leverage further funding for this.
“The “Community Shares, Ready!” project hopes to support five community projects with an interest in developing a community share offer in Northern Ireland.
“We will work with communities at any stage of their development and we will soon recruit interested projects”.