From skate parks to arts spaces, community-led projects have the power to transform local areas socially, economically and environmentally. Recently we have been exploring opportunities in using investment-based crowdfunding models, such as community shares crowdfunding, to fund a wide range of community projects, from pubs and sports clubs to renewable energy and housing.
In our recent report "Taking Ownership" we found that while these financial tools have the power to enable projects that wouldn’t otherwise be funded, provide longer-term financial sustainability and increase volunteering, the stories of community empowerment, self-determination and resilience are what really set these models apart. Despite the clear benefits of using these fundraising models for community projects, awareness of them and the types of projects they can be used for is relatively low, and case studies which others can be inspired and learn from are few and far between.
We have put together a series of ten case studies to illustrate the range of positive impacts on local communities made possible by these tools, and to show that while there are challenges associated with raising money in this way, communities across the UK are working (often with the support of institutions such as local authorities, trusts and foundations), to overcome these barriers.
We hope these examples will encourage those of you involved in community organisations to try it out, learn from your peers and for institutions to take on a greater and more innovative supporting role in this sector.
Click on the titles below to open up each case study. A slideshow of photos can be found at the end of this post.
In 2013 the government committed to extend superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2017. But what about the remaining 5 per cent? Even before this commitment, a group of neighbours in rural Lancashire decided that if they wanted a good broadband network, they’d have to do it themselves. This led to the creation of Broadband for the Rural North or ‘B4RN’ who, after establishing that their project didn’t fit grant funding applications or bank finance criteria, decided to raise the money they needed from the communities they will serve. Since they opened their first community shares offer in 2011, they have gone on to raise over £5 million from local communities in shares, bonds and loans, allowing them to bring fast broadband to several previously underserved areas across the North West (alongside community investment they also received a business development loan from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, but notably B4RN has received no public funding). Alongside helping their community access fast broadband, community shares investors currently receive 5 per cent interest while those investing in the recent bond will receive 4.5 per cent a year (while both depend on the ongoing success of the business, the bond interest rate is set in advance, whereas the shares interest is determined annually by the directors).
B4RN’s model is based on rural communities taking responsibility for funding and building their own network as part of the wider B4RN scheme. The network is built by volunteers harnessing the skills, resources and knowledge within the community, and bringing them together around a shared aim. For example, local farmers and landowners support the project by digging trenches for the cables across their land in return for ‘shares for work’ - £1.50 per metre for the distances they’ve installed. The farmers know the best place for the cables on their land, and have an inherent interest in the project succeeding, because it gives them a reliable internet connection too. This means that B4RN are able to install fast broadband to areas in which it would not be feasible for private companies, who do not have this access or local knowledge and so would have to dig up roads at great expense. Further support comes from places of worship and village halls are given access to the network for free if they host a connection point (schools are also charged a low rate with the small schools getting free connections too).
“We wonder if the bigger benefits are the community ties we leave behind after it is built, the legacy of people talking to each other.” - Barry Forde, Chief Executive, Broadband for the Rural North Ltd. (B4RN)
The first laying of cables started in 2012 and a few months later B4RN won the The Internet Services Providers' Association’s ‘Internet Hero’ award. By June 2017 they had connected more than 3,270 properties to fast and affordable broadband and are now present in Lancashire, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, demonstrating what empowered communities are able to achieve. Currently over 6000 customers are benefitting from one of the fastest connections in the world.
In 1879 Portland Works was an important cutlery works in the UK's emerging stainless steel industry. Now the heritage building is home to a range of local crafts (traditional and modern) through its redevelopment into a collection of workspaces. It was saved from conversion into flats when in 2013 it was bought by over 500 community shareholders raising £300,000 (in return for a vote each), and supported by a range of institutional funders. As a result, the building has been brought out of neglect and into a new, improved use for the local community, hosting over 30 small traditional and modern craft businesses.
A basic survey when the community took over building said that £1m would be needed for restoration. The organisation has been responsible for renovating the building, supporting makers and providing education around the site for the local community. It’s one of the last remaining examples of a purpose-built metal goods factory which has been renovated into centre for small manufacturing, independent artists and craftspeople, some of whom use the original machinery and tools. Since 2013 a weekly volunteer team have been working on the building renovation, room by room, while aiming to inspire the next generation of craftspeople through a number of educational student projects relating to the site.
In line with the community ownership, Portland Works have focused on the development of their organisational governance structure into one which aims to prioritise transparency and accessibility, within a framework of open directors’ meetings and working groups covering different activities within the project. Their directors and board meeting format means that meetings are nearly always open, and other stakeholders are enabled to participate, for example working group representatives, users, workshop tenants and shareholders. The flexible nature of this structure means that various working groups of volunteers and users have been set up along the way to make decisions on different themes from renovation work to finances. Each of these groups then feeds into the directors’ meeting, so that there is meaningful input from a wide range of stakeholders in top level decision-making.
“We have working groups on different themes - building renovation, publicity, finance legal and governance, all feeding in to the directors’ meeting” - Derek Morton, Chair (2011-2015), Portland Works Little Sheffield Ltd
When you arrive at the site under Manchester’s inner ring road, Projekts MCR looks much like any other skatepark, but beyond the ramps, it also acts as a community centre for a whole range of local groups. They recently set out plans to expand the park further under the motorway, increasing ramp area as well as creating a community space and the city’s first skate cafe. They hope that these developments will increase revenue, ensuring the longer-term financial sustainability of the park. The overall project is set to cost £840,000 with £132,194 coming from community shares investors, alongside grant funding from Sport England, Co-operatives UK, The Community Shares Unit’s Booster Programme and The Veolia Environmental Trust.
Projekts community are committed to the success of the project, as they see the social benefits - providing children and adults opportunities to come together, learn, exercise and build confidence. They teach young people ways of working that would benefit any community; as the users physically move around the space they are constantly aware of those around them, learning to give space and work together to maximise everyone’s experience.
Over the last 14 years, Projekts has worked with over 20,000 people to develop their confidence and contribute to physical and social regeneration of the area through skatepark activities. Its community activities focus on underrepresented groups, such as classes for girls and women, with their participation up from 160 visits in 2012 to 3,755 in 2018.
They’ve also spruced up neighbouring outdoor space with a local group as one investor explains:
“The wasteland outside the park was re-used and planted. Projekts don’t have to do this - they’re not just a business, they go above and beyond what they have to do” - A Projekts MCR investor
Most of their 70 investors are users of the skatepark (or their parents) and alongside plans to offer investors 4 per cent interest each year after year 3, other rewards include branded t-shirts or a ramp named after them. Other investors include a local pizza restaurant which saw links to their brand image (their logo was designed by a skateboard company), and one of their biggest investors was an individual which the local council signposted Projekts to.
One investor shared their experience of feeling listened to as investors as well as customers. With the funding in place, the team are now looking for the best way to engage shareholders in their co-operative governance going forward.
“With community shares there is a benefit for the community and indirectly for the skatepark. They’re not just in it for the money, it’s about people supporting the project. Others fail - here it’s people that are making the difference” - A Projekts MCR investor
Overall, the community shares route has provided several advantages for Projekts: demonstration of community support, new co-op members and the peace of mind that comes with being financially more sustainable. However, they recognise the resources required to check the feasibility of a project and get the right skills in place to make it happen and would like to see more support to access people’s untapped potential and develop this with each project.
“How do you assess the value of a project to get the resources for it to go ahead? Spending time going to other projects can give a good gauge of what you need, but it shouldn’t just be down to the skills that you happen to have to start with” - John Haines, Managing Director, Projekts MCR
The Bevendean Community Pub (The Bevy) was closed down due to antisocial behaviour in 2010, but given a new lease of life when it was reopened as a cooperative in 2014. This happened after the local community came together to invest £70,000 in community shares to gain ownership.
Pubs have often played a role of bringing people together, and models of community ownership can provide additional functions that help combat loneliness and isolation as well as provide employment and volunteering opportunities. Like many other community-owned pubs, The Bevy aims to be more than just a pub and instead act as a hub for the community. Amongst other things, it has a community kitchen, offers a free minibus to local football matches, hosts a lunch club for older residents and has room for other local community groups to run activities and meetings.
The Bevy is the first community owned pub on a housing estate in the UK and was saved through a campaign which focused more on ensuring a large number of people in the community were able to invest than on maximising the amount individuals each put in. In total, the Bevy has more than 700 investors, meaning it has the highest number of shareholders of any cooperative pub in the country. This was achieved by allowing individuals to invest as little as £10, holding a launch event at the local church and not being afraid to knock on doors. In return, shareholders became members of the organisation with a say in decision making, which has ensured the pub has stayed true to its mission to serve its community’s interests.
“Once we got to 100 people with mostly £10 shares that really attracted attention in the community pub world and in the council. They asked how we managed to engage this community. They are engaging as the people they are dealing with are residents themselves. It’s about this community.” - Iain Chambers, Community Projects Manager, The Bevy pub
Though they have a few paid staff (as a Living Wage Employer), they still rely on the help of volunteers who helped fix up the space and who do a range of tasks from day-to-day maintenance to driving the minibus. The Bevy is serious about representing its users and volunteers, and is introducing a scheme where volunteers and supporters can become members for free and a process by which they can get onto the Management Committee more easily. This means that everyone in the community has the opportunity to have a say in how their local pub is run.
This project would not have happened without the support of other local organisations. Their landlord, the East Brighton Trust, has supported the new business with rent discounts and grant funding, and the nearby church and the Harvest and Brighton Permaculture Trust helped fund their award winning community gardens. However, The Bevy believe that there is scope for more collaboration with local government, as the pub plays a role in looking out for the welfare of vulnerable populations within the community.
“Because of the number that pledged to take part, it attracted the attention of social investors, the council, the police and social departments - because it’s better to bring people together than for them to be alone” - Iain Chambers, Community Projects Manager, The Bevy pub
The Bevy has been a success, but it wasn’t without challenges. The founders knew that it would be a lot of work to raise the money they needed in a less affluent area. They raised questions around the accessibility of grant funding for this type of project if you don’t have retired experts on your board to fill in the forms, or the ability to take time off work to go to workshops (which are often in London). Crucially, the board recognised early on that having a good governance system would be key to achieving their goals and avoiding costly mistakes, and used grant money to invest in £10,000 worth of governance training to gain better oversight and understanding of liabilities, and ultimately run a better business in the long run.
Jubilee Pool was one of the great lidos of the 1930s and one of only a handful of saltwater tidal pools remaining in Europe. It provided a pleasant seaside bathing spot for the local community for over 50 years until it became unusable in the 1990s. At that time, local people came together to get the lido listed as a building of Special Architectural or Historic Interest and worked with the local council to secure grant funding to restore the structure. After the restoration was completed, limited local council budgets meant that the asset was not being properly maintained, and, in February 2017, the council handed the lido over to a new Community Benefit Society.
However, due to the pool being open-air, income was seasonal, creating a challenge for its long-term sustainability. A solution came from a plan to heat a section of the pool using geothermal energy, meaning the pool could be used, and thus, generate income, year round. The geothermal project has received funding through a £500,000 community shares crowdfunding raise, including over £190,000 of matched investment provided by Power to Change and Big Society Capital, alongside a grant by the European Union, and additional loans and grant funding. To supplement the additional income that will come from year-round pool admissions, the pool will receive profits from the cafe and have grant funding from the council for annual operational costs.
The Jubilee Pool provides an example of a community shares offer which was set up to cater to a range of investor types. At one end of the scale, local residents could invest as little £20 (receiving a free swim, 30 per cent tax relief, postcards and a badge). At the other end, those investing £7,500 were eligible for 50 per cent Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme Relief (SITR) and 3 per cent interest on their shares after 1 year. Importantly, as with all community shares, investors have an equal voice in the direction of the pool regardless of how much they invested. This inclusiveness continues beyond fundraising, where free sessions will be run for local groups (young, elderly, disabled & disadvantaged) and a 20 per cent local discount for entry will apply due to local council funding.
“Don’t just go out with one message, you need to have incentives for everyone. At the bottom end of the scale this is emotional, at the top it is hard money.” - Susan Stuart, Director, Jubilee Pool Penzance Limited
Unfortunately, while the geothermal project was due for completion by Spring 2019, the engineers ran into some technical difficulties, and the pool has, for now, reopened without heating (in time for school summer holidays). More work is expected in November when they plan to switch on the heat.
Local residents saw Union Street in Plymouth looking run down and unused, with what was once a bustling area now home to fifteen empty buildings. Key members of a group, that had previously had success creating the Union Corner community space, wanted to do more to revive the main street for their community, and saw ownership and renovation of one of the empty buildings, the old Clipper Inn, as a way of achieving this more sustainably.
Local residents completed legal and start up work with £10,000 of support from Plymouth City Council’s social enterprise fund and then bought the old Clipper Inn building for £120,000 in 2017 under the newly-formed Nudge Community Builders Community Benefit Society. The purchase was made possible with short-term loans including an £85,000 one year bridging loan from the Affordable Housing Loan Facility of the Council and £35,000 from private investors (all repaid within the first year), but money was still needed for the renovation work.
In 2018 Nudge Community Builders raised £206,750 from 165 community shares investors to bring the Clipper back into use. This included £20,000 funding from the council and £100,000 invested by Co-operatives UK’s Booster Programme. The group are expecting to pay 3.6 per cent interest on investments from November 2019. Nudge Community Builders chose to ask their community to invest in the project because they would rather pay interest back to local community than to a bank or a mortgage provider, and want a healthy sustainable business that doesn’t rely on grants to stay open.
“If you can get confident early supporters that helps a lot” - Wendy Hart, Co-Director, Nudge Community Builders
The building which used to be a 24 hour pub is now transformed into a real hub of activity - with a community market, pop up cafe and two homes for local people. The emphasis has been on working collaboratively with the local community, and tackling challenges in a fun and creative way. The footprint of the project deliberately goes beyond the building itself. They have intentionally used the ground floor market as a pedestrian link to a Council-led redevelopment in a neighbouring street and, as a nod to its heritage, they have retained a 1940s mural in the building, using it to inspire the decoration of the space, and have invited the community to boost creativity through creating a mosaic in the building together. The nine retail units can be hired by local small businesses to strengthen local enterprise.
The prioritisation of benefit for the local community is evident throughout the project, with a focus on “local spaces, local spend, local skills and local love” with an aim for nine out of ten jobs to go to local people and 40 per cent of spending to be with businesses within 1 mile of the Clipper and 75 per cent within Plymouth. In the first 12 months they achieved 76 per cent spend within a mile and 92.5 per cent within Plymouth. From the start they planned how they would measure social impact, as they believe that there are positive wellbeing benefits from the community that forms around such projects. In order to give everyone in the community an opportunity to own part of the Clipper, as part of their crowdfunding campaign investors paid for 7 volunteers working on the project to receive £100 each in shares.
The aim of the organisation from the start has been to use this as a first project, from which they will apply learnings to redevelop other buildings in the local area in a similar way. However, when we spoke to the project leaders they mentioned that it can be a challenge to balance pushing new projects forward while still keeping existing operations running.
They also spoke to us about the challenges that come with the fact that often these projects are run by people new to the specific type of activity. For the Clipper, it was local enterprises that stepped up to support the project with advice, and additional mentoring and invaluable business support came from Rio, a key social business support organisation in the city. Whilst there are no set rules for how to run it, Nudge’s approach is about finding different ways to do business: with kindness, authenticity and putting people at the heart of what they do.
A village community in South West Edinburgh is funding local community projects using profits from harnessing hydro energy from their local reservoir. This was all made possible when the group were able to raise £403,000 in community shares over two share raises in 2013 and 2014 to build a micro hydro plant.
Between the first and second world wars there was a previous hydro scheme in the same location as Harlaw Hydro but this smaller scheme fell into disuse. In 2009, the community group responsible for the new plant, Balerno Village Trust, received a grant of £6,000 from Community Energy Scotland for a feasibility study into bringing hydro power back to the area. After a second feasibility study by Highland Eco-Design Ltd. in 2011, they obtained planning permission and raised funds through community share offers in 2013 and 2014, with the plant built in 2015.
Originally the group had assumed they would need a bank loan to part fund the project, but community interest was so great that the target was reached through community shares alone. While all capital funding came from community investors, Cooperative Enterprise Hub provided governance advice and the reservoir owner, The City of Edinburgh Council, provides a long-term lease for use of the land.
The revenue from selling the electricity generated to the National Grid is expected to allow investors to be given a 4 per cent return on their investment each year, although this is dependent on the year’s weather. Another key selling point for the community shares offer was the tax relief available to investors through the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS). Shareholders also have the right to come along to the AGM, have a say in the co-operative and stand for its board. The Harlaw Hydro team reported that they found it really helpful to spend time communicating these benefits to potential investors, or in other words, what it would actually give them in return for their investment
However, the Harlaw Hydro project has always been about more than just providing a good investment for its shareholders. The project is designed to contribute the surplus, coming in at £20,000 last year, to Balerno Village Trust. This additional funding has made the trust more sustainable, as it no longer needs to rely on grants alone, and has been used on projects such as the building of an all-weather 2G hockey pitch and education projects for school children.
The relationship between the hydro plant and Balerno Village Trust has worked both ways, with the trust supporting the set up of the hydro plan through start-up funding generated by the trust’s farmers market, and once up and running, the hydro plant providing surplus funding back to fund community trust activities. This project really has shown the numerous different ways in which community energy can power local areas.
Financial problems meant that Lewes Football Club was struggling in the 2000s. So, to try and improve the long-term financial sustainability of the club, in 2015, a group of supporters bought the club into community ownership after raising £220,000 through community shares crowdfunding. With this funding, alongside grant funding from a range of government and institutional funders, the club was able to open a new, £650,000, all-weather artificial pitch for the teams and community to use.
In return for their investment, alongside getting to support their favourite club, shareholders get discounts at 60 local businesses and the chance to have a vote in decisions about the club’s future (although they receive no financial return). Initially investments of £1000 were encouraged, while now investment is raised via a membership fee of £40 per year, which counts as a share, giving members a say in decisions made about the club.
The transfer of the club into community ownership brought with it the decision to do things differently, with a commitment to a high level of transparency and accountability around finances. For example, all board members are now elected by shareholders. There has been some success in this new approach - the club broke even three years after becoming community-owned. However, there have also been sacrifices made along the way, such as directors paying for repairs themselves to avoid getting a loan from the bank.
Lewes FC describe their campaign to bring the club into community ownership as ‘like a manifesto’. They combined the offer to become an investor in the club with specific aims, such as a focus on valuing players - for example by being the first professional club to pay the men’s and women’s team equally.
“Volunteers do everything from the board to the turnstile.” - Charlie Dobres, Lewes Football Club, Elected Director
In its drive to engage the whole community, the club runs an art project and allows under 16s to attend games for free. Alongside this, Lewes FC makes it clear that they value the support, including through volunteering, of those 50 per cent of people who come to matches who are not owners, with board members standing with the crowd at matches to be approachable.
Lewes FC proves just how effective the community ownership model can be for football teams (and other sports clubs) and shows why it is no surprise that more than 40 other football clubs in the UK have taken a similar path.
The Headingley Development Trust was founded in 2005 with the overarching aim of carving out space for the local community as a response to the increasingly transient nature of local residents. The first major project (Headingley Enterprise and Arts Centre - HEART) focused on restoring and extending an old primary school building—on a 125-year lease from the local authority—as an enterprise and arts centre.
As there was no public funding available to restore the building and set up the various spaces within for community businesses, the group turned to community shares, initially raising £105,805 from 295 investors. This triggered substantial investment from other sources, including Leeds City Council and Adventure Capital Fund. The new facility, which opened in 2011, has rooms for hire, a co-working space and cafe, and runs events and exhibitions; all completed without any grant support.
In 2018, the Trust decided to raise a second round of community shares, this time to create the Headingley Investment Fund, designed to support other projects to be run by Headingley Development Trust (with a focus on enterprise and housing) and re-finance the loans on the HEART building. £481,843 was raised on an online community investment platform from 258 investors, supported by £100,000 from the Power to Change Booster Fund. All investments made by the fund need to give an overall 3 per cent return per annum, which enables 2 per cent to be paid to investors.
This may be the UK’s first local investment fund which is set up for flexible use, rather than for one specific project. With the rearrangement of previous finance and creation of the new fund, the organisation has given itself the opportunity to be fleet of foot and react to potential opportunities quickly when they arise, such as purchasing a house or a shop, both of which the fund has enabled since its creation.
“We saw the opportunities out there. If we had the flexible money we could start intervening in ventures that also give something to the community” - Helen Seymour, Chair, Headingley Development Trust
To keep itself rooted in the community it supports, the organisation has a governance structure which provides opportunities for members and volunteers to contribute to decision making either on the board or more practically, in a working group with a specific focus e.g. the farmers’ market. Board members are involved or take the lead in many of Headingley Development Trust’s ventures, increasing approachability and transparency across the organisation. Members are embedded in the decision-making processes through open meetings and all members of the trust, whether investors or not, are encouraged to take part in the activities and decision-making processes of the society.
In the North of Scotland, a traditional industry is being revived, led by a community which has come together around regeneration of their town and a love of whisky. Dingwall used to be home to several distilleries over the years, with the last closing in 1926. From the community know-how and enthusiasm generated from a previous community-funded wind turbine project, GlenWyvis Distillery was created. The distillery opened in November 2017 after successfully raising £2,544,210 from 2,456 community shares investors in 77 days, alongside large institutional grants.
“Because we had done the wind turbine project, we saw this as a real chance of success with a unique model” - John Mckenzie, Founder/Director, GlenWyvis Distillery
The project aims to make Dingwall “the craft distilling town for Scotland”, reinvigorating the local community, and making it a spot on the North Coast 500 route for tourists, as the world’s first 100 per cent community owned distillery. The distillery is powered by wind, hydro and solar power— making it the world’s first carbon-neutral distillery— and uses barley from a local co-op.
GlenWyvis clearly connects with two communities: the people of Dingwall and whisky lovers worldwide. Whilst nine out of ten board members are from the local postcode, with around 60 per cent of investors from the local area and 70 per cent from Scotland, some 36 countries are represented overall. In order to encourage local people to invest, the minimum investment for those in the local postcode was a moderate £250 (£750 otherwise), and ‘pledges’ were also available starting from £10 (which didn’t constitute a share investment, but gave some reward), with a range of rewards for different levels, from distillery tours to bottles of the first batch of whisky.
The first share offer to help set up and build the distillery was followed by a second, to meet demand for investment, develop the brand (suggested by shareholders) and reduce commercial borrowing. Over £3.6m has been raised in total. The five full-time staff are making and selling gin (investors decided to bring gin making in house) while awaiting the first batch of whisky which should be ready in 2021.
“One London investor said that it is a huge amount of money to raise in any forum - it goes to show that community shares are a viable example of novel business” - John Mckenzie, Founder/Director, GlenWyvis Distillery
While most traditional distilleries are owned and controlled by a few large financially-motivated shareholders, GlenWyvis has shown the sector that things can be done differently and has set a record in the amount raised through community shares. However, the scale of the project has exposed some of the challenges around the lack of flexibility in funding initiatives to help such projects e.g. a £5,000 grant doesn’t go far when your set up costs are £200,000, and while the wait for the whisky continues, the board will face the interesting challenge of managing this large body of investors as the next AGM approaches.
Read our full report about the role of investment crowdfunding in community regeneration:Taking Ownership: Community empowerment through crowdfunding investment