An insight into our funding decisions

Since launching the Initial Grants Programme in May, we are proud to have committed over £3.75 million in funding to community businesses across England and to be on course to meet our target of £9 million by the end of the year. Today, as we reopen the programme to new applicants, I want to tell you about some of the great projects we have already funded and why we chose to back them to help new applicants understand more clearly what we look for in those we fund and how we apply our criteria.

Central to all good community businesses is the devolution of power to local people in the community. For us at the Power to Change, this is what makes community business really special – it is rooted in a place, open to local people and is driven by their needs and wishes on a day to day basis, not just through one off consultations. Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust (CLT) is a prime example. The CLT was started by local residents of the four streets at the centre of Toxteth, an area that has been severely neglected since the riots in the 1980s. Working together, the residents are seeking to bring new life to their area by refurbishing empty homes and shops and creating a vibrant street market. The Power to Change has funded the refurbishment of five empty homes that will provide affordable housing for local people. Longer term, these buildings will provide an asset base for the local community from which it can continue to generate income to reinvest back into the area.

White Rock Trust is a similar example. Set in a deprived part of Hastings, we have committed to fund the refurbishment of a multi-storey building part owned by the Trust that will be converted into affordable work spaces, creative art spaces, community facilities and affordable housing to support the regeneration of the area. White Rock Trust can clearly demonstrate control by the local community: it has 420 members out of a local population in the White Rock neighbourhood of 4000 who can input into the direction of the organisation. All seven members of the board are local and the Trust benefits from a large number of local volunteers, managing with only one paid member of staff. Other local organisations such as the CVS, are also supportive of its regeneration plans.

Not all organisations that we fund start with the same level of community engagement and control as Granby Four Streets CLT and White Rock Trust. Becoming a true community business can be a journey for some and we are interested in working with organisations that are committed to increasing the control that local people have over their activities. Spacious Places is a good example of an organisation that we are supporting on this journey. Spacious Places is a highly innovative business that will purchase a building in the historic Weaver’s Triangle area of Burnley with support from the Power to Change and Social and Sustainable Capital, where it will run a call centre that will provide employment to ex-offenders and other vulnerable adults from the local area. They see themselves as a community business and in order to increase their level of community control and engagement, they are committing to set aside 25 percent of any surpluses for reinvestment into the community, with members of the local community deciding how the money is spent each year.

Incredible Edible in Todmorden, Yorkshire is another organisation that we are working with to strengthen their ongoing engagement with the local community. Incredible Edible works with local people to improve their understanding of, and access to, fresh food by helping them to grow their own and by developing education projects based around food. There are now over 100 local groups in the Incredible Edible network across the UK and internationally that have spun out of the original Todmorden idea. That is a terrific achievement but we are particularly interested in how Incredible Edible in Todmorden continues to deepen its engagement with its local people. It already works with every primary school in the town and has a number of local volunteers as well as a board and staff team that are almost all local. Going forward, it has the opportunity to strengthen the extent of its community control by increasing its membership so more local residents feel that they have an ongoing stake in the organisation.

Alongside community control, we look for community businesses that benefit the whole community not just a single community of interest. When we decided to fund the Newark Sports Association in Nottinghamshire to build a new cycle track as part of a large £4 million sports facility, we looked for evidence that the track was not just wanted by local cycling enthusiasts but met the needs of a wide range of local people. Newark Sports Association already has demand from local schools, women’s groups and disabled group as well as cycling enthusiasts of all ages. This broad appeal is likely to translate into over £500,000 being raised through a community share issue for the larger sports facility and three quarters of a million being provided by other local groups.

Greenslate community farm in Billinge on the edge of Wigan. In the middle of a residential area, it has poly tunnels growing vegetables, a managed woodland, grazing goats and foraging pigs. The farm’s main source of income is from adults with learning disabilities, mental health and addictions problems who are funded by the local authority to work on the farm. We funded Greenslate community farm to build a new strawbale building in which it can expand its activities because alongside its ‘care farm’ activities, it is also open to the wider community who use the allotments, come on school visits, volunteer and buy the produce in the farm shop. In this way, the farm promotes inclusion and offers wide community benefit and cohesion, ensuring that Billinge retains its heart and does not drift into becoming another dormitory town.

The final element of community business that we consider to be important is that our funding can support community businesses to become more financially sustainable. We are realistic that not all community businesses will be able to live solely off traded income – some grant funding may always be important. But we look for evidence that our grant will improve sustainability in the long term. That is the reason why we funded works at the Anglers Rest in Bamford, a community hub run by the Bamford Community Society, to improve the building’s energy efficiency. The building has old windows and over 30 per cent of its running costs are currently spent on energy costs. Improving the energy efficiency of the Angler’s Rest will make an important contribution to securing the long term future of this important community resource.

East Lancs Football Development Association in Blackburn is taking over the maintenance of local football pitches from the Local Authority to ensure that people across the town continue to have a place to play sport. Local pitches are increasingly overgrown and unplayable, forcing people to travel to play. The Power to Change funded ELFDA to renovate the pitches it is taking over from the council, recognising that this initial investment would help the organisation to become a sustainable community business, using pitch rental fees to pay for the ongoing maintenance of the pitches.

I have told you about just a handful of the 17 community businesses we have funded so far. We will be adding more detailed case studies of each of our grantees over the coming months. We look forward to receiving more applications from great community businesses across England. Our full eligibility criteria are on our website so do have a good read of those as well if you are interested in applying for funding. Good luck and we look forward to working with you.

Vidhya Alakeson

Chief Executive, the Power to Change