Annoushka Deighton (AD): So we are standing outside Stretford Public Hall now. Hopefully you can hear me over the busy A56, which is the main thoroughfare from the M60 down to Old Trafford right into the centre of town. It does literally divide our town in half and acts as the crossroads of what is, essentially, our town centre.
Presenter Neil (PN): This is the story of how a group of people banded together to buy a derelict public hall, and, along the way, rediscovered the community it was built to serve 150 years ago.
AD: When we decided to take on the hall, one of our big things was, this is a centrepiece of our town and we didn’t want it to go and remain empty or be a dead space for the community, because we have already got so much of that. I will take you inside and show you what is here.
So, coming through our lovely big castle doors, as I call them, and get through to the beautiful foyer. This is the space that I first saw, the first time I went into the hall about four years ago, and just fell in love with it. It has got classic Manchester tiling, beautiful archways and is just…
Lisa Heanly (LH): You are walking past, and the building is like, ‘Shall we just go in and see if they’ll let us look in?’ For everybody else it was a closed building. So we knocked on, and there was the caretaker, John, was there. The foyer is exactly how it was when we first saw it, so we were bowled over. That was us then hooked and there was no way that we couldn’t do something about it.
Dan Williamson (DW): From a few conversations on street corners, after school drop-offs, we decided to have a first meeting, I suppose, which happened in a pub, and people went away from that really positive and wondered what they were going to put on the café menu. And it snowballed from there, really.
PN: Anouska Deighton, Lisa Heanly and Dan Williamson are founding members of the Friends of Stretford Hall, an organisation set up in 2015 to save a public hall in Manchester; a much-loved building that had served the community since 1878, when it opened as a library.
In this episode you can hear how these inspired and inspirational locals brought the right people together to raise the money to save the hall by launching a community share offer.
I am Neil Roberts. I have been volunteering at and lending support to community businesses over the last eight years. On the Community Business Fix I get to shine a light on the projects in which communities are coming together to transform the places they live. The Community Business Fix is a monthly podcast brought to you by Power to Change: the independent trust that supports community businesses in England. You can get involved on Twitter @thecCBbfix, and on Facebook: just search for Power to Change.
Stretford Public Hall was one of the many gifts made to the people of Manchester by the man they called The Cotton King, John Rylands. He was Manchester’s first millionaire, but spent much of his fortune on good causes.
LH: He lived in Longford Park, in Stretford, and so his house and dwellings were there. And he committed this for the public of Stretford. So the building was finished in 1878 and, essentially, it was a library; so it was one of the first libraries. It had public space meetings. Eventually, it grew into being more of a civic theatre, so there were balls, there were discos, there were gigs. It was very much what we have today: a place where people could come, meet, socialise.
PN: Nearly a century on from its opening, the hall was still playing an important part in the lives of those who lived in Stretford.
Vox Pops: We were married at St Matthew’s Church, which is just down the road, on 28th March, 1964, and we had our wedding reception in this building. Our daughter, when she was about eight years old, appeared on the stage in the hall. So I have got a lot of fond memories of the building.
I can go back to the early 60s when they used to have Christmas parties for GEC here. I have known it a long time, the hall, in and out a lot of times.
It was a really important part of Stretford. It was like the centre of Stretford. Then, as we can move through the 1950s and 60s, that civic theatre grew; they had pageants, they had Stretford Children’s Theatre, they had all sorts of stuff going on. So it was a really, really well-known building.
PN: Andy Simpkin is one of those who invested money in the hall. He also invests his time by working on the door, welcoming those who take part in choir practice, Pilates, art classes, and many other community activities. But, when his family moved to Stretford, he found it to be a very different place.
AS: The early period of us living locally, there were the pockets of isolation, really, with small communities doing their own thing, but nothing that I would identify particularly as a cohesive entity that you could describe as Stretford as a whole. That has changed in the last few years for various reasons, but a huge catalyst to that change, in my opinion, has been the public hall.
PN: The rebirth of the hall could hardly have been envisaged by those who saw it in the dark years between the late 1970s and 1997. The building had lost its original role in 1940 when the new Stretford Library opened. But it was granted a new lease of life 20 years later, when it reopened as a civic theatre.
Those who lived in the area, in the 1960s and 70s, remember it too as both a popular music venue and the place they learnt to swim. The new Stretford Leisure Centre put pay to the Cyprus Street Bath Swing, which was demolished, and the rest of the building fell into disrepair, despite being granted Grade II Listed status.
Trafford Council eventually took it over, refurbished it and used it as council offices until 2014, when it became surplus to their requirements, and they moved out. It was soon after that that Lisa Heanly spotted a post on a Facebook group, named after the postcode of the area she lived in – M32.
LH: A woman called Bernice Garlick, she put a post out and she spoke about Hebden Bridge. They were going through an asset transfer, and she said, ‘I see what’s happening here. Their council have helped fund the changeover from a council building to a changeover to the community ownership. Is anyone brave enough to do this?’ So she knew about what was going on with the public hall at the time. It was a bit like, ‘Come on, if you want it, come and get it,’ kind of thing. So, ‘Who’s brave enough to do it?’
AD: Trafford Council didn’t really know what they wanted to do with the building. At that point we knew nothing about it. It was on the way out for Christmas drinks at the market in town that myself and Lisa just decided we would poke our heads round the door and have a little nosey, because we are a bit nosey.
We asked the security card if we could just look in at the foyer, and we couldn’t quite believe how beautiful it was. Never having seen it before, it just summed up a Manchester classic area – just beautiful tiles, and we fell in love. We just looked at each other and went, ‘No, they’re not going to sell this.’
LH: We were just at a time in our lives where we were having a bit of a career change. So we were going to wellbeing classes there: we were having yoga, we were having meditation, and we were all very zen, very positive.
PN: Lisa and Anouska might have been very zen and positive, but, as the other Friends founder, Dan Williamson, cheerfully admits none of them had any expertise, or indeed experience, in what they were planning to take on.
DW: I suppose, in a way, it was good that we were slightly naïve and hadn’t done anything like this before, because that meant that we couldn’t see the details that maybe people who have been involved in building projects or heritage projects were sort of burdened with, I suppose. What we could see was the real sort of opportunities that it presented to the community, and the real strength of feeling around this is an opportunity for the community to take control of a significant asset that would greatly benefit the future of the community and give the community a real stake in the area and a real say in any future generation, which was quite clear from the start and has grown since then.
PN: However naïve the founding trio were, they knew that they needed to involve more people to turn their dream into reality, and they began to do their homework.
From that early Facebook post, they were aware of something called a Community Asset Transfer: a method by which a council can hand over an asset to a community group on a long-term lease or freehold, with certain conditions attached. Was it something they could exploit? Dan Williamson:
DW: We got a bit of interest from third-sector voluntary support; people came and gave a talk who understood the process of Community Asset Transfer and showed us case studies that this is possible.
PN: The local community was becoming interested. Other groups were coming on board. If they could make that Asset Transfer work, then they could raise the money through a community share offer, to begin to refurbish the hall and start to make it pay. Once revenue began to come in, then more refurbishments could take place. But not everybody was optimistic. Here is Andy Simpkin again, taking a breather from his shift as Stretford Hall doorman:
AS: Initially, feeling that perhaps it was a longshot and was unlikely to happen, and I think that was based on the sort of experience of not having a concept of Stretford as an entity where there was sufficient cohesion for such a broad undertaking to be realised and come to fruition. But that soon changed that perception when I realised that there was an impetus through conversations on the street, through social media. When I saw some of the people emerging who were clearly determined to make it work, there was a young dynamism to some of those emerging people that changed my view. So I became, not a cynic, but somebody thinking it might be a difficulty into something that I thought would be positive.
Now, I am going to have to do my job now while we have a moment to break in the interview. [To visitor] Hello.
PN: To be in the running for a Community Asset Transfer, Friends of Stretford Public Hall had to put together a bid. This was no mean feat with none of the founders having prior experience. They spent months writing, learning and talking to different advisers, but there was a point when it became too much. The week before the bid was due in, they ran out of money. They needed five grand, and fast! Surely the dream was over and there was to be no Hollywood ending. But wait! Here’s Anouska Deighton.
AD: It was the week before Christmas, and we just asked on Facebook. We explained exactly what we were doing – we needed this £5,000 and could anyone help us. Within a week we raised it. Stretford is not a rich area. It has not got those sorts of people that can just chuck it in. But people arranged a night at the local pub, people literally were going around picking money off everyone, and we managed to raise the money and just got that essential work done just in time for the bid.
Then, two days before the bid came in, we got our SIB funding, which meant we could breathe a massive sigh of relief.
We put the bid in on 22nd December. Dan and I had about five kids with us, and we got it in with half-an-hour spare. That was absolute chaos, as we were trying to get stuff printed out and get it all bundled up together. Got it in, handed it in to the council, and just breathed a sigh of relief. Took the kids all to Pizza Hut to have a quick celebration for the fact we had been ignoring them for the last month. Then we just had to wait.
PN: So the waiting began. It was by no means a done deal. The founders had invested months of their time, won over the local community, but there was still a strong chance that a property developer or pub chain could swoop in and trump their bid. On the night the council executive committee met, Anouska was invited to go along and wait outside the room for the verdict.
AD: I turned up with one of my very muddy little rugby boys, who had just finished his game of rugby, and I took him up there. He could not contain himself with excitement. So I was sitting there all primly and properly in this very ornate room, where he jumped up and down, spreading mud all over the carpet.
The council meeting came out, and our local councillor had been listening in, and just said, ‘You’ve done it!’ Then we had two of the exec committee members came and confirmed it and gave us a handshake. That feeling I think, was just unbelievable.
All that hard work, all that worry of pulling all those people and getting all those people to do those hours of work, and, potentially, it would all be for nothing, came to something. It really felt like Stretford had pulled itself together and done something amazing.
PN: So what were the nuts and bolts of the deal?
AD: The deal was that they would give us the freehold of the building and the carpark for £10. They put some caveats on it: one was that, if we ever sold it, that 95% of that money would go back to the council, which seems absolutely right; the second thing we could only ever sell it to another community group with similar aims and objectives as ours. That was just the biggest win. That is what we wanted. It was safe. It was never ever going to be able to go anywhere else.
About three weeks later they just gave us the keys; came and, literally, in our hands gave us the keys and nothing else. They didn’t show us how the boiler worked, they didn’t show us where the stopcock for the water was. Nothing. We had not a clue what we would let ourselves in for.
PN: Practical issues aside, Shelly Quinton-Hulme was a member of the team that had experience in large-scale community projects. She knew all too well the scale of what they were taking on.
Shelly Quinton-Hulme (SQH): There is no getting away from it: it is an absolutely huge project. It was not something that could be taken on lightly. It is a beautiful building with heritage status that you can’t just come in and carve up. I am a project manager. That is what I do for a job. So I had some idea of how huge it would be and how much money it would take and time and effort, but even I didn’t realise quite how much. I mean it is a huge, huge project.
PN: Whatever challenges lay ahead for the Friends, the Community Asset Transfer had got them to this stage. But what next? Here are Dan and Anouska on why they chose a community share offer as a way to raise funding.
AD: As most people are aware, there is much less capital grant funding available. We have applied for some, been successful, but it was really hard to find any large capital grant schemes. If we wanted to look at the heritage of the building, and we are looking at long-term heritage grants, but they take a long time to get hold of, and we needed money far more quickly. Then we started looking at the possibility of community shares.
DW: Power to Change funded a period of development that allowed us to investigate what that offer might be, to work on a business plan and a marketing plan for launching a share offer. That was really important. It allowed us more time to work with Cooperatives UK, who obviously knew more about this.
AD: We had chosen to go down the Co-op’s route, partly because we love the ethos of a Co-op and all that entails, but also it allows for this idea of community shares. Community shares are different than usual donations; people are investing in a building – they invest their money with the potential of getting that money back, sometimes with a refund, but their main reason for investing their money is because they believe that the project is good for their local community or environment.
DW: We found a really important board member who is Simon Borkin – I don’t know if you have spoken to him already. He came on board on that and, from the Cooperatives UK perspective, to assist us with that.
Simon Borkin (SB): I had seen the building because I live nearby, but I didn’t know really what was going on. So Anouska came and said, ‘This is our plan. We hear you know a bit about this. How would you feel about helping us?’
PN: That is Simon Borkin. He works at the Community Shares Unit, a joint initiative between Llocality and Cooperatives UK that supports community share offers and promotes good practice. Anouska was really keen to use his expertise, and he didn’t take much convincing.
SB: For me, it was really a fantastic opportunity, because I had been working from an office here in Manchester, talking to people, seeing people, but never really got stuck in. And I thought it would be a really good litmus test – if we are trying to help other groups and promote the model, then, actually, it would be great to have a go at doing it first-hand.
PN: Earlier, we heard founder, Dan Williamson, seeing positives in their naivety. What Simon Borkin brought to the table was much-needed experience. He knew exactly what needed to be worked on, and the first thing was to promote an understanding of what a community share offer actually entails. Not an easy task.
SB: It will be great when everyone understands a co-op, but, until that day, people have to get their head around it, like, ‘OK, so it’s democracy and membership. And, wait, shares don’t work like normal shares?’ So you have got to get your head around all that. Then people have got to then understand the key components of a business, and a lot of people who come into community shares, that might not have been their natural point, because they are there to provide activities to the community. They haven’t done that wrapped up within a business, so then they have got to understand about balance sheets and profit and loss accounts. Then you have got this thing called a share offer that no one has maybe, naturally, ever been involved in; so terms and conditions of shares. And, finally, if you are going to raise investment, you might go to a bank. You are going to have a conversation with one person. Suddenly, you have got to have a conversation with 2,000 people, and you have got to do a campaign and think about social media and press.
So I think it is complicated because all of those four things have to coexist at the same time. Quite a lot of people have expertise in one or two, but, to get a group of people who feel comfortable and confident around all four is quite difficult.
PN: By the time Simon got involved, Friends of Stretford Public Hall had already done a lot of the work to convert to a Charitable Community Benefits Society: one of the few legal structures that allow you to run a community share offer.
SB: You are recognised as a charity, so you are recognised for public benefit, but it’s also democratic, and also you have got this ability to access equity through community shares, which a charity under another model wouldn’t have the ability to.
PN: They had six months to plan and create a share offer that would allow local people who purchase a community share to become members of the business. This would give each member one vote on important decisions, no matter how many shares they have. Simon Borkin got involved in the practicalities of planning that campaign.
SB: We had to do quite a lot of business planning and business modelling in order to demonstrate to the council that we were a viable organisation that could take it on. So we had done quite a lot of that, but then we had to tighten that because, essentially, if we were going to go and ask the public to invest in us, we wanted to be really confident that our business plan was viable. So we did quite a lot of work on the business plan.
We then had to write a share offer document and design that, and we went through the community shares’ standard mark, which was the quality process, which is quite intensive, actually, but out of that came a really good product.
PN: Anyone involved in a community share offer will tell you one of the most important jobs is engaging with the community and using local expertise.
SB: We reached out to so many people to help us. So we got a designer in who did all our design, all our brand. We found people who worked in press, who came and did some press releases for us.
At our launch event, we managed to collar in a local historian and journalist called Jonathan Schofield, who did our launch event, which was really good; got us a bit of profile. I think one of the key things is being open and saying, ‘Are there people around to help with this and that?’
AD: We are now entering into the ballroom, and this is the biggest space in the hall. It has got a lovely wooden floor…
PN: The major renovation funded by the share offer is the ballroom.
AD: … big green arches all the way across and large windows looking out across Stretford.
PN: The jewel in the crown of the hall, both in architectural terms and in its importance to the community.
AD: This space is the main area in which people come together. It is a real space for the community, and it has been since it was built back in 1878. John Ryland, who built the building, built it for the people of Stretford. He didn’t want it to be the town hall and he didn’t want it to be an exclusive space. One of the very first events held here was a tea party which had most of the workers who had worked on the building, their families, alongside some of the dignitaries. That is what he wanted; a space that everyone could come together. And that is what we really want it for as well.
NP: Stretford Public Hall also benefited from the Community Shares Booster Programme: this is a three-million-pound programme delivered by the Community Shares Unit and funded by Power to Change. They help the Friends to prepare their share offer, and provided £100,000 in Equity Match funding. Here is Alex Steeland from Power to Change.
Alex Steeland (AS): Since 2009, almost 120,000 people have invested in over £100 million to support 350 community businesses throughout the UK.
All businesses need risk capital to start growing and become sustainable, and this risk capital is usually provided by the owners of the enterprise who have bought shares in the business. But this approach could conflict with the social mission of community businesses, as community businesses should be run for the purpose of benefiting the community rather than in the interest of private investors who are looking to make a financial return.
Community shares have a number of unique characteristics which overcome these conflicts and make them a valuable source of finance for community businesses. They can’t be transferred between people, they have a fixed value and there is a limit on the amount of interest that can be paid.
Community shareholders only have one vote, regardless of the size of their shareholding, which promotes democratic governance. The majority of society is subject to an asset lock which prevents the society from being sold and the money from the sale being distributed to the shareholders. This removes the possibility of capital appreciation and the scope of investor speculation.
Community shares provide a source of long-term patient risk capital, which can help to attract other forms of finance such as grants, donations and debts, giving the organisation a good chance of viability and sustainability.
As a result, community shares are an ideal way for community businesses to raise funds, and are often used to raise finance to purchase community assets such as community pubs, green spaces and community centres like Stretford Public Hall.
PN: Anouska considers Power to Change’s Equity Match vital in attracting investors.
AD: I think that was one of the key factors of why our community share offer went so well, because people felt that they were doubling up their money. So we worked out how much we felt we could feasibly raise from our local community, having benchmarked against other community share offers in similar projects and similar areas, and also the money that we needed to get the work done.
PN: For Dan, one of the most important factors was spreading the ownership as widely as possible. They didn’t just want well-heeled investors bent on making a quick profit.
DW: We were really keen to keep the shares as accessible as possible by keeping the price at a level that most people could afford, and giving them enough time to save up; giving them enough options to pay for them with. The minimum share was 100 quid. You could pay £25-a-month to get up to 100 quid by the time the offer closed.
AD: We had a minimum target of £200,000, and an optimum was 250 and a maximum of 300. We worked really hard towards building a really strong business case. We used the community share mark as well to make sure that we had faith in what we were saying would be right, because we didn’t want to take people’s money and then not be able to return it for those who wanted it returned.
We then pulled together all of the information we needed for the community share paperwork: so you needed to have a share offer and a business plan. And then we launched the shares. We got marketing people involved, so, again, people locally – we always have local people because, not only is it good for us because they understand the project, but also it is that idea of using local income, using local economy and boosting people around us.
DW: We had a few other big amounts of money come in: Trafford Housing Trust, who have been very supportive from the start, they invested in a share offer; we have Manchester Lindy Hop, who, again, just came about through people who had come into the building and loved it – they really want to get on that dancefloor, and they had some money that they weren’t using, and decided to invest it here rather than it sit where it was; and Unicorn Grocery, our nearest local cooperative, also invested a good chunk of money as well. So it is those sorts of boosts, local businesses are also involved that, again, builds that confidence in people happily putting their £100 or few hundred pounds in.
AD: We then launched the share and had an amazing start – loads of money came in, and then it really flatlined, and we panicked for about two weeks, three weeks. And then, towards the end of the share offer, things just picked up. One of the highlights was the last night where it just went up and up and up, and well over what we needed; well over our target, and we were up to £256,000 with the help of Power to Change, and, again, couldn’t quite believe that our local community had done this. Over 800 people had invested. So 800 people believed in our project. 85% of them were from M32; were from Stretford, so that was special.
Josephine Glass (JG): I am a long-term resident in this area. I have grown up here through my teen years, and I have actually got four generations of family living in this area, all within a few minutes’ walk of the hall. Me and my husband, our children, my parents, my grandmother, we all became member investors, because, having lived in this area for a while, it is a fantastic area to live in terms of the local community, great access to the city and to green space. But, in terms of local amenities actually in Stretford, there aren’t as many as there could be.
PN: That was local resident and member investor, Josephine Glass, one of over 800 people that invested. It was clear, from many conversations we had with investor members, that the cause was much more important than a financial return on their investment. For many, this was the first time they had considered becoming a shareholder. Here is Andy Simpkin again.
AS: To realise that there was a shareholding opportunity that was for the greater good, was a fantastic moment of realisation. It was a very easy thing to do, and really a no-brainer. And it became an exciting thing in the community; people were talking about it and, ‘What are you going to do?’ [To visitor] Hello, are you here for Pilates?
PN: The evening Pilates class arrive, and Andy’s break is over. So what is next for the Friends of Stretford Hall? Simon Borkin again.
SB: The community share offer was really focused on how can we improve the ballroom to the point where we can get it used as much as possible, to, 1) meet our community goal, because we have always said that we want to be a multipurpose space for the community, which, the ballroom in its current state, is not allowing us to do that; but also generate sufficient income to keep trading.
So we were looking at what is the minimum amount of work that we need to do to be able to actually have a credible offer. The main thing, really, was just increasing the capacity, was a massive thing. Because of structural changes over time, we only had confidence that we could really only have about 150 people in at any one time, but it has the ability to have 400. Well, it used to have actually 700 people in when they had the seating up on the mezzanine, but the investment is about the structural strengthening to the floor, remodelling the fire escapes, improving the toilet facilities. All those things, basically, allow us to, with confidence, get the permissions we need to actually increase the capacity. By increasing the capacity, it opens up what we can use the ballroom for in terms of different events, and just get more people in, which is important, really.
PN: And getting more people in is vital for making this project sustainable for future generations. As well as operating as a community hall, this project needs to make money. There is real ambition for the ballroom to be used for concerts, weddings and other events, and these will play a major part in this community business, generating essential income. Another way is renting space out to local artists and small businesses.
AD: So we can go through here and look at the art studio. I will just see if anyone is in to give us access, because it is all locked off, as it is all private. This space is a large room of really great light. It was the vision of one of our board members, Lisa. She is an artist, and was very passionate about finding an affordable space for local artists to come to. It is really simply divided up on the floor with masking tape, and people pay per square metre. We wanted it to be a space where they could, not only do the work, and people are just doing it as a hobby, but also there are working artists who make their living here.
There are leather workers, there are wedding dress makers, painters, illustrators, all sorts of workers who get to have a bit of mess but work around other people. The artist space has been a place that has really shown what can happen if you get lots of creative people together – they form their own art collective, and that has led to lots of other activities being carried out. So we have had children’s classes and we have had life drawing, we have had animation workshops, and all sorts of things going on.
So, underneath the artists’ studios, we have got our coworking space called Loft House. We have got a lot of creatives: so graphic designers, a children’s book illustrator who does everything on a computer, and lots of other creative types.
The essential thing for keeping the building going is that the income brought in by Loft House, artists and the MP, and various other tenants we have got dotted about, is that it allows us to cover our basic overheads. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to keep the building going. We need to pay so many essentials – water, gas, business rates – those sorts of things that we have had to, over the years, cover, were, traditionally, often covered by grants. We don’t want to rely on grants. The funding is not there, and we want to move forward and be a self-sustaining project. So, from the very off, we made sure that we had tenants that we felt could get us to a place where we could just fund ourselves.
PN: So, while leather workers, artists, sculptors beaver away in their studios, on the top floor is Kate Green MP who uses the hall as her office.
Kate Green MP: It is a great space for us to be in: it is a great location, it is an iconic building. It is also important to us, I think, in terms of ethos of our MP’s office that we are making use of a community space. We pay rent into the community, we are visibly at the heart of the community; we are accessible. So it is really important to us to be in a community building; it says something about the kind of MP’s office we want to run.
PN: Back downstairs in the hall, one of the most popular groups who use the space are beginning to gather. But, as we do in every show, time to ask a community expert for their top tips. This episode it is Charlotte Hollins from the Fordhall Community Land Initiative.
Fordhall Farm has been in her family since the 1700s. When Charlotte’s father, Arthur Hollins, died in 2005, their landlord told them they would be evicted unless they could raise £800,000 to buy the farm. Charlotte saw it as a challenge. Along with her brother, Ben, community development manager Sophie Hopkins, and volunteers from across the country, she set up the Fordhall Community Land Initiative, which allows members of the public to buy community shares in the farm at £50 each. It now has over 8,000 community landlords. Here are her tips:
Charlotte Hall: My first tip for community shares is to sell the vision; that is the vision of what you will create as a result of your community share scheme, and that vision might be short term and it might have a longer-term element to it. So you could do an artist’s impression of what a building or area of land might look like; you could do some very short videos with members of your community or volunteers to say how they would like to use that asset or the community project you have got running in the future; you could share other examples of other similar projects of around the country. And words are really powerful – stories.
My second tip for community shares is about engaging people. Community shares are a great way for your community to be involved with your project, but it is not the only way for them to be involved. Sometimes you can encourage the sale of your community shares by offering more opportunities for your members to be involved, whether it be volunteering, whether it be dropping off some reams of paper or some pens for the office. Especially when community projects are in their very early days, those small resources can make a big difference. And sometimes that is a great way of continuing the engagement with your members to make them feel more involved with your project, or it may encourage people to give a little bit to see how it is all working, to get to know about you a little bit more and, when that trust is built up, then they might go on to buy their community shares, or even to buy more community shares.
My third tip for community shares it so share the journey. This is really important, both at the very beginning of your project, but almost more important after that initial excitement of that share campaign. Your members and your to-be members of your community want to feel like they are part of your project, even if they can’t be there every day. So that is sharing the successes, sharing your vision, sharing your ideas, consulting on different directions that you might take as you move forward, but also sharing the bad things, sharing the struggles, asking for advice. As many ways as possible, so you can communicate direct with your members, whether it be emails; sometimes paper copies for newsletters – there is still a demand for that; it might be social media; it could be organising once-a-year events to invite everybody onto your property, asset or project, to share last year’s journey with them. Be as open as you possibly can be, not only to sharing what is going on, but also listening to your members and taking their ideas on board.
We found, at Fordhall, that our shareholders, not only have given us a financial contribution through the purchase of their shares, but their ongoing support makes a huge difference to our organisation moving forward.
PN: That was Charlotte Hollins from Fordhall Farm. If you want to learn more about her story, check out her book, The Fight for Fordhall Farm, available, as they always say, from all good bookshops. If you are near Market Drayton, pop along for a visit. The website, fordhallfarm.com, has all the information you need.
I suppose, if this was a Hollywood film, it would end with a song. We won’t disappoint you. One of the most popular weekly events at Stretford Public Hall is the choir.
Vox Pops: People come in at the beginning, and especially in winter – it is cold and they are putting the children to bed, and they are various age groups, and they are all a bit, ‘Ugh.’ And then, when they are walking out, they are just like different people. Every week it is like, ‘Oh, so glad I came.’ So I think it is really good for wellbeing and it is just a good thing to do. And they put on shows now, and they are getting better and better.
You don’t have to be a brilliant singer. It is a community thing, and it is brilliant. You walk in and, at the end of an hour, you suddenly think, ‘God, we sound alright!’ and it just magic. It is pure magic. And I think everybody enjoys it. Well, if they don’t, it is a bit strange. But it is good. It is really good. It is good for Stretford. Great. Yes, magic.
PN: They sing in the ballroom, not quite finished but looking better than it has for many years. There is still work to be done at the hall, but my money is on it being there in another hundred years. The cotton king would have been proud.
AD: A piece of advice for anyone I would give for embarking on this is, firstly, just have faith: faith in your community, faith in your own abilities, and that you can learn things on the way, and never to be afraid to ask people when you don’t understand something. I didn’t know half of the language: things like I didn’t know the difference between capital and revenue before I started this; I didn’t know what a feasibility study was. We went in completely blind, but we believed we were doing the right thing, and carried that with us.
Also, always be open: open with the community and with people who are supporting you, your motives and why you want to do something. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers; there are always people like that. They can come and try and help if they want or you can just ignore them; it is not worth listening to negative feedback.
You will also get people saying, ‘Well, you should really be doing this,’ and the advice I always give there is, well, just tell them to do it. Give them the chance. And, if they really think things should be done that way, let them go off and try for a bit, and you will find, either they will go and do it brilliantly or they will just disappear and never come back to saying the same thing.
But listen to other people’s ideas. Don’t be afraid to admit when you get things wrong, because you will get things wrong, and that is fine. You can just start up and do things differently next time.
PN: I hope you have enjoyed listening to the experiences of those who saved Stretford Hall. If you are thinking about doing something similar or in the middle of your community business adventure, get the latest news on events, grants and support on the Power to Change website: that is powertochange.org.uk. We will be adding links and other useful information on the show notes for this episode, and you can also connect with us by following on Twitter @theCBcbfix. We would love to hear your thoughts on your show and your stories about community activism.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the Community Business Fix in your favourite podcast app, and give us a share, like and review. Once you are subscribed, it will mean you won’t miss our next episode, where we will be travelling to London, to find out about community energy projects at Repowering London.
You have been listening to a Fieldwork production commissioned by Power to Change. It was presented by Neil Roberts, with research and production by Curtis James, sound and music by Simon James, writing and executive production by Chris Paling.
The show wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Friends of Stretford Public Hall, in Manchester.