A community shares revolution has been quietly sweeping the country

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The Community Shares Booster programme has been pivotal to the community shares revolution.

The Community Shares Booster programme has been pivotal in helping bring about this revolution. Established in 2016 with Power to Change and the Community Shares Unit (CSU), a partnership of Co-operatives UK and Locality, the programme supports community businesses to develop community share offers and provide match equity funding to incentivize others to invest.

We’ve been on a learning journey, and 5 years on, we’re taking some time to reflect and share our experience. The Boosting community ownership through community shares roundtable event, held in April 2021 brought together partners and funders to highlight the impact of the programme and explore how to further unlock the potential of this innovative form of patient capital.

Power to Change and the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF,) who became a partner on the programme in 2018, have invested £2.6m and have invested into 41 community businesses. This has helped raise an additional £7.3m from over 10,000 people within communities.

Matthew McKeague, Chief Executive of the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) and Vidhya Alakeson, Chief Executive of Power to Change both spoke about how investing alongside the community provides a different relationship to the traditional more transactional power dynamic you have as a grant funder or lender.

Community shares are special. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the community. We never dwarf the community which is incredibly important. I have found it really rewarding to invest in this way on a partnership basis than in a traditional grant funding basis.

– Vidhya Alakeson CEO, Power to Change

Community shares can provide the right type of capital to help a business to grow. It’s long term, it’s patient and the financial discipline of community shares helps a community business succeed. The recent Understanding a Maturing Community Shares Market research (2020) found that:

  • 92% of community businesses who have raised share capital are still trading.
  • 85% of community businesses said that community shares have had a positive impact on their financial performance

As examples such as Warwick Bridge Mill and Wythenshawe AFC demonstrate, community shares can work in different sectors and in deprived, as well as affluent neighbourhoods.

This is game-changing. Community shares are a really strong investment option. When you live in a city you live back-to-back with poorer and wealthier areas, community shares transcends this. Shares offer people a way to take control of their own destiny. They do distribute power and distribute wealth.

– Rose Marley CEO, Co-operatives UK

Interestingly, Covid-19 has not affected the community shares market and we’ve backed more community share offers over the last year than previously. There is a real moment now post-Covid, to mobilise people who have been moved to become more involved in their neighbourhood and enable them to co-own assets and deliver services.

The event was a good opportunity to explore the opportunities as well as the barriers to helping more community business to benefit from the plethora of positive outcomes of community shares.

“It was more than the financial support,” says Philip Healy, Warwick Bridge Mill steering group member. “It was the connections we’ve made and the other support we’ve been able to access. We’ve gained local knowledge, new connections, committed volunteers as well as an immediate market of customers. We had people knocking on the door asking for flour.”  

There is work to overcome barriers to grow the community shares market including:

  • Providing early stage start up support to community businesses, including raising awareness of the right governance arrangements for community shares
  • How the long term investment within community shares sits alongside short term political and funding cycles?
  • Demonstrating how community shares works in other sectors beyond pubs, shops and energy

 

PTC and AHF’s equity investment matches that from the community, and our investment is held and managed by Cooperatives UK. We know the demand for patient matched equity investment is growing, and we’ve learnt there is a real potential for others to provide ‘wholesale’ investment into Booster as a fund to be deployed into a number of exciting new share offers.

The good news for a funder motivated to invest in community shares is the Booster programme provides a ready-made investment vehicle, helping save time and resources, and makes it easier for groups to access the right support. Working in partnership with the Community Shares Unit has the advantage of the wealth of technical expertise, wrap around support groups need, as well as reassurance of the quality mark for community shares. For funders and institutional investors, when you invest in community shares you can directly see the support from the community who are backing it themselves financially and invested in the long term success.

The average anticipated interest rate on investment is 2.36% and the default rate on our investments is 0%.

We’re keen to invite more funders to join the Booster partnership and help grow this exciting movement, particularly within community-led housing, sports, arts and local or combined authorities. Get in touch with Power to Change, if you would like to discuss this exciting opportunity.

Find out more about the Community Shares Booster programme. Looking for the latest research on community shares? You’ll find it on the Co-operatives UK website.