Community-owned buildings adding £220m a year to economy

  • First full study of community-owned land and buildings in over a decade reveals a model of ownership making an increasingly important contribution to the economy
  • Research finds there are over 6,300 community-owned assets (eg leisure centres and village halls) in England, adding nearly £220m a year to UK GVA and pumping £150m into local economies
  • Authors call for greater support for these assets to fulfil their economic potential

 

Libraries, leisure centres, parks, shops and other community-owned land and buildings are playing an increasingly important role in our economy, according to fresh analysis published today.

The research, commissioned by Power to Change [1] and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, is the first full analysis of the economic contribution and financial health of England’s much-loved community-owned assets [2] in over a decade. Entitled Our assets, our future [3] and authored by a team of researchers from the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) [4] at Sheffield Hallam University and the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR), it finds that community-owned assets are:

  • a valuable part of the economy – there are more than 6,300 community-owned assets in the country, contributing nearly £220 million to the economy every year
  • financially robust – despite limited resources, three-quarters of community-owned assets say they are in good financial health
  • a growth sector – nearly a third of all community-owned assets came into community ownership in the last decade

 

The research sets out the true extent of the contribution made by community-owned assets to the economy, pumping nearly £150 million a year of spending directly into the local communities where they are based.

As well as demonstrating for the first time the significant and growing contribution made to the economy by community-owned assets, the research highlights areas where the sector needs more support in order to fulfil its economic potential. For instance:

  • Poorer areas are less likely to have community-owned assets, with the most deprived 30% of neighbourhoods containing just 18% of assets
  • One in five assets made an operating loss of 10% or more of revenue in the last financial year

 

While more rural and less deprived areas tend to have higher numbers of assets in community ownership, some urban areas buck the trend – particularly Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Southwark. That suggests the importance of creating an environment which is supportive of community ownership.

The authors therefore call for a range of measures which national and local government should consider to support the growth of the community ownership sector. These include making it easier to transfer assets into community ownership, providing more business planning and general support for community organisations, and ensuring community owners have more reliable access to cheap finance (and greater protections against financial difficulties).

Vidhya Alakeson, Chief Executive of Power to Change, said:

“While many are fond of community-owned shops, parks, pubs and heritage buildings, few are aware how economically important these assets are. Now, for the first time, we know that they play an increasingly vital role, not just in the places where they’re based but in the wider economy.

When communities directly own land and buildings, they can start to meet the real needs of people in their area. That’s why we need concerted action from policymakers at all levels to support community ownership.”

Ian Wilson, lead author and Principal Research Fellow from the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) at Sheffield Hallam University, said:

“The findings from our research show that our community-owned assets contribute significantly to the UK economy and that this is a growth sector. Most people involved in running community assets do so in order to preserve and improve them because they are of value to their local community.

“However, it is important to note the research shows that although 31% of these assets are in excellent financial health, the sector needs more financial support in order to fulfil its economic potential.”

Case study

Rotunda is a charity and community hub based in Kirkdale, Liverpool, which provides a range of services for the local community, including a café/bistro, garden, education and training courses, a nursery and a school. It is based in a row of Georgian houses and owns the freehold to the buildings, purchased from private sellers from 1986 onwards by local community leaders with financial support from Liverpool Community College. It has 27 staff members and 30 volunteers.

Community ownership of Rotunda means the organisation is focused on meeting the needs of the community, including providing important services and jobs locally, and an inclusive and welcoming environment where people can access education and support. It also helps to reduce social isolation and provides (or signposts to) key services needed by the community.

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Notes to editors

  1. Power to Change is the independent trust that supports community businesses in England. Community businesses are locally rooted, community-led, trade for community benefit and make life better for local people. Power to Change received its endowment from the National Lottery Community Fund in 2015.
  2. A “community-owned asset” is defined in the report as “land, buildings or other large physical structures for which long-term ownership rights are in place – for instance through a freehold or leasehold of 25 years or more – and where this is held by a community or voluntary organisation which operates for the benefit of local people” and “the decision- making body for the asset is controlled by local residents”.
  3. Power to Change and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government commissioned this research in mid-2018. The scope of the project was to create a national picture of community asset ownership, and to assess their financial health and sustainability, and economic impact. The project sought to address evidence gaps identified in earlier work commissioned by Power to Change.
  4. The Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) is a leading UK policy research centre based at Sheffield Hallam University, which seeks to understand the impact of social and economic disadvantage on places and people, and assess critically the policies and interventions targeted at these issues. More information about CRESR can be found at:www.shu.ac.uk/cresr.