Are we on the verge of a community business revolution in the Liverpool City Region?

By Chris Catterall, Chief Executive for Capacity 

In my former role at The Reader, a social enterprise promoting the value of shared reading, I was involved in the successful transfer of ownership of Calderstones Mansion House in Calderstones Park from Liverpool City Council to the Reader, four years ago.

Complicated. Long. Frustrating. These are just some of the words that come to mind when recalling the transfer process.

But, far more importantly, I also remember the people I encountered during the transfer and the hugely successful enterprises that it enabled.

I remember the big smile from the woman who got married in the Mansion House thirty years earlier but hadn’t been back in the building since because it had closed soon after.

And the man who accessed community services from the Mansion House and believed that all mental health services should be delivered from green spaces and parks because of the impact it had on his wellbeing.

I also think of the three businesses that formed from it, including the Ice Cream Parlour and StoryBarn, which are now thriving community hubs, bringing together local people whilst also helping to support the running costs of the building.

In short, Community Asset Transfers can be the key factor that gets new community enterprises off the ground.

With funding from Power to Change, Capacity: The Public Services Lab has been acting as intermediary between local authorities and community organisations, all involved in the transfer of assets.

In under a year, we have supported a range of asset transfers. For example, a community library is due to be transferred in January; another community organisation is scheduled to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to create one of the largest Community Land Trusts in the country; and five other community asset transfers are in the pipeline.

So are we on the verge of a potential community asset transfer revolution in Liverpool?  The answer is an emphatic YES!  

 However, through working with Power to Change we have learned some important lessons about asset transfers:

  • Local authorities and community organisations both need to have access to high quality business, property development, and legal support.
  • That support needs to be available across the Liverpool City Region, not for one year but over the medium to long-term.
  • In return, local authorities and other public sector bodies need to ‘get’ the concept and have a simple process for transferring assets to community organisations.
  • Community enterprises must have commercially viable business models: social outcomes on their own are not enough.

And whilst it is easy to focus on the needs of the community businesses, we also need to consider the support available to Local Authorities who, with less financial resource these days, have reduced staff capacity and often need to prioritise assets which generate higher business rates and council tax receipts.

Mark Kitts, the former Assistant Director of Regeneration at Liverpool City Council and the new Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council’s Housing Company says:

“A model involving an intermediary organisation with good quality business development, architectural and building expertise and with funding to provide capacity to both the local authority and community organisations over the medium to long term, would undoubtedly improve the quality and deliverability of community asset transfers.”

Of course, the availability of such support will not only lead to a surge in Community Asset Transfers, but it will have the potential to spark a community business revolution in the Liverpool City Region. The opportunities are there, we just need to seize them.

 

Join us in that revolution – start by reading our report.