The Wales Co-operative Centre has launched Community Shares Wales to support communities who want to invest in enterprises serving a community purpose.
Funded by the Big Lottery Fund Wales, the project will be delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre in partnership with the Development Trust Association, the Wales Council for Voluntary Action and the Plunkett Foundation. It will provide support across Wales from October 2016 for three years and will work closely with the Community Shares Unit in England.
“Community Shares Wales aims to address the closures of valued community services across Wales and the difficulty faced by communities in raising money to establish new services and facilities,” said Derek Walker, chief executive at the Wales Co-operative Centre.
“Until now, there has not been the provision available to meet the demand in Wales for expert support in developing community share schemes.
“This unique type of alternative finance ensures that serving the community, rather than the financial interest of investors, remains at the forefront of the organisation’s work, by giving each shareholder one vote in their democratic processes, regardless of the size of their shareholding. All the while giving the organisations greater freedom to use the capital they have raised than traditional, restricted funding would allow.”
Community Shares Wales aims to support 15 organisations over the next three years to develop a community share scheme and develop new or enhanced services across the country. It will deliver a range of activities, including: direct support to communities, the provision of resources, training and skills development, and an online presence for community shares in Wales. By the end of the three years, the project hopes to have seen 4,500 community members invest in their local share offer.
The launch event took place on 21 October at the Riverside Market Garden in the Vale of Glamorgan, which itself raised money through a community share issue to support its work to grow and sell good quality produce in the local area. To date over 150 community shareholders have invested nearly £12,000 between them to help fund farming equipment and polytunnels.
Actor Michael Sheen, a long-time supporter of the co-operative movement in Wales, attended the launch.
“In Wales, we have a sense of a memory of what it is to be a real community, have ownership of your community and influence what happens to it,” he said.
“The miners used to use their pay packet to put towards something that would benefit the community, so it’s in our DNA, our history.
“Social enterprises, co-operatives and community share schemes can be a real engine for change here in Wales. If we can bring ideas to the people, the fantastic ones that exist, then we already have the communities which are ready to work together and make them a reality.”