Stockwood Community Benefit Society (CBS), owner of the biodynamic Rush Farm and business park in Worcestershire, is seeking to raise a further £500,000 through a share offer, offering a 5% return on investment.
Rush Farm – once home to the writing and recording of BBC Radio 4 soap opera The Archers in the early 1950s – is the UK’s only 100% community-owned farm.
It opened up to investors four years ago and more than 300 investors have invested their savings to make a 5% financial return. Stockwood says the farm offers significant social, environmental and economic impacts in the form of agricultural productivity, rural employment, renewable energy generation and wildlife habitat.
The business has developed “a successful holistic and integrated business model that shifts corporate purpose towards the common good through community ownership”, it adds.
Stockwood now wants to scale up the initiative across the UK and will hold a conference next spring to meet potential partners for similar projects.
Chief executive Sebastian Parsons said: “Stockwood showcases that it is possible to have a thriving and sustainable farm business that enhances the wellbeing and security of the local community. We’re asking people to ethically invest in a project that will have decent returns and high social and environmental impacts.
“The potential for this business model to be scaled up across the UK to protect land for future generations is huge. There are hundreds of farmers looking to diversify who have empty outhouses ready to be transformed into business parks that will support the local economy.
“Their land can provide a source of wealth and health for the community where nature and farming thrive. We want to hear from people interested to make this happen.”
Stockwood investor Fern Hodges said: “Apart from a great interest rate, it’s good to know my savings are doing something positive. Stockwood is more complex than the other organisations because it combines organic farming with running a business park in ways that are as environmentally sustainable as practicable. It also educates young people about food production and the environment. It’s a really interesting mix.”
The £400,000 ground source heating and cooling system on the site won a regional award for the best large scale renewable energy project in 2017 and generates 86% of the business park’s total energy demand. To offset the purchase of electricity from the grid required to power the heat pumps, Stockwood CBS has installed 170 solar panels which can generate 50 kW of clean electricity. The renewable energy project generates over £50,000 of additional income, on top of the rent from Stockwood Business Park.
The 190-acre farm is run to the highest certified Demeter biodynamic and Soil Association organic standards, farming traditional Hereford cattle herd and Llyn sheep flock. Before 2005 the area was intensively farmed. They have now restored the soils and the land has become more resilient.
Rush Farm also offers habitat for a variety of species including the rare brown hairstreak butterfly and lapwings. The farm is supported by Natural England’s High Level Stewardship Scheme to support the development of wildlife habitats.
Stockwood CBS was awarded a grant by the Esmee Fairburn Foundation to develop and implement a social impact framework.
The share offer pays a 5% return over four years and the minimum investment is £100. Shares are available through Ethex and via its website www.stockwoodcbs.org. Its sustainable and ethical model enjoys strong support from over 300 investors, who hold equal voting rights and become part of an inclusive community.