New research shows that England’s 6,300 community-owned assets are contributing nearly £220m to the economy every year.
The Our assets, our future report is written by a team of researchers from the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) at Sheffield Hallam University and the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR).
The team carried out interviews with eight funders and support organisations, conducted an online and postal survey of potential asset-owning community organisations, and undertook case study research with 27 assets in community ownership in five local authority areas.
They found that, despite limited resources, three-quarters of community-owned assets say they are in good financial health. The majority of assets in community ownership provided a ‘micro’ (32%) or ‘small’ (48%) revenue of less than £100,000.
The report also confirms that the sector is growing, with nearly a third of its assets coming into community ownership in the last decade. Community-owned assets are also pumping nearly £150m a year of spending directly into the local communities where they are based.
However, poorer areas are less likely to have community-owned assets, with the most deprived 30% of neighbourhoods containing just 18% of assets. And one in five community assets made an operating loss of 10% or more of revenue in the last financial year.
More rural and less deprived areas tend to have higher numbers of assets in community ownership – with the exception of some urban areas, particularly Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Southwark. The authors of the report believe the trend shows the importance of creating an environment which is supportive of community ownership.
The cost of maintenance was the most common factor reported to have affected the financial health of community-owned assets in the last three years, at 46%, with other barriers including the scale of expenses, poor revenue from the asset, not being able to recruit a full volunteer base and limited access to grant-funding.
Ian Wilson, lead author and principal research fellow from the CRESR, 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.”
The research highlights areas where the sector needs more support in order to fulfil its economic potential. It suggests 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.
The research was commissioned by Power to Change and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
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.”