£600k funding boost for Community Shares Fund

The funding will be used to help save threatened high street buildings

The Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) has allocated a funding pot of £600,000 for communities working together to save local buildings and spaces.

The funding from AHF will support the Community Shares Booster Programme delivered by Co-operatives UK in partnership with Locality. Power to Change is also a funding partner of the programme, which supports community businesses to run successful community share offers. The wider fund is open to a range of projects and AHF’s contribution is ring fenced for heritage projects that play an important role in high street revival and the economic resilience of an area.

One of the first groups to benefit from the new funding pot, Marsden Grocery Community Benefit Society, was given matched investment of £6,650 towards its community share offer. This saw 396 local people come together to raise over £53,000 to set up a co-operative grocery store after their local greengrocers closed.

The local community in Colne Valley, a postindustrial village, has seen several local retail businesses close recently.

Fiona Russell, chair of Marsden Grocery Community Benefit Society, said: “Marsden can feel a long way away from anywhere, particularly for older people and those struggling to make ends meet. Losing our greengrocers felt like a real moment of threat in our community. We were seriously worried that other retail businesses would follow and that our self-sufficiency, which is a village hallmark, would be lost.”

“Support from the Community Shares Booster programme has been so important to the development of the shop. It gave us much-needed hope when we felt daunted by how much we had to raise. And the process of assessment itself was really helpful.

“It made us really think through the choices we were making and our business plan is far stronger for having to go through such a rigorous procedure. All in all, it’s strengthened our planning, built our confidence. And, of course, we’re really glad that we were awarded the money.”

The £600,000 from the Architectural Heritage Fund will pay for grants of up to £10,000 to community businesses, in order to help them launch community share offers.

Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, said, “We are delighted to be working with the Architectural Heritage Fund, supporting community owned businesses like Marsden Grocery, which act as vital anchor businesses to keep local high streets alive and help retain the heritage character of these special places.

“Community shares are a co-operative solution to high street closures with local residents becoming co-owners, meaning they have a vested interest in the businesses continued success.”

Matthew Mckeague, chief executive at the Architectural Heritage Fund, said: “The Architectural Heritage Fund has been investing in community share offers for a number of years, including co-operative pubs such as the Ivy House in Peckham and workspaces such as Portland Works in Sheffield. We are excited by this new partnership with Co-operatives UK and look forward to working with them in supporting community businesses that will breathe new life into high streets and town centres through the regeneration of historic buildings.”

Vidhya Alakeson, chief executive at Power to Change said: “Our research has shown that big business alone cannot solve the country’s high street crisis. Communities are absolutely key to finding the right solutions for them and knowing what kind of business they need on their doorsteps. The fact that so many people in Marsden put their hands in their pockets to support Marsden Grocery is testament to how valued it is. It is extremely positive that AHF shares our vision and has provided this essential funding which will be ring-fenced specifically for high street projects.”

Since 2016, the Community Shares Booster Programme has invested over £1.7m into community businesses across the country. 

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