A new charitable co-op has taken ownership of a Worcestershire retail park and farm. The £2.6m deal will bring shareholders 5% interest and support organic community agriculture.
Community investors put in £400,000 for Stockwood Business Park and Rush Farm near Redditch. This was leveraged to raise over £2m in loans from the Charities Aid Foundation Bank, the Biodynamic Land Trust and Resonance’s Community Share Underwriting Fund.
Stockwood Community Benefit Society completed the purchase on 21 June. It holds both the farm and business park in trust for perpetuity.
The income from the business park is expected to provide a stable return. The retained surplus will be used to develop the farm, engage the community and raise awareness about land and resource stewardship.
The plan was the brainchild of co-founder of the co-op Sebastian Parsons, whose grandfather lost his biodynamic farm in the late 1980s. He wanted to protect the farm as an organic and biodynamic by removing it from private ownership.
He said: “Stockwood Community Benefit Society has been founded to protect Rush Farm and the community that interacts with it forever. By purchasing the whole estate – farm and business park together – the society has a robust financial model, and a tool to further its charitable objectives.”
The co-op has been branded “a truly inclusive community project”. Because the farm is organic it offers more jobs to local people than conventional agriculture. Members can buy produce and get involved in the farm as volunteers. They can also participate in training courses and events, learning skills to help build the future of the society. The board will be voted in by members annually.
The minimum investment was set at £100 to allow those with limited capital to participate. All shareholders will receive the 5% return.
The deal, one of the largest community asset acquisitions of its kind, was structured by Resonance, which partnered with Ethex to market the share offer. It involved over 130 corporate and individual investors.
Daniel Brewer, managing director of Resonance said: “It’s hugely rewarding when deals like this come together and we can see the dreams and visions of communities become a reality. This asset is now locked in perpetuity for generations to come for the community to enjoy and profit from.
“CAF Bank were the largest investor and the anchor for the whole project. They have been fair, transparent, and accommodating throughout this process offering terms that give room for the charitable society to grow and establish itself over the coming years, I hope we do many more deals with them.”
Simon Proctor, head of lending at Resonance, added: “Stockwood, with its established revenue streams, highly motivated and committed team, offer us as a bank both the security and confidence we need to use our depositors money wisely, but also a chance to extend our charitable impact into another community. The team have done exceptionally well to attract so many investors and engage so widely with both its immediate community and more widely.” There are 27 units in the business park with 19 tenants.
Peter Ostacchini, chief executive of CAF Bank, said: “We’re a bank entirely devoted to supporting charities and social enterprises, so we were delighted to be able to support this great project to maintain farmland for the benefit of the local community. Many charities and community groups struggle to borrow money on the high street, so this is a fantastic example of what people can do when they are backed by a lender which understands what groups like Stockwood are trying to achieve.”