Impact of community shares model increasing across the UK

More than 100 communities applied to the Booster Fund for support and investment in 2023

Zion Community Space in Bristol had been running as a privately owned community hub for over a decade when its owner decided to step away during the pandemic. In response, a group of locals launched a community share offer to raise the capital to purchase the building.

“We put the opportunity to purchase to the local community to gauge interest levels and support,” recalls Emma Moore, Zion’s centre manager. “Seeing that we were just coming out of Covid, we were pretty gobsmacked to get 130 local residents turn up to the meeting. That gave us the confidence to move forward.”

Zion is one of the 109 different communities to have applied to the Booster Fund for support and investment in 2023. Managed by the Community Shares Unit, a joint initiative of Co-operatives UK, Locality and Plunkett UK, the fund targets and supports communities and business models in less affluent areas that may struggle to otherwise reach their targets. 

With the help of Booster Fund support, Zion launched a community share offer, raising £234,908 from 370 investors, including £25,000 match equity funding from the Community Shares Booster Fund.

“There was so much support for the process from Co-operatives UK, Locality and Power to Change and being able to access grants like Reach funding to put the plans in action,” adds Moore. “We had grant support from local Bristol organisations including Nesbit Trust, Quartet Trust, John James Foundation and Bristol City Council Community Development Team as well as nationally from the Co-operatives UK Community Shares Booster and Sovereign Housing. We were able to have 50% of the capital in place and then we successfully applied for the Community Ownership Fund from the Department of Levelling Up which was incredible.”

Moore says that groups looking to use the community share model should be prepared for “a very intense but massively rewarding couple of years”. In Zion’s case, the offer of buying the building was launched at the beginning of 2021 but the purchase of the building was not finalised until May 2023.

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“Speak to your local community and engage them at the start of the process,” is Moore’s advice to groups looks to replicate Zion’s example. “Ask them who can help and use all the skills that your group has to offer. You never know who loves spreadsheets, who is a social media whizz or who likes to get their steps in each day by delivering leaflets. These will be the people who will investing in your community asset. From our 381 investors, 243 came from the immediate postcode area.”

Being part of a network of supportive co-operatives also helped. The Bristol Cable covered the launch of the share offer, which helped to raise awareness about the initiative, while “all of the co-ops we contacted for support and advice were really generous with their time,” adds Moore. 

Zion runs a café and hosting more than 200 activities and events each year. According to Moore, the space is a real asset for the local community. 

“We are considered a community anchor organisation in Bristol and continue to offer support and opportunities for all members of our community,” she adds. “At the same time we have successfully grown our traded income through our community cafe, events and hall hire.  We have some very exciting larger projects coming up this year working with other partners in Bristol, so watch this space.”

Last year what was the busiest to date for the Community Shares Unit. Around 80 different communities were supported on their journey to raising community shares during 2023. This included helping them achieve the Community Shares Standard Mark, offering pre-grant advice, and providing development grants and match-funded investments in community share offers. A total of 27 new advisors also completed the Unit’s community shares practitioner training in 2023.

Through the Community Shares Booster Fund, the unit provides early-stage pre-grant support, with access to an expert to plan out early ideas for less ready communities, and  development grants to prepare community share offers. It also matches equity investments, with Co-operatives UK becoming an institutional investor matching money raised from the community pound for pound up to a maximum.

Post-investment support links up investees with the wider Co-operatives UK membership provides access to other opportunities. The apex also offers ongoing advice and guidance.

The figures show the added value the community shares system brings. For every £1 Co-operatives UK invested through the Booster Fund as matched equity, the communities in question raised an additional £9.30 from community shares during the year.

“We’re helping communities take ownership and control of the things that really matter to them,” says John Dawson, head of market development at Co-operatives UK. “We know how important having a stake and say is to sustainability. Continued strong uptake of our Community Shares Standard Mark also demonstrates the value of accreditation and meeting national standards of good practice with new share offers. 

“It’s genuine co-operation at a grassroots level. Look at York Supplies, in Birmingham, who saved their local hardware store by raising £350k from 700 investors. It shows what is possible when people come together – especially when they tap into the support of organisations like Co-operatives UK.”