The pandemic has thrown our economy upside down and transformed our high streets across every city, town, and village. Vacant shops and boarded-up businesses have become the norm; the virus striking at the very core of our communities.
Over the past year, there has been a rising trend in social capitalism which has seen local people come together to get involved in community enterprise schemes and projects. What’s more, with the last quarter’s figures revealing a 5.1% unemployment rate between Oct-Dec 2020, there is still an untapped business opportunity here, as a means of instilling purpose, utilising skills, and restoring the lifeblood to lost communities.
In neighbourhoods across the country there are buildings and amenities that are integral to the communities that use them. This could be a village shop, a pub, a community centre, or a library for example. Many provide a base from which to deliver public services to the local community. The closure or sale of such buildings and amenities can create lasting damage in communities and threaten the provision of services.
Yet out of change arises opportunity. For business owners, entrepreneurs, or local community groups, could there be gold in them thar high streets or village squares? Gold that comes in the form of community ownership and extends beyond merely monetary – to resurrect a community brings challenges but also high reward which could prove an invaluable move in many ways.
This opportunity has been boosted following this month’s Budget announcement, with the chancellor pledging a £150m pot to help communities take over local pubs and other hospitality venues under threat of closure, to help keep such venues at “the heart and soul of our local towns and villages”.
Under the fund, which will open in the summer, community groups will be able to bid for up to £250,000 of matched funding to help them to buy local pubs to run as community-owned businesses, with up to £1m being available in “exceptional cases” to community groups to buy their local sports club.
What is a community enterprise?
So, what exactly is a community enterprise? In short, it is a rewarding way of giving people control over the buildings and spaces that have significance to them and ensuring these spaces are used in ways that meet the priorities and needs of the local community.
An asset of community value (ACV) offers opportunity for communities to keep such buildings in public use and ensure they remain a social hub for the community. It is defined as a building or other land if its main use has recently been or is presently used to further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community and could do so in the future. The Localism Act states that ‘social interests’ include cultural, recreational and sporting interests, such as for example:
- Cultural or sporting or recreational spaces – sports and leisure centres, swimming pools/lidos, libraries, theatres, museums
- Community spaces – community centres, community offices, resource centres, village halls, faith buildings
- Woodlands, parks, and open green spaces
- Any economic use which also provides an important local social benefit – in these cases, it is the social value of the business that counts, not just the nature of the business – this could include village shops, coffee shops, pubs and markets.
Restoring faith: The Midsteeple Quarter regeneration project
This concept has already become a reality in Dumfries, with high ambition realised through the rebirth of not just one building, but an entire high street. Hailed as a “unique and ambitious” example of how to save the UK’s high streets, the Midsteeple Quarter regeneration is the UK’s first community-owned high street development and is one of six projects held up in a study looking at the decline of town centre shopping.
With money raised from crowdfunding, private investment, and grants from Dumfries and Galloway Council and the Scottish Government, the Midsteeple Quarter project is purchasing and developing unused buildings on the high street.
With projects such as this, it is becoming ever clearer that community ownership is vital to the revival of the high street. Through further effective collaboration between the community, public and private sectors, we could see broken towns and villages replaced by stable, sustainable, and thriving community centres that are economically robust enough to deal with any future crisis. Could this open up a unique opportunity for business owners, as dramatic as it sounds, to become society’s saviours in these unprecedented times?
So how do you go about gaining community ownership?
It’s not a particularly straightforward system, but there is a process to follow, nonetheless. Start by getting a group together and approaching an accountant or accountancy practice for advice on social enterprises. You need to think about a business model that can generate an income, as well as what type of legal entity and management structure will drive the project forward. From there, you can apply for spaces to become ACVs with your local Council for example, potentially giving your group the option to buy or lease land when it comes up for sale. Your accountant will be able to help with all of the technical processes, but in the meantime, more information can be found through the UK government website, the My Community website, or the Social Enterprise website.
This article has been provided by The Institute of Financial Accountants. More information can be found at www.ifa.org.uk