Could Your Community Share?, seminar delegates asked

We cannot display this gallery

Village shop or pub at risk of closure? Want to establish an organic food or renewable energy business? Community shares could hold the answer to your finance issue.

At a seminar about community shares in Gloucester last week, experts explained how co-operatives and social enterprises were selling community shares to raise the start-up capital needed to get projects off the ground.

The Co-operative Futures seminar, called Could Your Community Share?, heard from three businesspeople who had run successful community share issues.

Mark Luntley, chairman of Westmill Wind Farm on the Wiltshire / Oxfordshire border told delegates how his co-operative had raised £4.6 million through the issue of community shares to erect five 49-metre wind turbines, which generate enough energy to power 2,500 homes.

This year Westmill Solar Co-op, on the same site, reached its £4 million community share issue target in a record-breaking six weeks, enabling it to construct a 21,000 panel solar farm.

“Community shares are a way to enable people to invest in something they believe in,” said Mark. “Our investors tend to be local – over half of our investors come from within a 50 mile radius of the farm.

“We sell our electricity to suppliers like Good Energy and Co-operative Energy, and because our shareholders tend to buy their electricity from these companies it means they get a supply of green electricity for 25 years, then they get their money back.

“Community shares give investors a greater sense of ownership, more of the profits remain in the local community, and the system creates an army of advocates.”

Joe Hasell from Cultivate Oxford, a community benefit society bringing fresh, local, organically-grown food direct from farmers to the city, talked about the launch of his co-operative’s £55,000 community share issue to buy a farm, equipment and seeds and a new VegVan.

“We set up a five-acre market garden with a lovely view of Didcot power station,” joked Joe. “Our co-operative was formed to improve the food system from an environmental and social perspective. And our veg van provides us – and other local producers – with an innovative route to market. It’s like a mobile greengrocer.”

Joe said the issue of shares was a good alternative to grant funding. “We’re not beholden to funders, and because our shareholders want us to succeed they are our best customers and advocates: at least 50 percent of our trade comes from our members, and perhaps two-thirds from our members’ network.”

Joe said community shares were something that the public – and the media – could get excited about: “They’re cool and they’re sexy,” he said, “but it takes a lot of work to promote a share issue. In our case we were promoting the venture when we could ave been planting.”

Alison Crane from Gloucestershire Community Energy Co-op talked about raising £105,000 in shares to install 186 solar panels on the roof of the City Works building in Gloucester – the former shirt factory turned community enterprise hub, headquarters of Co-operative Futures, and the venue for the seminar.

“Because of the Feed In Tariff we were able to offer our investors a return of five percent,” said Alison. “We attracted 49 investors, nearly all of whom were individuals. The scheme was a good alternative to the rent-a-roof system system where the installers keep the Feed In Tariff and get rich – here it’s the community that gets rich.

Jo White, director of Co-operative Futures, told delegates that there was a growing trend to move away from ‘fundraising’ and towards ‘investment’, with public recognition that some community services are best delivered through a business, like a co-operative Industrial and Provident Society.

“There is also a growing appreciation,” she said, “that businesses can be run for a social purpose, and not solely for private profit.”

“The typical investor,” said Jo, “sees the purchase of community shares as an investment, rather than a donation. “

To find out more about forming a co-operative or community benefit society, contact Co-operative Futures at www.futures.coop

This entry was posted in Agriculture, Big Society, Co-operative, Environment, Food, Retail and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.