Community Shares Unit

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Community Shares Unit All those who have been part of the remarkable success story of community shares - raising finance from local people for local action - will be encouraged to hear that a new source of advice was launched today to help spread good practice.

The Community Shares Unit, hosted by Co-operatives UK working in partnership with Locality, was 'opened for business' by Don Foster MP, Minister for Communities and Local Government in October 2012. This newly established service will build on the work of the pathfinder pilots involved in the first Community Shares Programme and others since that finished. This developed learning and intelligence within the market, culminating in a Practitioners Guide to Community Shares. The Community Shares Unit will now add to this by offering free hands-on support and advice, working in collaboration with others wherever possible.

Growing the market for community shares

Over recent years, the community shares market has expanded fast. According to Jim Brown, Strategic Adviser to the new Community Shares Unit, the number of co-operative and community benefit societies, financed by, or planning to offer community shares has grown from around 58 to 164 societies.

This rapid growth demonstrates the notable appetite for investing in enterprises that serve a community purpose. Indeed one of the pilots, Sheffield Renewables, is currently making good progress on a share issue of £250,000, open to the end of the year, to develop a series of energy projects in and around Sheffield, starting with the Jordan Dam Hydropower scheme on the River Don.

This follows two other significant share issues this year with FC United and Cultivate. The former has raised well over its target of £1.6m to a help fund a new football ground and community sports facility in Moston, north Manchester. Meanwhile Oxford-based social enterprise Cultivate raised £80,000 from investors in just three months, smashing its £55,000 target and which demonstrates the support for locally grown food in the area. Of course, there are many other examples of successful community share offers from across the country. However, there is a need to build on this momentum is crucial to ensure sustainable growth and to develop standards of good practice in the market. This is where the Community Shares Unit will add real value. From today, the service will act as a central point of reference and support to communities, investors, intermediaries and other organisations involved in community enterprise and social investment.

What is the Community Shares Unit?

The unit is supported by the Department of Communities and Local Government for three years and will be delivered by the same partnership of Co-operatives UK and Locality. Modelled on the highly successful Asset Transfer Unit within Locality, the new unit will work with partners to develop standards of good practice, while also working with government to encourage policy reforms which support the growth of community shares. It will also be a central reference point for market intelligence, providing latest information on community share activities nationwide, as well as producing regularly-updated guidance materials.

The unit will also operate as a dynamic hub for support, building relationships with networks and organisations to signpost communities, investors and other interest parties to the most appropriate forms of advice and assistance to develop new share offers and support existing ones. Finally, it will act as a strong platform for profiling the community share model, raising awareness of the value of the approach to new entrants and facilitating peer support and networking to those already involved in community shares.

Next steps

All of which demonstrates exciting developments moving forward. However, for now please continue to visit the website http://www.communityshares.org.uk which will be updated regularly over the coming weeks and months as the Community Shares Unit develops its offer. You can also expect more frequent newsletters which will cover all the developments within the market, along with news of forthcoming events, resources and initiatives which the unit will be involved with.

Of course should you have any immediate queries or would like further information then please do not hesitate to use the contact form on the website.

Simon Borkin
Programme Leader, Community Shares Unit