Over the next four years, community organisations across all four nations can bid to take over local assets that are at risk of being lost, as part of the new £150M Community Ownership Fund. Ren Piercey explores how the fund works in practice to support a good food economy.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has now opened their new Community Ownership Fund. The £150 million fund aims to support communities build back better through taking ownership of vital assets so they "can own and manage their most treasured local community assets".
Whether it’s the pub on the high street that’s facing closure, a village shop or a local sports team that might lose its ground – it is an opportunity for groups to take them over and to run them as businesses by the community for the community. And, for those reading this blog, an opportunity to increase the number of organisations in the community growing, cooking, serving and selling healthier, sustainable and socially-oriented food. Community owned enterprises are brilliant at keeping money in the local economy and can respond quickly to the needs to the community (as we saw during the height of the pandemic, where many of these enterprises turned into emergency food hubs).
The Community Ownership Fund will have at least eight bidding rounds over four years so there is a bit of time to digest the information and develop a plan for how this could work in your local area.
What could it fund?
The fund is for accessing assets where there is a risk of loss without community intervention. It will support a range of community ownership proposals but in terms of building good food in communities, this could include; pubs, farms, cafes, community kitchens, community gardens on allotments. Power to Change have some great examples on their website.
When an asset becomes owned by the community, there is much more scope for these spaces to have multiple uses and the community can give direction in terms of how it is run. For example, a pub that doubles up as a community food distribution hub, or a farm that provides eco-therapy sessions and training for those out of work, or a food market that sources sustainable and healthy food from independent retailers but also hosts art classes.
Applications need to outline how taking ownership of a particular asset will contribute to the social wellbeing of the local place, how the asset will be used by the community and outline a long-term sustainability plan.
What does the funding cover?
Grants of up to £250,000 are available and can cover 50% of the capital costs, which includes both acquisition and renovation. The main caveat is applicants must match fund this grant (more on this below). Applicants can apply for up to £50k for revenue, and no more than 20% of their total capital grant (this does not need to be match funded, so total funds available is actually £300,00). If there is strong evidence for how this will support the asset to become sustainable in the longer-term, then this money can cover salaries.
The first round closed in August. The following two bidding rounds open December 2021 and May 2022 so keep checking the Goverment website.
Who can apply?
Cooperative and community benefit societies, workers cooperatives, community interest companies, charities and companies limited by guarantee (not-for-profit) are all eligible.
If you aren’t any of the above, it might be worth exploring setting up a community business or community trust. The Ubele Initiative have created a great toolkit for setting up a community business as part of their Mali Enterprising Leaders programme, to get more communities from diverse backgrounds to take on community ownership.
Local authorities cannot apply but can play an active role in supporting community groups to apply.
Am I eligible to apply if I’m newly set up?
If you are a newly incorporated organisation, you are eligible to apply if you are an asset-locked organisation which is set up to deliver community benefit. An asset lock means that the company or society must use its assets for a specific community benefit and may not transfer them to any person or organisation that will use them differently or profit from them.
If you are not yet set up but are interested in applying for the funding, it may be easier to get in contact with an existing locally established community organistion who you could work alongside to apply, as the Government will likely put preferential treatment on existing organisations who can show their longevity and sustainability.
What needs to be in train to apply for this fund?
The first round is now closed but was only eligible for organisations who were already in train with their plans for taking over an asset, having done the preliminary scoping and developed a business plan. It is worth getting some of the background work done if you're thinking of applying to a future funding round to increase your chances. This would include: identifying an asset, writing up a business plan and scoping match funding opportunities.
How does the match funding work?
You do not need to have match funding in place at the time of project application, but you must outline the sources of where you intend to access the funding. Non-cash match funding will also be accepted, for example, the assumed costs of donations of goods, buildings or professional services.
Loans, including from a mortgage provider, are an eligible source of match funding but as part of due diligence, assessors will review conditions of any loan finance taken out by the organisation.
Another great way to match fund is through local grants. Reach out to your Local Enterprise Partnership and Local Authority to find out about local grant funding opportunities.
How are assets deemed at ‘at risk’?
Largely, this means land or buildings that are up for sale, planned for sale or listed for disposal that were once an integrated part of the community, especially assets that the local authority has listed as 'community value' (you can find this on the local council's website, for example, Tower Hamlets' is here). Places that are derelict on neglected are also included.
For buildings that are not on the market, you will have to demonstrate that there is a realistic chance of the asset coming into community ownership in the next six months. All business plans will need to clearly outline how this asset will benefit the community, this also includes if you are changing use of the land or building in question.
Renovation of existing community owned enterprises is unlikely to be funded and new-build projects will not be eligible as this fund is for preserving existing assets.
Can I take over an asset and rent it out?
Rental agreements may form part of the business model under community ownership. So for example, a Community Supported Agriculture farm could take over an asset and rent it out to other farmers or growers.
Can I take over a publically owned asset?
This is possible, but the fund can only be used for renovation and refurbishment costs of the building or piece of land because the grant money can't go to the local authority. Instead, this would need to be processed as a Community Asset Transfer (CAT). This process can be quite lengthy but the good news is the active CAT projects, where the agreement has not yet been finalised, are still eligible to apply.
More logistical information can be found in this Q&A document
Published 3 Sep 2021
Sustainable Food Places: The Sustainable Food Places Network helps people and places share challenges, explore practical solutions and develop best practice on key food issues, so if you are working to drive positive food change or are interested in developing a programme, please do get in touch.
Ren works for Sustainable Food Places on the Sugar Smart campaign, the Good to Grow network, and supports food partnerships develop work on sustainable food economies. She previously coordinated Feedback’s Gleaning Network and is a Registered Associate Public Health Nutritionist.
SFP Local Action Officer Sustainable Food Places
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