Today has been put aside in my diary for some voluntary work (and some final tweaks to a grant application) on behalf of my local Community Land Trust, for which I occupy the post of secretary.
CLTs are part of a growing movement for what is called ‘community-led housing’, the idea being that bottom-up community efforts can bring much-needed housing to meet local needs which the commercial property market is failing to tackle. Given that today also sees the government’s Housing White Paper published, it seems very appropriate as a focus for my blog.
I can also use the opportunity to get in a plug for a new booklet from the Confederation of Co-operative Housing, which provides a useful introduction to the subject (CCH prefer to talk of ‘co–operative and community-led housing). You’ll find their report, New Co-operative and Community-led Homes, here.
CCH is one of a number of national organisations engaged in this field (Locality, the Cohousing Network and the National Network of CLTs are among the others). It has to be said that there is a slight element of overkill here in terms of national support networks. At some point, a little appropriate amalgamation might be in order.
I’ve been delighted at the growth in recent years of community share issues, supported by the joint Locality/Co-operatives UK community shares project based in Manchester. But I’ve also been increasingly concerned that some community groups, carried away probably by sheer enthusiasm, have been inviting people to buy shares without really having anything like an adequate business plan to show them. There will unfortunately undoubtedly be business failures, and investors who will lose money, as some of the early community share-funded initiatives unravel.
The Community Shares Standard Mark, being launched today, is an attempt to impose some basic minimum standards and give some kind of reassurance for would-be investors. It’s a sensible idea, even though it’s possible to quibble with the details: the standard mark is only available to ventures who pay for consultancy time from one of a set list of practitioners, for example.
Incidentally I like to claim that a workers’ coop I was once involved in was one of the first (perhaps even the first?) to appeal for capital from supporters in this sort of way (in our case through community loanstock rather than through community shares). This was in 1979, and enough money arrived to enable us to buy a shop premises in Milton Keynes. Anyone know of any earlier examples?