Social Investment Business supports practical ideas to protect community assets

17 September 2019

An interim inquiry report has been published today warning that up to one fifth of community assets risk being lost to the private sector, unless steps are taken by funders, government and community organisations to protect interest from their local communities.

The Protecting Community Assets Inquiry came about in response to high-profile instances where assets held by local communities, which had received significant public investment, had fallen out of community hands - such as Hastings Pier in 2017, Unity Hall Wakefield also in 2017, and the Hadlow Tower in 2015.

The Inquiry has brought together a wide range of contributors – including National Trust, Social Investment Business, Power to Change and the Architectural Heritage Fund. All the Inquiry contributors have direct experience of managing, supporting or funding community assets, whom have been willing not just to understand the challenges and opportunities, but also to help shape some recommendations and practical solutions.

The report sets out the key findings and points to consider for funders, finance providers, central and local government, and community groups. This includes six practical ideas:

  1. A Register of Community Assets, including the people from within the community with an interest in the assets.

  2. Principles for Funding Community Assets, which funders can adopt.

  3. Principles for Community Asset Administration, for insolvency practitioners.

  4. A Community Asset Protector, which represent the community interest in sales and insolvency.

  5. A Community Asset Rescue Fund, to temporarily buy out assets in difficulty and secure their future.

  6. A Community Assets Academy to research and support the above.

Bob Thust of Practical Governance, the Secretariat to the Inquiry, said:

Having published this interim report we welcome comments, challenges or offers of support. We intend to publish a further update in 2020 with a confirmed and resourced timetable of next steps. We are tremendously grateful to all the contributors and funders of this work to date who have engaged with energy and in the spirit of open inquiry”.

Rob Benfield, Director of Enterprise and Development at Social Investment Business, said: 

Through our experience of funding hundreds of community assets over the last 15 years, Social Investment Business has found ways to better support and protect them. However, it is clear to us that much greater protection could be achieved in the future through a more co-ordinated approach to this issue, across both sector participants and government. This Inquiry has been a collaborative effort to identify practical tools and initiatives that will reduce the loss and failure of community assets. We now need to maintain the momentum and turn these ideas into actions.”

Duncan Laird, Head of Urban Places at National Trust, said:

Community assets can bring real benefits to the people that make use of them. It’s really important that communities should be involved and engaged in protecting the special buildings and places that mean the most to them, and the National Trust welcomes an evidence led and information sharing approach to delivering positive change in this area”.

Jess Steele, Director of Jericho Road Solutions (former trustee of White Rock Trust, advisor Hastings Pier Charity, member of Friends of Hastings Pier), said:

The story of Hastings Pier is a tale of highs and lows. Rescued from the brink of oblivion by the ‘dogged persistence’ of local people, with public investment of over £14 million and a successful compulsory purchase, Hastings Pier gave the town a bouncy confidence. Owned by 5,000 individual community shareholders through a charitable community benefit society with a strong asset lock, the community interest should have been safe. But it wasn’t. The loss of the pier from community ownership and the experience of that ultimately heart-breaking process demonstrated the need to learn the lessons. We can only hope that through this Inquiry and its practical ideas for prevention, rescue and impact limitation, other community-owned assets can be protected”.

Vidhya Alakeson, Chief Executive at Power to Change Trust, said:

Community owned assets are incredibly important for bringing people together, instilling pride, and providing a home for essential services. Power to Change has supported hundreds of groups to take on assets and raise funds to strengthen them through grants and investment. Those assets - swimming pools, community halls, pubs and leisure centres – have gone on to create huge social value for their communities. However, all the work that communities are putting in is at risk by loopholes that can allow assets to be made good by communities and then sold off.

Put simply, they need protecting. The recommendations in this report for a community assets academy, protector, rescue support fund and solidarity fund would be of huge value to communities and we are willing to invest further to ensure they become reality.”

Matthew McKeague, CEO at Architectural Heritage Fund, said:

This has been an important inquiry to be involved with, to both look at the lessons and to help develop ideas that will support organisations to sustain their community assets, many of which are historic buildings. As well as the opportunities that these assets bring, we know there are a range of challenges to their sustainable use. Along with sector partners and government, we want to help communities to overcome these wherever possible and we look forward to continuing to work collaboratively in developing the ideas that have emerged from the Inquiry”.

Ends –

If you are interested in finding out more about the Protecting Community Assets Inquiry, and expressing your support, please contact Bob Thust on bob@practicalgov.co.uk.

For more information, please contact:

Miranda Love
Marketing and Communications Lead
Social Investment Business
Miranda.love@sibgroup.org.uk
Tel: 020 3096 7921

About the Protecting Community Assets Inquiry 

Since February 2019 the PCA Inquiry has investigated currently law, policy and practice, undertaken detailed desk reviews, investigated nine detailed case studies, interviewed more than 50 people, and held a number of panel meetings.

The figures of 1,300 assets at risk refers to one in five community assets that made an operating loss of 10% or more of their revenue in their latest financial year. This figure and the estimate of the £220m economic contribution of community assets comes from a recent report “Our assets, our future: the economics, outcomes and sustainability of assets in community ownership” by the Centre for Regional Economic and  Social Research (CRESR) at Sheffield Hallam University and Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) July 2019, published by the Power to Change Research Institute.

The summary and full interim inquiry reports can be found on the PCA website - including all key findings, recommendations, details of the proposed ideas, funders and contributors.

www.protecting-communityassets.org.uk 

Article image: By John Winfield, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13047125

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