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Funded by Power to Change and Access – the Foundation for Social Investment. In partnership with Locality

Stokes Croft Land Trust: Keeping local assets in the hands of local people

Case study

14th December 2023
Stokes Croft Land Trust building

When the area that spawned street artist Banksy came under threat from price-hiking property developers, a group stepped in and bought a building to offer affordable space to local creatives, activists and artists. 

In the 1980s, the Stokes Croft district of Bristol was a run-down part of the city. Bombed in WWII, it was further blighted by a failed 1970s road development plan. 

Over time, due to the low rents, the area began attracting artists and activists – and soon became home to Bristol’s underground arts scene. “It’s where Banksy started,” said local land trust director Keith Cowling.

“We saw the gentrification process gathering pace and decided we needed to have a land trust to buy some of the land and buildings that would otherwise have gone to out‑of‑town properly developers.”

For Keith and a group of other concerned locals, it was imperative to resist developers swooping in to buy property, thereby inflating prices and driving out the very people whose presence had turned Stokes Croft into the vibrant neighbourhood it had become.  

“There’s a lot of middle-class angst and rubbish written about gentrification,” said Keith, “but two key defining characteristics are that value is extracted by people from outside, and the people who get displaced by it never get to move back.”

Quote mark
We want to avoid a situation where the tenant businesses who created all this value get nothing when their properties are sold and they are displaced.
– Keith Cowling, Director, Stokes Croft Land Trust

Stokes Croft Land Trust (SCLT) took the form of a charitable community benefit society, which would enable the group to raise money through community shares. However, the organisation wasn’t ready in time when a target building went up for sale in the area.

Luckily, help was on hand from other concerned individuals, as Keith recalled: “Local activist Chris Chalkley had set up a community interest company called the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft – an alliance of artists and activists from the area.

“He got together funds from friends and members of his family to buy the property, with the intention of selling it to the Stokes Croft Land Trust once it was constituted and capable of raising finance. They became what we call ‘the Angels.’” 

The Angels let the building to the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, who started to fill it – and today it’s home to venue spaces, offices, artists’ studios, a print workshop, a China decorating workshop and kiln room, a radio studio and more.  

The Stokes Croft Land Trust directors
Stokes Croft Land Trust directors

Eventually, in November 2022, SCLT was able to launch a community share offer that would enable it to buy the building. By the close of the offer in May 2023, it had raised £325,000 from 400 investor members. 

To enable SCLT to reach its target, Co-operatives UK’s Community Shares Booster Fund invested £100,000 in the offer. “The match funding was absolutely fantastic and vital,” said Keith. 

In September 2023, SCLT took ownership of the building, securing the future of its tenants. Keith and his fellow board members are now considering further acquisitions in the area.  

“We kept something good happening there,” he said. “Our goal is to take land out of the speculative capital investment market, and into secure community ownership. This enables long-term affordable local development and gives local people some measure of control over how the area will change over time.

“Having the investment and support from the Booster Fund to help make the first acquisition has been transformative. We’re really grateful for that support.”

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