Thanks to a community share offer, a local café and hub can continue life as home to a wide range of groups, activities and essential support for those in need…
“There’s always something going on at Zion Bristol,” says Centre Manager Emma Moore. “We host groups for mental health, creative writing, breast feeding support, dementia support and lots more.
“A local nature group uses it for its quarterly meetings. There are barn dances and people hire it for birthday celebrations.”
This valuable space, comprising a café, hall and room for hire has been at the heart of the local community in the Bedminster Down area of Bristol for more than a decade.
“It was originally set up by local resident Jess Wright who bought the empty Methodist chapel and turned it into a community café,” Emma explained. “Over time, it has grown into a vital community asset.
“Jess decided she wanted to step away during lockdown. So about two years ago we came together to look at how we could buy the building.”
Emma was a volunteer at the time, but like other volunteers and users of the centre, she wanted to keep Zion at the heart of the community.
“We host 200 events a year. There’s a group for under-fives, crochet and cribbage for older people, with a free meal on a Monday.
“We offer our space to community interest groups for free – because while we need to generate income, we want to offer what we can to the community.
“We were also a cost-of-living hub for the council over last winter, offering free meals on a Tuesday evening and providing hygiene bags. And we extended our opening hours so people could come in, have coffee and keep warm.”
To enable them to take ownership of the centre, Emma and a team of residents set up a community benefit society – then launched a community share offer to raise the capital.
With a target of £475,000 plus stamp duty to raise, local people rallied, lending their skills and expertise to the campaign in areas including finance and marketing.
Zion received £240,000 from the Community Ownership Fund (COF) – a central government levelling up fund. And in August 2022, they successfully raised £234,908 from their community share offer, which included £25,000 match funding from the Community Shares Booster Fund.
“There were 370 investors, 288 of which came from immediate area, that’s a significant amount,” said Emma. “We would not be here without the share offer and COF funding.”
“At one point we were considering a mortgage. When we started crunching the figures on the mortgage, we realised we would not have been able to survive six months.”
The sale eventually completed in April 2023 and now Emma and her colleagues plan to build on all the good work Zion Bristol has been doing.
“We have seven people on the payroll – all from the local community, living within a mile and a half from the centre. We also have volunteers who come in and help. It’s something we want to build on.
“We’re also working at growing our community offering – and making more links with the local GP surgery to support with older people. We’re working with the NHS in South Bristol, looking at the best ways of tackling problems and helping them achieve their health outcomes for the area.
“Taking the centre into community ownership has been a huge learning curve and a challenging, sometimes frustrating process. More importantly, it’s a hugely positively step and I’m excited for the future.”