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About the Community Shares Unit

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Fordhall Community Farm, Shropshire

The Community Shares Unit's objectives are to raise awareness of community shares as a sustainable funding mechanism, support community-owned businesses, and promote good practice in the use of community shares equity capital.

Who we are

Alice Wharton and Isla McCulloch run the Community Shares Unit (CSU). They’re interested in the role of community in local economic development and how community shares enable businesses to be owned by their communities and become much more resilient in the process.

Objectives

The objectives of 2020+ are to continue to:

  • Grow the understanding of the co-op option and the huge potential of community ownership models via the community shares mechanism, to bring these ideas into the mainstream
  • Lobby a range of national and regional government departments to better understand the opportunities in supporting community owned businesses
  • Protect the reputation of this unique, unregulated financial tool by continuing to support communities to develop high standard share offers and develop sustainable business models by following the Community Shares Standard Mark framework
  • Enable more individuals and communities to co-own their own community wealth building agenda, partially via the match function of the Booster Programme

Leading the way

The CSU is a long-standing partnership between Co-operatives UK and Locality. From developing close links with UK government departments and the Financial Conduct Authority, more recently the CSU has been working closely with Power to Change, Architectural Heritage Fund and the Access Foundation (Connect Fund) as well as Plunkett Foundation and Co-operative and Community Finance.

The CSU is at the centre of uniting a network of consultant practitioners who specialise in originating and supporting community share issues, many of whom have been trained and engage in continued professional development in best practice standards as exemplified by the evolving Community Shares Handbook and share offer assessment for the Community Shares Standard Mark.

With an ability to draw on the capacity and expertise of its partners - alongside access to business performance data from the society registrar, the Financial Conduct Authority, and the collective knowledge of its practitioner network - the CSU is the prime source of market intelligence.

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After 20 years in the social investment market, I am immensely proud of my work with the Community Shares Unit in developing the most radical and patient form of social investment.
– Hugh Rolo, Development Adviser, Locality

How the Community Shares Unit developed

The term community shares was coined by the Development Trust Association (DTA) (now known as Locality) in its 2008 publication Community Share and Bond Issues, which examined how a growing number of community enterprises were raising investment capital from their local supporters.

In the same year, Co-operatives UK published a document called “Community Investment” - using the original industrial and provident society legislation, addressing the same phenomenon, but focusing exclusively on societies. (The Co-operatives and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 saw the removal of the term industrial and provident society from legislation.)

Towards the end of 2008 the DTA and Co-operatives UK came together to establish the Community Shares programme, an action research partnership funded by the Cabinet Office and the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The programme ran from 2009 to 2011. Over 70 societies registered during this period have now successfully completed a community share offer.

The Community Shares Unit (CSU) was launched in October 2012. It continues as a joint initiative between Locality and Co-operatives UK.  Its overriding objective is to grow a sustainable market for, and the long term success of the use of community shares to raise equity finance and participation, with due process and protection for investors, in a range of community and co-operative enterprises.

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