Government has launched the first round of bids for its £150m Community Ownership Fund. Open to community organisations across the whole of the UK, the scheme provides up to 50 per cent match funded capital grants to help them take ownership of 'at risk' assets.
Here you'll find practical information on the Community Ownership Fund. This includes the funding/support on offer, eligibility criteria and timescales. Co-operatives UK sees exciting potential for the fund to support a wave of community ownership and we’re eager to support organisations to seize this opportunity, where we can.
Bidding in round one runs from 15 July until 13 August 2021. Round two will be in December 2021 and round three in May 2022.
What funding is on offer?
- Capital grants of up to £250,000 to meet up to 50 per cent of the capital costs of acquiring an at risk community asset (in exceptional cases up to £1 million where sports clubs/facilities are concerned)
- Part of the capital grant can also be awarded to help meet renovation costs, so long as this is combined with acquisition
- Revenue grants of up to £50,000, awarded on a non-match basis, to cover project development costs and to provide working capital post-acquisition
What counts as an ‘at risk' asset?
- There is flexibility in what counts as an ‘at risk' asset, but the focus is on physical assets that are up for sale, planned for sale or listed for disposal
- Derelict or neglected physical assets are also in scope, even if they are not currently an asset (through derelict or neglected status), so long as the bid demonstrates a clear plan for how the asset will benefit the community and be sustainable through community ownership
- In the vast majority of cases the fund cannot be used for the refurbishment of assets that are already community owned
- New-build projects to develop new assets or amenities, unrelated to saving or preserving an existing asset or amenity, are not eligible
What organisations are eligible?
- Must be incorporated, have a clear community purpose, an ‘asset lock’ that is either statutory (e.g. in a community benefit society) or rules-based (e.g. in a co-operative society)
- Must be controlled by and/or accountable to the beneficiary community
- Co-operative and community benefit societies, community interests companies, charities and companies limited by guarantee are all eligible
How can you match fund?
- Government has given community shares explicit prominence in the prospectus
- The fund can also be combined with other public funds, including Lottery funding and other 'levelling-up' funds like Future High Streets Fund, Towns Fund, Community Renewal Fund and Levelling-up Fund
- Grants, loans and other social investment can also make up the match
- Some forms of ‘in kind’ contribution can also help make up the community’s match
What are the timescales?
Bidding round one runs from 15 July to 13 August 2021. Round two will be in December 2021 and round three in May 2022.
Applicants can expect to hear the outcome of their application around two months after the closing date (mid-October 2021 for round one).
For round one, applicants will need to show they will be ready to draw down capital funding from the Community Ownership Fund within six months of their application.
Is any additional support available?
The Ministry of Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has put in place an in-house advisory team. We urge organisations with queries about the Community Ownership Fund to contact MHCLG via [email protected].
In Scotland, Community Shares Scotland can help organizations to raise their portion of the match via a community share offer. Co-operative Development Scotland (a government agency) can also help new community co-operatives to establish.
In Wales, Wales Co-operative Centre can help organizations do the same.
In Greater London, organisations may be able to get a development grant through our Boosting Community Business London programme.
How Co-operatives UK can help
Co-operatives UK may also be able to offer help in the following ways:
- Community Shares Practitioner – we can help you find a licensed Community Shares Practitioner who will help you run a community share offer
- Community Shares Booster – we can help communities trying to acquire heritage assets on their high street prepare for a community share offer and can make match equity investments
- Our Advice Team can help organisations to:
- Incorporate as their chosen legal form – see also our step by step tool to work your way through the process of starting a new co-op
- Convert to the society corporate form to enhance your democratic structure and to enable a community share offer, in order to access future rounds of the Community Ownership Fund
- Become a charity
- The Hive – we can help a group set up a community co-op in preparation for future rounds of the Community Ownership Fund.
Who should bid in round one?
In round one at least, government is not resourcing any accompanying support to help communities get organised, raise funds and so on. Given the short bidding round and lack of any accompanying support, we suggest that only organisations that are at a very advanced stage consider bidding this time. To bid in round one organisations will need to:
- Be appropriately incorporated
- Have an ‘at risk’ asset identified that is easily evidenced as being an ‘at risk asset’ (e.g. an existing community asset that is clearly about to be sold)
- Have some of the required match funds already raised, or with credible prospects/plans to raise the required match funds in the six month timeframe
- Have a credible business plan for using the asset in community ownership
- Have evidence of community support and likely community benefit, including bespoke research findings, official data etc
- Have evidence of support/partnerships with local orgs (local authority, community organisations etc)
- Have the right skills and knowledge in the leadership of the organization (among the directors for example)
What should you do next?
- Read the prospectus and application pack
- Email MHCLG with any queries at [email protected]
- If you are in a position to do so, apply direct to MHCLG before 13 August 2021
- If you are not ready to bid now, there may still be an opportunity to save your asset when round two opens in December 2021. However, if other funding options present themselves before December do not wait as you might miss your chance to save your asset