Community enterprise: A post-pandemic opportunity?

In recent months, there has been a rising trend in social capitalism which has seen local people come together to get involved in community enterprise schemes and projects. This has been reflected in the rise in numbers of agents and practices being approached for advice on social enterprises.

Across the country there are buildings and amenities that are integral to the communities that use them. This could be a village shop, a pub, a community centre, or a library for example. Many provide a base from which to deliver public services to the local community. The closure or sale of such buildings and amenities can create lasting damage and threaten the provision of services.

Yet out of change arises an opportunity for community ownership which could resurrect the high street and help support local community services across the UK as lockdown restrictions are gradually lifted.

Community ownership is an opportunity for communities to buy or take over local assets at risk of being lost and ensure they remain a social hub for the community. An asset of community value (ACV) is defined as a building or other land if its main use has recently been or is presently used to further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community and could do so in the future.

The Localism Act states that ‘social interests’ include cultural, recreational and sporting interests, such as:

The Midsteeple Quarter regeneration project

Community ownership is already a reality in Dumfries, with high ambition realised through the rebirth of not just one building, but an entire high street.

Hailed as a “unique and ambitious” example of how to save the UK’s high streets, the Midsteeple Quarter regeneration project is the country’s first community-owned high street development.

With money raised from crowdfunding, private investment, and grants from Dumfries and Galloway Council and the Scottish Government, the Midsteeple Quarter project is purchasing and developing unused buildings on the high street.

With projects such as this, it is becoming clearer that community ownership is vital to the revival of the high street. Through further effective collaboration between the community, public and private sectors, broken towns and villages could be replaced by stable, sustainable, and thriving community centres that are economically robust enough to deal with any future crisis.

This could potentially open up a unique opportunity for your client, perhaps already well versed in running a business, to become society’s saviour in these extraordinary times. So how does your client go about gaining community ownership?

Once a client has established a business model that can generate an income, it’s then about what type of legal entity and management structure will drive the project forward. From there, they can apply for spaces to become ACVs with their local council for example, potentially giving their group the option to buy or lease land when it comes up for sale. And while you are there to help them with all the technical processes and ensure everything is in place before applying, it also provides an opportunity for agents and accounting firms to be part of a bigger picture – one that focuses on pumping the lifeblood back into damaged communities for the green shoots of a post-pandemic recovery to emerge.

This article has been provided by The Institute of Financial Accountants. More information can be found at www.ifa.org.uk

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