The government has launched a new £150 million Community Ownership Fund to help ensure that communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can support and continue benefiting from the local facilities, community assets and amenities most important to them.
From summer 2021 community groups will be able to bid for up to £250,000 matched-funding to help them buy or take over local community assets at risk of being lost, to run them as community-owned businesses. In exceptional cases, up to £1 million matched-funding will be available to help establish a community-owned sports club or help buy a sports grounds at risk of being lost without community intervention.
The Community Ownership Fund, revealed by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in his Budget statement is designed to 'help ensure that important parts of the social fabric, such as pubs, sports clubs, theatres and post office buildings, can continue to play a central role in towns and villages across the UK'. The government says this forms part of its levelling up agenda, helping support recovery and building opportunity, with funding weighted towards places where community assets can make the most difference
The government acknowledges that there is a long-term trend of communities losing amenities that foster a sense of community pride and bring people together. This has a knock-on impact on people’s satisfaction with the place they live in, and the strength of local communities.
There is evidence that assets and facilities of this variety can be successfully and sustainably brought into community ownership, it adds. 'This both enables people to continue to benefit, and empowers communities to shape the things that matter most to them.' The government acknowledge, however, that it can be hard for community groups to raise the initial funding required to buy the asset. The Community Ownership Fund will help enable community groups to overcome these barriers.
Bidding for the Fund
The first bidding round for the Community Ownership Fund will open by June 2021. A full bidding prospectus will be published alongside this, which will be the key reference document for communities in developing and submitting bids. This prospectus will set out detailed advice on how to structure a bid, what activity to undertake to support this, what information to include, and the criteria by which bids will be assessed.
Bids will be accepted from all communities across the UK. In most circumstances, bids will be expected to be made by community and voluntary organisations with formal governance in place, such as a Community Trust. Bids may also be considered from groups without formal governance, where there is a clear plan to set up community level governance to take over a facility. Such funding will be conditional on establishing a suitable governance structure.
Local authorities including parish councils will not be eligible to bid, though parish councils may play a role in working with community groups looking to submit a bid.
The UK government says it will not publish a definitive list of eligible assets, as it is important for communities to set out what matters most to them. But projects could include community-owned sports clubs, sporting and leisure facilities, cinemas and theatres, music venues, museums, galleries, parks, pubs, post office buildings, and shops.
Projects should be focused on place-based assets or amenities, says the government. These should be important to the local community, build connections between people and foster a sense of pride in the local area – but are at risk of being lost without community intervention. There will be an emphasis on ensuring the asset or amenity can be sustainable in community ownership.
Detailed guidance on eligibility criteria, how bids will be assessed and weighted, and how to develop a strong bid will be provided in the full bidding prospectus, due to be published by June.
In most cases, bids will be able to make the case for up to £250,000 in matching funds which communities have raised. Some funding will be available for feasibility studies and capability building, particularly in places with fewer resources, or for initial running costs where it can be shown these will lead to a sustainable community business. Funding will not be made available to pay off a businesses’ debts, nor to buy an indebted business.
Recognising the range of costs associated with purchasing assets associated with sports, exceptionally bidders will be able to make the case for up to £1 million match-funding for these types of project.