Case Study – Community Benefit Societies

George Pub in Wickham Market

After being severely damaged by fire in April 2013, revealed timber framing dating from the early-sixteenth century. Whereas the present building had been previously thought to date from the eighteenth century, this new information makes the pub an especially important heritage asset.

In October 2014 it was bought by a commercial property developer and for year and a half the pub remained derelict, rousing considerable concern among the local community. In April 2016 the Parish Council held meeting to discuss the future of the pub, which attracted a very large turn-out from local residents and revealed an overwhelming support for the retention of the building as a pub. Not long afterwards the developer made a planning application involving the demolition of the structure, which was met with vehement objection from the local community. In September 2016 the application was rejected and several members of the community decided to create the George Community Pub Project Group which, in December that year, became a Community Benefit Society (CBS).

Community consultation was undertaken to ask local residents what they would like to see happen to the pub. ‘The response was overwhelming; nearly 600 people returned the survey with ideas and suggestions,’ says Robin Nielsen, a member of the management committee, demonstrating just how invested the local community is in the future of the pub. The Society aims to sensitively restore the building as a working pub and to create a space for community uses, such as a dementia café and parent and baby groups. The nature of the project, as a social enterprise, means that it made sense to form a CBS in order to raise the share capital to part-fund the works. An additional benefit of a CBS is that the share issue can benefit from the Small Enterprises Initiative Scheme which makes shares more attractive to investors through tax benefits.

Support and Guidance

Robin has found that there is a lot of support available for Community Benefit Societies. Funding for the feasibility study came from the Plunkett Foundation, which supports community enterprises countrywide, The Architectural Heritage Fund and More Than a Pub: The Community Pub Business Support Scheme, as well as through grants from the discretionary funds of the county and district councils. The Plunkett foundation gave lots of guidance and provided advisors who had previously set up successful CBSs. ‘Their advice was to not forget that the most important thing is the involvement of the community,’ Robin tells us. ‘But they also gave us practical advice on things like the size of share issue and on the actual operation of a community pub.’ The Society has found the greatest challenge to be funding; however help and support was available here too, even from the funders themselves. ‘The Architectural Heritage Fund has been very helpful. If you ask people for advice – including the grant providers themselves – they’re perfectly keen and willing to help you, often beyond the call of duty.’ Members of the Society’s Management Committee also went to workshops, run by Community Action Suffolk and the East Suffolk Partnership, aimed at helping community groups to raise funds.

In October 2020, development funding of £82,000 was awarded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. There is still much work for the Society’s volunteers and its professional team to do, but with the full grant, additional funding (including a second share offer – details for which can be found on the Society’s website http://www.wmgeorge.co.uk/), detailed plans and planning permission in place, reconstruction work is expected to commence in 2022 with ‘the first pints being pulled’ in mid-2023.

Robin’s ‘top tips’ for people thinking of setting up a Community Benefit Society:

• Talk to the Plunkett Foundation; they can provide advice and funding from the very early stages and model Society rules.

• Remember that, as well as being a social enterprise, it’s also about the building itself and the opportunity it provides to teach people about local history. • Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from funders and other Community Benefit Societies in the area.

• Be prepared that a CBS requires a lot of voluntary time.

Eden Rose

Faced with the perennial issue of raising funds, the trustees of Eden-Rose Coppice Trust came up with an innovative solution, the establishment of a new not-for-profit community benefit society. An in-depth study of the third sector along with business advice sourced from the ‘Making Local Woods Work’ project, a partnership between Plunkett Foundation, Forestry Commission England and Hill Holt Wood helped Eden Rose formulate an exciting way forward.

The new CBS, Eden-Rose Community (ERC) allows people to invest in the future of their community “It’s a unique opportunity to be able to invest in something that is going to provide a sustainable future for your local cancer care charity and become an integral member of a community” Jo Brooks, Lead Manager.

ERC will adopt and expand upon the already productive commercial activities previously being provided by the charity, allowing the Trust to focus on its core objective, to provide cancer care in a tranquil and natural setting.

It will be a not-for-profit enterprise that is run by the community for the community. ERC is operated on a ‘one member, one vote’ principle, as set out in its Community Benefit Society, Model Rules.

Furthermore, The Eden-Rose Community Limited became the 100th organisation to receive the Community Shares Standard Mark – which was developed by the Community Shares Unit, run by Co operatives UK and Locality, with support from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to certify offers that meet national standards of good practice.

HMRC has also given its encouragement by awarding advanced assurance regarding its SEIS scheme.

The initial target to raise a minimum of £80,000 was reached in the summer of 2019 match funding was secured from the Booster Programme, funded by Power to Change and run by the Community Shares Unit.

Bentley Pub

The Case is Altered pub is a community-owned, largely volunteer-run pub in the village of Bentley, Suffolk. With over 200 owners, many of whom live in the village, but some from all over the world. The pub was purchased from Punch Taverns in February 2014, with the money raised via a share offer; leaving just £200 in the bank at the end of the process! There was a superb response from villagers, who turned up bearing gardening tools, paintbrushes, ladders – and just mucked in; The Case is Altered opened in Easter 2014, with paint still drying in places! The first year was run just as a drinks pub for a year, purely with volunteer labour whilst raising money for the next stage of refurbishment. Now six years on, the pub offers an extensive menu and caters for events both big and small.