A founder’s perspective: applying for a loan as a start-up

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“Common Ground Against Homelessness is this scruffy little start-up punching above its weight, but we've had first class service from Charity Bank.” Find out why founder Helen Carlin found it so helpful to have a designated relationship manager.

Why did you need a loan?

I’m the CEO of a charity called Rowan Alba, which offers homes for life to street homeless people. It's the only organisation of its kind in the UK. We wanted to offer more places, and the local council was willing to fund the support, but I couldn't find a suitable property to rent. Rowan Alba wasn’t in a position to get a loan, so I set up Common Ground Against Homelessness. It felt like something of a civic duty; I invested some of my own money in it, as did friends and family, and offered community shares. There are enough of us out there with money in the bank that want to do good. Altogether, that gave us around £710,000.

We were able to buy a four-bed property in the Craigmillar area of Edinburgh. The original plan was to do a basic conversion, but we decided to up the spec, so I approached Charity Bank for funding. The loan means we can convert the property into nine self-contained studio flats.

What made you approach Charity Bank?

I originally approached Charity Bank because I was nervous that we might not raise enough money to buy the property. I spoke to the amazing Danny Wilson-Dodd from Charity Bank. He’s just been so supportive from day one, which has made a real difference. So when we decided to up the spec, I re-approached Charity Bank and the rest is history.

Did you approach any other lenders?

I spoke to a couple of other banks, but they weren’t really interested. The difference with Charity Bank is that they recognise the social impact of what we’re doing and they've moved mountains to make it happen. Danny has been behind us every step of the way.

I did approach a couple of other social lenders, but they had very high interest rates – far higher than Charity Bank’s.

Helen Carlin, Founder, Common Ground Against Homelessness
M5 A7359

Peffermill property which will be converted into nine self-contained studio flats

Do you think the loan will help you to get any other funding, such as grants?

I think the loan makes us look more respectable, which will help. We haven't tried for more funding yet as people don’t really understand Common Ground. That’s another reason that I’m thankful for Charity Bank because they’re taking a chance on us – what we’re doing hasn’t been done before. I think once the dust settles and we have the guys in the property, people will be able to see that this model works, which is going to make life much easier.

What kind of support do you get from Danny (your relationship manager) and the loan admin team?

I’d never taken out such a sizeable loan before for an organisation, so it felt like a big responsibility. Everyone was exceptionally helpful and patient, and they went out of their way to make the application process as easy as possible. I mainly spoke to Danny and Sue from the admin team. Responses were always very prompt, and the process was pretty straightforward.

With a lot of banks, you end up speaking to lots of different people, so you don’t build a relationship. Common Ground is this scruffy little start-up punching above its weight and we've had first class service from Charity Bank. We’ve been able to develop a good relationship.

What would you say to other charities or social enterprises that are thinking of taking out a loan?

Pick up the phone and speak to Charity Bank. To be guided through the whole loan process the way I have makes life so much easier.

And what's next for Common Ground Against Homelessness?

We’re planning another house, this time for women. We’ve received part funding for that, so will probably be speaking to Charity Bank again soon and looking to do another share offer around autumn 2023. It’s important not to rest on one's laurels…

Many of our borrowers have no previous experience of taking out a charity loan. Look around our loan pages or call us on 01732 441919 to find out more.

About Charity Bank

Charity Bank is the loans and savings bank owned by and committed to supporting the social sector. Since 2002, we have used our savers’ money to make more than 1,100 loans totalling over £350m to housing, education, social care, community and other social purpose organisations.

Find out more about us here.

Nothing in this article constitutes an invitation to engage in investment activity nor is it advice or a recommendation and professional advice should be taken before any course of action is pursued.