All you need to know about the Community Ownership Fund

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From match funding to eligibility, here’s what you need to know about the changes to the Community Ownership Fund.

Are you curious about the Community Ownership Fund? Perhaps you’re hoping to rescue your local pub, shop or leisure facilities. Maybe you want to renovate your community centre. Or perhaps you want to protect a historic building that’s an integral part of your town.

So many institutions that are central to community life have struggled in recent years. Shops have closed. Pubs have been demolished for housing. Sports facilities have shut their doors.

The Community Ownership Fund aims to help protect and revitalise these community assets. Following the first bidding round, changes have been made to the eligibility criteria and funding process. So what does that mean for community organisations? We’ve answered some of your most common questions here.

What is the Community Ownership Fund?

The Community Ownership Fund is a £150 million pot of money to help people protect community assets that are at risk of closure, such as pubs, shops, galleries and sports centres.

Who can apply to the Community Ownership Fund?

Voluntary and community organisations can apply from anywhere in the United Kingdom. You can express an interest as an unincorporated organisation, but you will need to have a recognised legal structure before you apply properly. Examples of eligible organisations include:

  • Charitable Incorporated Organisations (CIO)
  • Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisations (SCIO)
  • Co-operatives, including Community Benefit Societies
  • Community Interest Companies (CIC)
  • Not-for-profit companies limited by guarantee

What projects are eligible for the Community Ownership Fund?

The eligibility rules recently changed so many more projects across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are now in with a chance of receiving funding.

There isn’t a fixed list of the types of properties that will be eligible. Instead, the ‘community benefit’ requirement is quite broad. For example, the project might help to ‘improve social trust, cohesion and sense of belonging’ or it might ‘increase local participation in community life, arts, culture or sport’.

The building or land in question should have been used by the community previously. It will also need to have long-term benefits for the local community.

The organisation will need to:

  • ‘protect a community asset that is at risk and preserve its community value’
  • ‘develop a sustainable operating model to secure the long-term future of the community asset in community ownership’
  • ‘safeguard the use of community assets’ (for example through an asset lock in governing documents)

Does the building need to be registered as an Asset of Community Value?

No. Buildings and land listed by local authorities as Assets of Community Value can be put forward, but there’s no requirement for an asset to be listed.

What can the Community Ownership Fund money be spent on?

The primary aim of the Community Ownership Fund is to enable community organisations to buy or lease buildings and other assets that would otherwise be at risk of closure. This Community Asset Transfer gives people greater control over sports clubs, village halls, music venues and other properties.

For example, a CIC might apply for a capital grant to help buy a leisure centre that’s being closed down. The CIC would then manage the centre for the benefit of the local community.

Your organisation will need to acquire the asset freehold or take on a long-term leasehold of at least 15 years (25-year leases are preferred). Whilst we may be able to consider some unsecured funding in order to take security for a loan, we need there to be an unexpired lease term of at least 25 years at the end of our loan term.

The money can’t be spent on building new assets, but it can be spent on renovating a property that your organisation already owns, or partly on buying/leasing the property and partly on renovating it. For renovation work to be eligible, it must be urgently needed. Non-essential renovations will not be funded.

You can also apply for revenue funding, up to a maximum of £50,000. However, this cannot be greater than 20% of your capital funding request.

Will we need match funding to apply to the Community Ownership Fund?

Yes, the Community Ownership Fund will only contribute up to 50% of the total capital required, so you will need other funding. While volunteer time can’t be included in match funding, some other donations can, for example a discount on the price of the building or pro-bono construction services. You don’t need to match any revenue funding.

How can I get match funding for the Community Ownership Fund?

Some of the money could come from your reserves, trusts or community shares. However, in most cases you’ll need a loan from an organisation like Charity Bank.

Charity Bank is a specialist provider of loans for community organisations, charities and social enterprises. We’ve helped numerous communities to protect and grow their assets. For example, Whitley Bay Big Local got a grant from the Community Ownership Fund to buy its premises and is now using a loan from Charity Bank to refurbish the property. According to CEO David Carnaffan, “Everything seemed possible with Charity Bank.”

How much could we get from the Community Ownership Fund?

In most cases, the maximum grant will be £250,000. However, up to £1 million may be available for sports facilities in exceptional circumstances, for example a community-owned sports club.

Can we get help with the application process?

The government plans to offer extra support to those applicants that most need it. For example, you might be able to get advice on your project proposal.

Charity Bank will also offer support throughout your match funding loan application. We pair every borrower with a relationship manager and you’ll be guided through the process every step of the way.

How do I apply to the Community Ownership Fund?

The first step in applying is to fill in a short Expression of Interest (EOI) form to check whether your project is eligible. Once your EOI has been approved, you can apply in a bidding window.

The next bidding window is now open as of 15 February 2023.

If you plan to apply in this bidding window, you need to express your interest at least 3 weeks before the closing date of 11:59pm 14 April 2023. You should hear back within two months of submitting your full application form.

What’s the closing date for the Community Ownership Fund?

The Community Ownership Fund is expected to run until 2024/25, with three windows to apply each year.

How will my application be assessed?

Each application will be judged against a range of criteria. You’re more likely to be successful if you can demonstrate that the grant will make a significant impact on your community.

So far, the Community Ownership Fund has awarded £16.74m to 70 projects across the UK, with £11.8m allocated across England, £2.0m allocated to Scotland, £1.6m to Wales and £1.3m to Northern Ireland. 46 projects are in England, 10 of these projects are in Scotland, 8 of these projects are in Wales, and 6 of these projects are in Northern Ireland. Along with Whitley Bay Big Local, these include:

  • £1 million for Bury FC’s Gigg Lane stadium
  • £90,000 for The Queen’s Ballroom in Tredegar, Wales
  • £96,000 for The Racehorse Inn community pub in Suffolk
  • £300,000 for Ballymacash Sports Academy in Northern Ireland

Is there a time limit for spending the money?

Yes, both the capital grant funding and the match funding will need to be spent within 12 months of the date on the offer letter. Costs incurred before the date on the letter can’t be paid with the grant.

Next steps

If you’d like to talk to Charity Bank about match funding, please call us on 01732 441919 or fill in this short form.

Download our match funding for the Community Ownership Fund flyer

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 £400m 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.