(Green) Thumbs up for countryside co-operative - growth through a grant
The Ecological Land Co-Operative was able to fulfil its objective and create affordable low-impact smallholdings in rural areas after receiving a capacity-building grant. Funding of £48,820 allowed the group to successfully launch a community shares venture.
The ELC is a social enterprise providing affordable access to land for sustainable rural livelihoods via the creation of low-impact smallholdings. They believe that ecological land-based livelihoods can help solve pressing environmental and social problems and want to marry ecological ethics with sound business practice to help more people live and work on the land.
Their first project, a cluster of three affordable residential smallholdings, provided three families with access to land to develop their own farm businesses. This type of small-scale ecological production delivers a number of benefits including protecting the environment, building vibrant rural communities, providing employment and training and supporting healthy diets through affordable, local produce.
With demand for their type of smallholding increasing, and having successfully established their pilot site, the ELC applied to Big Potential to help raise investment to develop a new site.
By applying to Big Potential they hoped to better understand how they could package their model to attract investment into the next site. This involved developing a long-term financial modelling tool that allowed them to project the financial needs and returns of their business in the long term. This financial modelling then informed the development of a five year business plan, and allowed the ELC to confidently promote their next site as a credible investment product.
They received a Big Potential grant of £48,820 to work with two organisations, Eastside Primetimers and Plunkett Foundation, to build the capacity of the organisation to respond to investment opportunities. Eastside Primetimers helped with business modelling, financial planning, board development, support on business plan development and project management; while Plunkett Foundation provided advice on the community share offer, on their co-operative rules, communications strategy and market research.
This body of work culminated in a successful community share offer, raising finance to develop their next cluster of ecological smallholdings. 'Community shares' are a form of investment that can only be issued by co-operative societies, community benefit societies and charitable community benefit societies. They are an ideal way for communities to invest in enterprises that serve a community purpose.
According to Cate Chapman, Managing Director of Ecological Land Co-operative, “Community shares have proved a great way to fund the development of our smallholdings; with a minimum investment of just £500, the share offer provided a practical and accessible way for a wide range of people to get involved with our work, and to support the development of small-scale ecological agriculture in England. Social investors also become members of our co-operative, further strengthening our democratic organisation”.
Using a business forecasting tool developed in partnership with Eastside Primetimers, the ELC were able to examine the financial implications of a number of different growth strategies. The final forecasts generated were used in their 2015-2020 business plan which underpinned the share offer, launched in April 2015.
Thanks to the Big Potential grant and the work carried out with the approved providers the co-operative secured investment of £189,350 in community share capital and £139,000 in a low-interest, long term loan from the A-Team Foundation, a charitable foundation.
Raising this finance has funded the development of the ELC’s second cluster of smallholdings. A suitable piece of land has been identified, and they are currently undergoing conveyancing. Once the land purchase is finalised, the ELC will then seek planning permission and develop the site over the next one to two years, before recruiting smallholders to tenant the holdings.
You can find out more about the work of the Ecological Land Co-operative via their website, www.ecologicalland.coop