Prospectus

Ministerial foreword

The remarkable way that communities have come together to support each other through the pandemic has been inspiring and humbling in equal measure.

As we shift from response to recovery, it is important, as the Prime Minister has said, that we don’t revert to the status quo. We must harness that spirit of resilience, selflessness and neighbourliness to build back better; to redouble our efforts to level up opportunity and prosperity to build a fairer, stronger, more United Kingdom.

To that end, we are thinking and investing big in in all parts of the UK, especially in those areas which have been historically underserved, through our £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund – building on the success of our £3.6 billion Towns Fund – and our £220 million Community Renewal Fund.

But in our efforts to reassert local pride alongside national belonging, it’s right that we also think local. That we consider the everyday infrastructure – the community centres, pubs, the high streets – that makes such a difference to our quality of life. That is exactly what our new £150 million Community Ownership Fund aims to do by ensuring that communities across the United Kingdom can own and manage their most treasured local community assets.

Whether it’s the pub on the high street that’s facing closure, a village shop or a local sports team that might lose its ground – this is an opportunity for groups to take them over and to run them as businesses by the community for the community.

These are the institutions, the glue in our social fabric, that give people a chance to meet their neighbours and friends and bond over a shared love of where they live. Institutions that affirm powerful links between identity and place, between the past and the future and between community and purpose.

As we bounce back from the pandemic, we are determined to see these special places and the people that care about them thrive through this Fund. I look forward to seeing the ambition and creativity of the proposals we receive.

Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

Overview

The £150 million Community Ownership Fund is for communities across the United Kingdom. It has been set up to help communities take ownership of assets and amenities at risk of closure. It will run for 4 years.

The first bidding round opens on 15 July 2021.

Voluntary and community organisations can bid for match funding.

Funding may support the purchase and/or renovation costs of community assets and amenities, subject to the full eligibility criteria outlined in this prospectus.

The fund will support a range of community ownership proposals. For example, projects may include:

  • sporting and leisure facilities
  • cinemas and theatres
  • music venues
  • museums
  • galleries
  • parks
  • pubs
  • post office buildings
  • shops

Proposals will need to prove the value of the asset to local people and that the asset can run sustainably for the long-term benefit of the community.

This prospectus sets out information on the:

  • funding available
  • how to apply
  • eligibility
  • assessment criteria

Key dates

The Fund will run until 2024/25 and there will be at least 8 bidding rounds in total.

This prospectus contains details for round 1.

Other key dates are as follows:

  • 13 August 2021 – deadline for submitting applications to the first bidding round
  • December 2021 – round 2 will open
  • May 2022 – round 3 will open

We will publish further details and an updated prospectus and guidance notes for round 2 in the autumn.

If you do not think you will be ready for the first round, we are planning to have regular bidding rounds a year.

The government will learn from the first bidding round and amend the criteria as necessary to ensure that the Fund has the reach and impact intended to support communities.

Apply for funding

You should read this prospectus before you begin your application. It provides detailed guidance about what you need to know before you apply.

Once you are ready to apply you can apply online.

You may also find it useful to refer to the assessment criteria guidance before you apply.

Purpose of the Fund

The Community Ownership Fund is a £150 million fund over 4 years to support community groups across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to take ownership of assets which are at risk of being lost to the community.

It forms part of a substantial package of UK wide levelling-up interventions, helping to support recovery, build opportunity and empower communities to improve their local places.

Community ownership of assets can be a catalyst for bringing people together and helping communities to flourish. But 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, and the strength of local communities.

Community ownership can be a sustainable model for protecting local assets and facilities. It can unlock additional community benefits and help communities shape the things that matter most to them locally. It can sometimes be hard for community groups to raise the funding needed to buy the asset so they can run it sustainably for the long-term benefit of the community. The Community Ownership Fund will support local people to save local community assets and amenities at risk.

The fund is open to community groups across the United Kingdom. Communities applying to the fund should have a strong vision for the long-term future of the asset, its purpose and potential in community life, and a plan for how the asset can thrive under community ownership.

Strategic objectives

The Community Ownership Fund has 4 strategic objectives:

  • provide targeted investment for communities to save community assets that would otherwise be lost
  • strengthen capacity and capability in communities to support them to shape their places and develop sustainable community businesses
  • empower communities in left behind places to level up
  • strengthen direct links between places across the UK and the UK government

Programme outcomes

For the purposes of this Fund, community ownership refers to the ownership and management of local community assets or amenities by a community organisation in order to deliver benefits for the community and place. To be eligible for investment from the Fund, the terms of community ownership must be either the ownership of the freehold or a long-term leasehold of at least 25 years minimum (with no break clauses).

Community ownership of assets can boost local connections, participation and pride of place, and bolster community resilience. By investing in the capacity of communities across the United Kingdom to take ownership of the places and spaces that matter to them, we will strengthen the social infrastructure that helps communities to thrive.

All applicants must demonstrate the potential of their projects to deliver against all of the following outcomes:

  • protect a community asset or amenity 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 and associated local amenities

All applicants must also show how their project will help deliver one or more of the following outcomes for their place:

  • increase feelings of pride and improve perceptions of the local area as a place to live

  • improve social trust, cohesion and sense of belonging

  • increase local participation in community life, arts and culture and/or sport

  • create additional local economic outcomes – including creating jobs, volunteering opportunities and improving employability and skills levels in the local community

  • create additional social and wellbeing outcomes – including delivering positive impact in physical and/or mental health and reducing loneliness and social isolation

We will invest in community ownership projects where these assets and amenities make the biggest difference to the local place. Research commissioned by Power to Change and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) shows that the availability of community spaces and amenities is not evenly distributed, with more affluent areas benefiting from greater access.

We also know that the absence and decline of civic, cultural and community infrastructure contributes to places feeling left behind.

As part of the assessment criteria, applicants will need to demonstrate how the benefits of the community asset will address community need in their local place.

Read our guidance documents which will help applicants understand how they can demonstrate their potential to deliver these outcomes in their funding proposals.

Strengthening community ownership across the United Kingdom

The Fund will be delivered directly by the UK government in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The UK government is committed to fair opportunities to access funding through the Community Ownership Fund across the UK. At a Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will benefit from a guaranteed allocation in line with per capita share. This will mean a minimum of £12.3 million in Scotland, £7.1 million in Wales, and £4.3 million in Northern Ireland.

Applications will be assessed by a consistent framework. The design of the fund recognises there are different landscapes for community ownership across the United Kingdom, with different legislation and support contexts in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Eligibility for the fund and bidding criteria is consistent across all parts of the United Kingdom.

Priorities for bidding round 1

We recognise that communities across the United Kingdom who are interested in this fund will be at different stages. We will run at least 8 bidding rounds, to give all communities the chance to submit a bid at the right time for them.

The priorities for the first round are to invest in projects which are ready to access capital funding and complete their projects within 6 months. All round 1 bids must be submitted by 13 August 2021.

This bidding round will be most suitable for community groups who have done preliminary work and have a viable business plan to take ownership of the local asset or amenity at risk.

Applicants must be able to demonstrate the asset is at risk, has a realistic chance of sale or transfer within 6 months of applying to the Fund, and be able to provide a full business plan for how the community asset will be run sustainably.

Matched capital grants of up to £250,000 will be available for most projects. In exceptional cases, up to £1 million matched capital grants will be available to help establish a community-owned sports club or help buy a sports club or sporting facilities at risk of being lost.

The Community Ownership Fund will provide up to 50% of total capital costs, matching other funds and resources raised by the applicant. Applicants will need to demonstrate they have raised other funds to cover the total capital costs of their project. For this round of funding, applicants will need to show they will be ready to draw down capital funding from the Community Ownership Fund within 6 months of their application.

The UK government recognises that taking ownership of a community asset and running it as a sustainable community business requires the right mix of revenue funding alongside capital grants. Bidders can therefore apply for some revenue funding to help with the associated revenue costs of taking an asset into community ownership.

Revenue will not need to be matched and applicants can apply for grants up to a maximum of £50,000 (and no more than 20% of total capital costs applied for through the Fund) providing they can demonstrate how this funding will support them to complete their project and develop a sustainable operating model.

Future bidding rounds

Interested community groups who are not ready to apply in the first round should start to think about future rounds.

The second bidding round will open in December 2021, and the third in May 2022.

There will be a minimum of 8 bidding rounds over the 4 years and there will be no advantage by being in any particular round.

The government will see what lessons can be learnt from the first bidding round and, if necessary, amend the criteria and process for future rounds to ensure that the Fund has the reach and impact intended to support communities.

In future rounds we may also offer additional support grants to community groups at an earlier stage of development, to help understand if their community ownership project is viable or not.

This will be more suitable for communities who have identified a local asset at risk and have an idea about how to bring it into sustainable community ownership but have not worked up detailed operating models and proposals to take on and manage the asset.

Access to funding and advice through subsequent rounds may be available to help communities with early-stage plans to develop viable proposals and become investment ready.

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