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Government fund offers crucial opportunity for communities

Setting out everything community groups need to know about the government’s Community Ownership Fund, we explore why the fund is important and why its timing is more crucial than ever.

Is your community in desperate need of a new sports club for young people? Does your local theatre need support to stay open or is your local pub about to go out of business? These key spaces will prove more important than ever as we gradually emerge from lockdown and communities come back together to build new ties and re-establish existing bonds.

That’s why the announcement of the government’s upcoming Community Ownership Fund is more timely than ever. The fund will enable local groups to bid for up to £250,000 funding to help them buy or take over local community assets at risk of being lost, to run as community-owned businesses.

What is the fund’s purpose and who is eligible?

The fund is part of the government’s and offers a unique opportunity for residents to take the lead in making their neighbourhood a better place to live by saving local assets and shaping them into services and venues that truly meet the needs of local people.

The fund could be the lifeline your neighbourhood needs to keep important social spaces open and thriving.

The government website lists a range of spaces that play a central role in almost every neighbourhood across the country: pubs, sports clubs, theatres and post office buildings. The fund could be the lifeline your neighbourhood needs to keep these important social and cultural spaces open and thriving.

How could Big Local areas benefit?

As recipients of place-based funding, Big Local areas are among the best placed community groups in the country to apply for the Community Ownership Fund. The fund is specifically aimed at projects focused on ‘place-based assets or amenities’ that ‘build connections between people and foster a sense of pride in the local area’ but are ‘at risk of being lost without community intervention.’ The networks and relationships nurtured in Big Local areas – and in many cases, reinforced, by the pandemic – could prove critical when putting together bids and proving why your community will benefit from this funding.

Now is the time to look to the opportunities that will help sustain community action long into the future.

We’ve already seen brilliant examples of how Big Local areas use their local knowledge and networks to develop and rebuild local assets. From the plan to rebuild Withernsea pier in Yorkshire to the ongoing transformation of an old cricket pavilion into a community sports hub in Ramsey Million, Cambridgeshire. Local people hold the key knowledge and networks that are needed to complete these projects successfully – alongside ensuring they meet a genuine local need.

Opportunities like this will also play an important role in the continued progress and success of Big Local areas beyond 2026, when the National Lottery funded programme officially ends. Now is the time to look to the funding and investment opportunities that will help sustain community action long into the future.

Why community spaces matter more than ever

Community hubs and locally run businesses are integral to the social fabric of neighbourhoods. We know this from our work with 150 Big Local areas across the country. But, despite the value these social spaces bring to communities, they are often overlooked when new funding opportunities arise, in favour of physical infrastructure projects like transport systems and new roads.

Many of the problems facing communities can be addressed by investment in social ties.

Our 2019 research into ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods in England found that places lacking social infrastructure – places to meet, a robust network of residents – face a unique set of problems. Problems that leave these areas vulnerable in the face of crisis but that can be addressed by investment in the social ties that lie at the heart of connected communities.

The resident-led engagement that was nurtured so effectively by the digital world during the pandemic will soon be transferred back into physical spaces – this is the time to invest in them.

Who, when and how: everything you need to know to submit your bid

Bidding for the Community Ownership Fund opens in June 2021 and is specifically designed for community groups. A prospectus will also be published in June and will be the must-have document for any groups looking to put in a bid as it will set out the following advice in detail:

  • how to structure a bid
  • what activity you can undertake to support your bid
  • the information you must include
  • the criteria by which bids will be assessed.

In most cases, bids will be able to make the case for up to £250,000 matching funds which communities have raised.

In exceptional cases, up to £1 million matched-funding will be available to help establish a community-owned sports club or help buy a sports grounds at risk of being lost without community intervention.

Further support and resources

If your Big Local partnership is thinking of submitting a bid for funding, this guidance and support can help get you going:

  • For clear and practical advice in taking over or running local spaces, our Community Hub Handbook has everything you need to know, from building an effective team of people to running a tight financial ship.
  • We will be sharing the full government prospectus in June on Facebook and Workplace. If you live in a Big Local area, please get in touch with Rob Day from the policy team or speak to your rep for any further questions.