1.2.2 What are community shares?

Community shares are defined by the Community Shares Unit as non-transferable, withdrawable shares in a society with a voluntary or statutory asset lock. The term is applied to societies with at least £10,000 in share capital and at least 20 members, to focus on genuinely community owned ventures and to avoid societies offering £1 membership share only, from being classified as community shares societies. Shareholders have the right to withdraw their share capital, subject to the terms and conditions stated in the society’s rules and share offer document. But they cannot sell or transfer their shares, or liquidate the business in order to achieve a capital gain. 

Withdrawability solves a liquidity problem faced by any minority shareholder in a small enterprise. Shares in companies are normally transferable, not withdrawable. Under normal circumstances, companies are not allowed to redeem their shares. Instead, the shareholder must find a willing buyer for the shares, which can be very difficult for minority shareholders, especially if the company is too small to be listed on a stock market.

In solving the liquidity problem for shareholders, societies create a liquidity problem for themselves. A society must plan how it will generate the cash to allow share capital to be withdrawn.  The most effective way of doing this is by attracting new members and new shareholders, to replace members and shareholders that are leaving the society. (see Section 2.3)

If you have any questions or suggestions for new information you would like to find in the Handbook, contact the team by email at communityshares@uk.coop