The Dog-ged determination needed to make community shares work

20th Apr 2018

We’re sharing a guest blog post from Dave Hollings of Co-operative and Mutual Solutions. Dave has advised 36 completed community share issues over the last 15 years, raising £6 million of shares often topped up with other forms of finance. He has specialised in pubs, shops and renewable energy. He has advised clients from the Home Counties to the Western Isles. He has also seen a community share issue from the community side, raising the community shares needed to rescue his local pub, which is where his story starts….

Last night I went to my local pub. Nothing too remarkable in that, except it shouldn’t be there. Three years ago The Dog Inn at Belthorn in Lancashire was permanently closed by its pubco owners. The pubco said the pub was unviable, not needed and not valued by local people. They were wrong on all three counts.

So like many communities faced with losing a valuable local asset, public meetings were held and a campaign group was formed to look at how to save the Dog Inn. In the meantime the pub was sold to a local developer whose plan was to replace it with housing. This would leave a village of 450 people with no local facilities, save the local primary school. No pub, no shop, no village hall.

So we offered to buy the pub back from the developer to re-open as a pub. He generously said ‘Yes’. Less generously he gave us 10 weeks to raise the money. How? We could not get a loan (and were not sure we could pay it back anyway). Even if there were grants for buying pubs, which there normally aren’t, 10 weeks would be far too short a time for any decision. There was only one way forward: community shares.

Community shares work by local people investing their own money in something that they value. Local people own the asset, can expect to get their investment back at some point and receive a small return on their investment (but usually less return than on a commercial loan). People can invest different amounts but everyone has one vote no matter how they invest.

It was hard work, we had little time, but we organised ourselves, put together a business plan, launched a share offer and raised £180,000 from around 125 people to buy the pub, refurbish it and buy the initial stock.

Two years ago, The Dog Inn re-opened under community ownership. But it is more than a pub, it’s our coffee shop, it’s our village shop, it’s our village hall. And with a defibrillator on the outside wall it’s our health service. So, on a Tuesday night in October, The Dog Inn was hosting a committee meeting, the AGM of a local charity, a birthday meal, as well as local people just relaxing over a drink. And without community shares none of that would have been possible.

Image taken from article by Co-op News