Toby Sandison, Community Shares Scotland
Small businesses have long provided a heart to communities across Scotland, especially those in rural areas. Village shops, pubs and post offices become so much more than just a place to pick up essential items: they are meeting places, information hubs, a landmark for lost visitors.
However, many of these businesses are struggling, as bigger supermarkets and easier online deliveries force them to operate on tighter margins. Around the country more and more shops and pubs are choosing to close their doors, often as owners reach retirement age and find better value in converting their premises to housing.
A growing number of communities are now taking matters into their own hands and choosing to maintain these essential services as not-for-profit organisations.
Community Shares Scotland has been leading the charge to promote these community businesses. Delivered by Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTA Scotland), the programme is well placed to work closely with development trusts and community anchor organisations, to identify and develop their enterprising ideas and help to secure the funding to make them a reality.
One such example is The Lido, a shop and post office in Argyll which was taken into community ownership in late 2019. The purchase was led by South Cowal Community Enterprises, a community benefit society established to allow almost £70,000 to be raised through community shares. Each shareholder subsequently became a member of the society and has a vote in how the society operates. If the business is successful, shareholders could see their money returned – in some cases, community shares even pay small interest. All profits are reinvested in the society or into other community activities, adding resilience both to the business itself and to its wider community. The Plunkett Foundation, a UK-wide network of over 700 community businesses, reports a long term survival rate of 96% among the organisations it supports.
This model of ownership is now well established, with dozens of examples in Scotland and hundreds across the UK. The support available from Community Shares Scotland is complimented by that of the Plunkett Foundation and Co-operative Development Scotland, giving access to the skills and experience of both trained advisors and other communities.
Community Shares Scotland has recently launched a new website, including an interactive tool to explore each step of the journey through a community share offer, and their team is available by phone or email to offer free advice to anybody interested in learning more.