Team travels south to learn from Welsh experience
Last month the Community Shares Scotland team made a study visit to our counterparts Community Shares Wales.
The Community Shares Wales (CSW) team was launched in 2016 with a similar remit to Community Shares Scotland (CSS), acting as a support hub for anybody in the country looking to raise money through community shares. They are supported by colleagues in the Wales Co-operative Centre and have worked with a wide range of community groups, providing inspiring case studies for us to take back to Scotland.
The first day of our visit involved a tour of some of the projects supported by CSW, beginning with Le Public Space - a pub and music venue in the heart of Newport. Le Pub, as it is known to locals, had been operating under private ownership for over twenty years when the threat of closure led to a community group taking on its management and moving it to new premises. They are now thriving in the new space and have long term ambitions to redevelop its currently empty upper floors to include facilities such as a recording studio.
Next we met with one of the volunteers behind Michaelston-y-Fedw Internet (MyFi), a community broadband scheme providing ultrafast connections to around 200 homes. The group raised around £150,000 in shares which along with a grant from the Welsh Government has enabled them to build an all fibre-to-the-premises network capable of delivering 1GB connections. MyFi beat off EU-wide competition to win the European Broadband Award for Innovative Models of Financing, Business and Investment in October of last year.
We ended the day with a visit to Caerau Football Club, who are undertaking a community asset transfer of a local playing field. Their long term ambition for the site is to see it redeveloped with an all weather pitch, spectators stand, new changing rooms and gym facilities. A soon to launch community share offer will provide vital funds to make the project a reality.
The visit showcased the wide range of activities community shares can support, with all three groups managing innovative community enterprises not yet seen in Scotland.
Our team also spoke at an event organised by the Wales Co-operative Centre discussing the role of public sector organisations in supporting community-led regeneration. We took the opportunity to share some examples of best practice from Scotland, where community groups such as Strontian Community School Building and Edinburgh Coomunity Solar Co-op have worked closely with their local authorities to improve essential services.
The event led to conversations around each nation's respective third sectors and particularly the support available to community organisations. Welsh participants were particularly impressed by funding initiatives like the Scottish Land Fund and legislation such as the Community Empowerment Act, which have enabled Scottish communities to take on exciting ventures that may not otherwise have been possible.