Emerging Project

Town Centre Community Fund

Idea: Community fund to support local groups, events and traders

Fund organised by the community to support local projects and initiatives which improve the town centre. Groups and individuals can apply for grants if their idea meets the agreed mission of the Community Fund. If successful, the funding model could be used to pay for new roles to support the high street, such as a high street curator.

Why it is useful:

Example of what the fund could enable:

  • Small grants to community groups and cultural institutions to deliver activities and programmes that enliven and support the high street, e.g. seed fund festivals, or support a skills sharing group
  • Grants or loans to existing and new businesses on the high street, e.g. support improvements to shop units, buy equipment etc.
  • Could use the fund to offer a programme of business advice and support
  • Could invest in things that improve the high street, from physical interventions, e.g. celebratory banners on lampposts, to data collection to aid local businesses, e.g. strategically located footfall counters to understand and respond to trends and to quantify the impact of marketing campaigns etc.

Who needs to be involved:

  • Town Team: Lead
  • Council: Support – help set up
  • People with ideas to support: Applicants
  • Fund contributors (see below)

How to get started:

  • Explore fundraising potential, including scoping out which businesses, organisations, and projects could contribute as part of their business model
  • Networks and contacts created through the new town centre website could be utilised to work with local businesses and groups to develop ideas of town centre governance and the community fund
  • Explore seed funding the project through a crowdfunding platform, for example, Spacehive
  • Council support the community to set up as a legal entity to reflect the aims of benefiting the town centre and wider community, such as a Community Benefit Society. Also, an appropriate governance model to oversee leverage in and distribution of funds (for further reference)
  • Longer-term, the town centre could look at governance models such as a Community Improvement District or Business Improvement District (see example below)

Viability considerations:

  • Funding opportunities: Potential contributors include local businesses, crowd-funding (e.g. through Spacehive), and other project ideas contained in this report. They could pool their community fund collection, e.g. local delivery service, town centre website/app and community energy company. Longer-term, an Improvement District includes a local levy (see example below
  • Resource: Requires local stewardship to manage, and robust governance model. Set up a Local Grant Application Process with a board that includes the Town Team and the council

Example: Worthing Community Chest

Worthing Community Chest is a local, independent charity that supports projects and activities in the town which enable social and economic well being, having awarded over £300k since 2001. Small grants up to £1,500 support groups, clubs, events and other good causes which meet their aims and priorities. The final decision to award a grant is made by an Appraisal Panel made up of representatives from recently successful applicants. Governance is via a board of trustees who are assisted by youth advisors, with the organisation employing a Grants Administrator to train and facilitate the Appraisal Panel and to oversee the grant-making process.

Funds are raised through donations and income from renting a property they own and recycling partnerships (which include Worthing Borough Council). The charity works with the council to recycle textiles, with the local authority donating money raised from Worthing’s textile recycling bins as well as providing office space inside the Town Hall. The ideas supported in 2019 range from garden and arts projects, creating an active trail, sponsoring annual parades and festivals, training and support workshops, equipment for sports groups to funding the installation of disabled toilet facilities led by a local youth group.

Example: Community Improvement Districts

Longer-term, Chipping Barnet could look at governance models such as an Improvement District, that pro-actively invests in and enhances the town centre. A Business Improvement District (BID) is a geographical area in which the local businesses have voted to invest together, improving the environment and providing additional or improved services. BIDs are business-led organisations and funded by a mandatory levy on all eligible businesses after a successful ballot.

A Community Improvement District (CID) uses the BID model to develop local community-led governance in smaller town centres and high streets where the critical mass of businesses does not exist to make a BID viable. A CID could be set up at the request of a local neighbourhood group, mandated by a local vote every five years, and have the power to raise a levy on council taxpayers and focus on priorities agreed locally. The CID can incorporate local business interests, community groups and local service delivery, with a remit extending beyond the “clean, green and safe” agenda to a wider and more strategic “place-shaping” role. The CID can also be a mechanism through which to gather and distribute the Town Centre Fund by agreeing on local priorities. While BIDs are common and well established in the UK (66 across London with Kingston’s the first in 2005), CIDs have not been set up in the UK yet. There are numerous in the USA, a CID is being piloted in Scotland, and in 2019 the MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) Select Committee was attracted by the idea that BIDs should be replaced with CIDs. The National Lottery funded organisation, Power to Change is also looking at them as part of their own 10-year vision to see community business recognised as a new economic model.