Many communities often struggle with the loss of services and isolation due to a lack of infrastructure and support, and this is often felt most acutely in small and rural communities. However, community asset transfer can be a game changer, helping them take control of their destiny by acquiring and running local assets such as community centres, sports facilities, or pubs. In this blog post our Enterprise and Communities Business Advisers Alex Rooney and Nina Graham help us explore the benefits of community asset transfer and offer insights on how to go about it.
Reasons for Increased Interest in Community Asset Transfer
The pandemic has highlighted the need for community support, with many people feeling isolated and cut off from services. Rural communities, in particular, are often underserved and need access to services that are no longer provided by councils or businesses.
In this context, social enterprises and community organisations have stepped up to fill the gap that local council or government services no longer provide. They understand that the sustainability of local communities is inextricably linked to the availability of local services, and they see community asset transfer as a means of achieving this goal.
There are also other factors at play. For example, when the councils closed facilities during the pandemic this forced many voluntary sector organisations that operated from these premises to shut down. Many of these organisations believed that they could have helped their communities during this period if they had their premises. As a result, they see community asset transfer as a way of ensuring they can respond to community needs better if similar situations occur.
In addition, some places, such as rural areas, are benefiting from better internet connectivity. This has opened up opportunities for community facilities to offer working space for residents, which is particularly valuable in areas with limited employment opportunities. Local wind farms have also been a source of income helping organisations with the operating costs of community facilities.
What is Community Asset Transfer and How Do You Go About It ?
Community asset transfer is the process of transferring ownership and management responsibility for an asset from a public or private sector owner to a community group or organisation. Here’s what you need to know to get started, including some of the key agencies and resources that can assist with community asset transfer:
- Local councils – Each local council in Scotland has a process in place to help organisations make an application to take over council-run facilities. The council also provides support to ensure the application is robust. Similarly, many local councils have information on their website pointing you in the direction of who to contact to get help with community asset transfer. Examples include the Community Asset Transfer Teams in Dumfries and Galloway and The Highland Council, but every council has a team that can help, the details of which can be found through a quick Google search.
- Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS) – DTAS provides support for anyone looking to take over private land or buildings through Community Right to Buy legislation. This legislation allows community groups to buy, rent, or take over land or other assets in certain circumstances. DTAS also provides advice and guidance to help with the application process.
- National Lottery Community Fund (Scotland) – The Scottish Land Fund, which is available through the National Lottery Community Fund (Scotland), provides funding for organisations looking to take over land.
- Third Sector Interfaces (TSIs) – TSIs are the key agencies that provide support and advice for the third sector within local areas. There is a TSI in each local authority area in Scotland. They provide a single point of access for support and advice for community asset transfer. Find your local TSI on the TSI.scot website here.
- For private land or buildings, you can apply for a community right to buy. This legislation allows community groups to buy, rent, or take over land or other assets in certain circumstances. You can also get support from Development Trusts Association Scotland, and the Scottish Land Fund for those looking to take over private land.
Some examples of organisations that have bought private land or buildings include:
- The Island of Ghia Heritage Trust bought the land on the island after it was put on the market in 2001 by its last private owner.
- A community in Lochaber has succeeded in its bid to buy Britain’s remotest mainland pub in a landmark deal. Residents of the Knoydart Peninsula in Lochaber are now the owners of The Old Forge in Inverie. Find out more about the pub on their website here – https://www.theoldforge.co.uk/
- The Knoydart community has a track record of successful community ownership, having secured 17,500 acres of the Knoydart Estate in 1999 as one of the first community buyouts in Scotland.
Success Factors for Community Asset Transfer
Community engagement is critical to the success of any community asset transfer and is utterly vital when it comes to community assets. We always recommend that organisations engage the community early on in the process, and ensure they are aware of the benefits of the project. Community engagement is also regarded as a vital part of the application process for the takeover of community facilities.
Generating income from running the facility is also essential for the success of the takeover. Initially, there may be a high degree of grant dependency, but through the first few years of operating the facility, the balance between grants and generated income should swing more towards being sustainable through generated income.
Organisations should also have a handle on the facility’s running costs, including being aware that costs will be incurred even when there is no activity taking place. They must also have the human resource to run the facility, including a mix of board/management committee members, paid staff, and volunteers.
Community asset transfer can bring several challenges to organisations looking to take over and run assets. The first challenge is that the council and other private businesses have moved out of the community as they no longer see services as being viable. This means that social enterprises may have to take over local services as there are no other providers. Some communities also have higher elderly populations, who cannot get to services in other areas due to a lack of transport.
Additionally, there is a general lack of community care services in areas. The pandemic has highlighted the amount of people who are isolated in these communities and need support, and having their own premises is seen as a way of ensuring that they can respond to community needs better if a similar situation occurs.
As previously mentioned, taking over a facility involves a great degree of grant dependency in the early stages, but through the first few years of operating the facility, the balance between grants and generated income should swing more towards being sustainable through generated income.
It’s important that organisations know what’s involved in running a local facility. They also have to handle and have control over the facility’s running costs, including being aware that costs will be incurred even when there is no activity taking place to generate income, such as the building having to be heated and needing the lights on even when there is no activity taking place. They may even have to charge for services which were free in the past.
Success will also be dependent on having the people resources to run the facility, with a mix of Board/Management Committee members, paid staff and a good bank of volunteers who are aware of their importance in helping the venture to be a success.
Challenges to acquiring or developing assets also include competition from other service providers, having the appropriate skills and capacity to run the facility, actually filling the facility to enable financial sustainability, getting pricing policies right, and reacting to the seasonality of when the community will use the facility – busy in summer months/quieter in winter months.
Support is Vital
At CEIS we have helped many organisations take ownership of community assets and develop them into thriving businesses. With any business, there will always be challenges, but from our experience those organisations that approach it with passion and a desire to create something that helps lift the local community, are the ones that find the process most rewarding.
If you’re thinking of undertaking a community asset transfer or even if you have a community asset and would like to further develop it, get in touch with us now.