Back on the Map harnessed the power of The Community Ownership Fund and Social Investment to deliver their High Street Revolution, to meet the needs of the community they serve.
Villette Road in Hendon, Sunderland is home to a derelict block of former shops, which have been empty for between two and fifteen years. The previous owner did not intend to bring the ground floor of the building back into use, and the building was falling into disrepair. “It was becoming a blight on the street,” says Jo Cooper, CEO of Back on the Map (BOTM).
Back on the Map (BOTM) was born out of the New Deal for Communities (NDC) programme, which delivered a £54million injection to regenerate Hendon. They have been working for ten years, transforming Hendon, working with and for local people to change the area and lives for the better.
BOTM were working with local people to identify their priorities for the regeneration of Hendon, as part of their commitment to create “a better place”. They had spent the past 12 months working with Power to Change on their Community Improvement District pilot scheme. Back on the Map began their High Street Revolution, which they branded as “Villette Road – The Heart of Hendon”.
A quality retail offer
High Street traders expressed concerns that the Vilette Road block, on the main bus route to the city centre, would prevent the street from thriving. They worried it was deterring people from getting off the bus and visiting. Back on the Map saw the opportunity to create “a quality retail offer, outside of what was currently available.” They applied for the Community Ownership Fund (COF) to purchase the building, and were awarded a grant of £168,000.
Back on the Map are working with the community to identify which types of businesses will complement those already on the road – which include a haberdasher, a butcher, a baker, cafes, and a local independent supermarket. The charity wants to attract businesses that will help the area thrive.
“We’ve had a lot of extremely positive feedback. We’ve been really open with the community… We’ve been very clear that if we don’t get grant intervention, it doesn’t stack up. We have limited charitable resources to do repairs at the scale we might want to… But the community was really pleased that Back on the Map would own [the building] because they knew we’d do the right thing with it as and when we could.”
Back on the Map have heard from residents keen to visit the new shops, even at this early stage. The charity has already received numerous expressions of interest from businesses excited to expand or start up on Villette Road. They hope that by the end of the financial year, the refurbishment will be complete and shops will begin to open, to meet the needs of the community.
Finance for good
For the match funding portion of COF, Back on the Map received board approval to invest some of their own capital renewal funds into the block. They then sought to match this funding with a social investment loan, and eventually took on a seven-year repayable grant from RANK Foundation, at 0% interest.
Jo says that social finance “hasn’t always worked for us, and I do think some models are better than others, particularly when there is a grant attached to alleviate some of the interest. When we have been able to [take on social investment], it’s enabled us to further our mission.”
Jo’s advice for other organisations seeking to use social finance to invest in community assets? “Just reach out to anybody and everybody. Try to get support for the project. Don’t just talk to one lender, talk to everyone, because they will have different rates, offers and ways to help. Put the word out. Don’t be shy – shy bairns get nowt!”
The best option for you may not be the best interest rate – you may find a social investor who is very aligned with your core values; an investor offering a longer term; or an investor who can reduce the amount of risk. Eventually, you’ll find the right person for your project, Jo says.
Support and guidance
Back on the Map applied to the Community Ownership Fund before the support programme was put in place, but received advice on their application from Debbie Lamb, Development Manager at Locality. Debbie acted as a sounding board, reading through Back on the Map’s business plan and giving advice as a “critical friend”. This was funded by Power to Change through the Community Improvement District programme.
Back on the Map found that they already had much of the information needed for their COF application easily available. If you need support putting together your application or expression of interest, help is available via the COF support programme, with webinars, advice and guidance from 10 leading community support organisations.
If you’re interested in exploring more about how social investment can help your social enterprise, charity or community organisation to plug funding gaps, check out the many tools and resources available on Good Finance.
From the ‘Is It Right For Us’ tool which determines whether or not social investment is an avenue worth exploring in just 2-3 minutes to quick, easy and relevant connections to social investors via the Fund Mapper resource; there’s something to support at every stage of your journey.
For more information, support and advice on the Community Ownership Fund, visit the My Community hub.