We recently held a Learning Circle at Shared Assets, where we reflected on our role and experiences within the community ownership ecosystem. Our Consultancy Coordinator Tom Carman shares a summary and invites responses to support the development of our thinking.

Our experience

Shared Assets’ journey began in part as a response to the 2010-2015 coalition government’s austerity measures and the need for new land management models. During this period, the government introduced the 2011 Localism Act, which enabled a process of ‘cutting and devolving’ central government budgets. The Act, which has been widely criticised for its role in exacerbating social inequalities, gave communities the right to bid on assets before they were sold off, presenting opportunities (albeit with limitations) for community ownership.

At the time, our co-founder and Director Mark Walton noticed that there were fewer initiatives for community land management than for public services and assets such as libraries, museums, shops and pubs. This was a red flag. In fact, the government subsequently proposed ‘the great forest sell-off’, a plan to put half of England’s state-owned forest up for sale to developers. Thankfully, the government then backtracked following huge public outcry.

In support of community ventures for land ownership, since its founding in 2012, Shared Assets has provided consultancy services to hundreds of partners taking a community ownership approach to land management.

  • In 2015, our Making Land Work programme produced short films and case studies capturing the strengths of 12 community land projects across the UK as guides for other land-based groups. 
  • As part of the government-funded COMA programme, we built our knowledge of the parks ecosystem, through our work around 7 country and urban parks.
  • From 2015-2018, the Making Local Woods Work programme aimed to grow and support woodland social enterprises across the UK. 
  • Since 2017, Shared Assets has been providing support to Big Local areas who want to take on ownership or management of land, buildings and green spaces. The Big Local programme, managed by Local Trust, has given 150 underserved communities in England £1 million each over ten years for residents to decide how to spend and invest. This work resulted in a report ‘Activate! Land in the hands of communities’ 
  • Through the Community Ownership Fund we support a huge variety of community run land-based ventures with their business models, such as farms, parks and woodlands. 
The Chiltern Rangers CIC who we worked with as part of our Making Land Work project

Our learning

After discussing what we have learned from working on community land ownership for over a decade, we came to the following conclusions:

  • There are fewer developed models of community/collective land management than for other assets such as pubs or shops. This may be because land management models can be varied, complex, and highly specialised. However, the land movement has worked hard to protect land from private interests through community ownership models.
  • Lots of work has taken place to develop capacity for community ownership at a neighbourhood or ward level, yet there has been less attention to landscape-level land management using community/collective models. However we know that communities want to deliver responsible land stewardship themselves, so larger scale land management by communities should be explored further.
  • There’s radical action everywhere! Our movement-building work has started to build connections with the movement for land justice. You can read more about how we are reorganising ourselves to provide infrastructure for the emerging land movement here. We see lots of important action from activists campaigning for a just land system as a key aspect of interlocking movements for social, economic, and environmental justice. We can connect that activism to the work undertaken by the practitioners we work with too - when we ask the practitioners we work with about their motives, they often tell us they are driven by unsettling the dominant land system.
The Spring Gathering 2022 for the land justice movement

Our year ahead

We want to use our learnings to continue supporting community land ownership, alongside the wider movement for land justice. In the year ahead, we are challenging ourselves to answer some of the following questions:  

  • How can we work alongside the land justice movement to provide support to emerging campaigns?
  • How can we build connections between community ownership/management projects and the wider land justice movement?
  • Can we create our own programme of asset management support that sits alongside our more reactive work? 

We know that our learning here isn’t complete, and that we can’t do this alone. If this blog has resonated with you or you’d like to help us develop our thinking, please be in touch with the team - tom@sharedassets.org.uk 

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