We are delighted to be able to publish a new research report focusing on the support needs of land-based social enterprises. The report is based on interviews conducted with 13 representatives drawn from over 40 land-based social enterprises who received direct technical, business and training support from Shared Assets over the past two years.
Between July 2013 and June 2015 Shared Assets was funded by Tudor Trust to provide support and advice to land-based social enterprises and community organisations looking to take on the management of woodlands, waterways, parks and green spaces. We have delivered a wide range of different types of support including telephone and email advice, site visits, workshops, training, and facilitating meetings.
As this funded support programme draws to an end we wanted to know about practitioners’ experiences of running land-based social enterprises and the support they had received from Shared Assets, other support organisations, and peers.
What they told us:
- Their work is often irregular, which makes structured forms of support and networking difficult. Ad-hoc and practically focussed networking opportunities may be more valuable than encouraging regular participation in a network, training or capacity building programme.
- Difficulty accessing land and working with (often public) landowners are key barriers. Their often ad hoc beginnings mean they can struggle with developing into businesses with the professional credibility and technical expertise that are seen as vital when it comes to being taken seriously by landowners such as local authorities.
- They regularly feel as though they are ‘treading water’; focussing on the immediate activities needed to sustain their organisations rather than being able to plan for the future.
- Key support needs include help with governance, networking, skills and capacity, developing relationships, and engaging communities.
- Peer learning was highly valued. All interviewees had independently contacted, and often taken the time to visit, projects similar to their own.
- Some respondents felt that developing local relationships (place-based networking) was more effective than developing relationships with other organisations like themselves (interest-based networking).
- Collecting knowledge about successful land-based social enterprise and making it accessible is crucial, to prevent the repetition of work and to support the development of others. A system for linking to, storing and disseminating existing knowledge could help the sector to develop.
- Shared Assets occupies a valuable position between the world of grassroots projects and that of policy, business and landowning organisations. It can best support the development of the sector by working with and connecting different groups, and developing ‘possibility models’, strategies, and research for projects to draw on.
This is not a systematic evaluation of support for land-based social enterprises, but provides a framework to improve on the support provided, by Shared Assets and others, to the emerging land-based social enterprise sector.
How are we responding?
We have already acted on the feedback provided by practitioners.
- They wanted ‘possibility models’, examples that could inspire them and that they could use to inform others about the potential of land based social enterprise.
We have produced a range of short films highlighting some the most ambitious or established land based social enterprises operating in the U.K. and made these available on our Making Land Work website.
- They said that they were not always able to attend workshops and conferences but wanted to be able access the information from those events when it would be most useful for them.
- We have used film and social media to record our events and make them available to non-participants.
- They valued the role that Shared Assets fulfils in linking practitioners with policy.
We have secured grant funding from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to undertake a two-year programme of research into how public policy can best support land based social enterprise.
Whilst our funding from Tudor Trust has now come to an end we will continue to provide land-based social enterprises with accessible support and advice that is low cost – or free where groups are unfunded and our resources allow.
We are currently seeking funding to enable us to develop some training and resources that can be delivered on a more local and regional basis. We are also actively exploring how we can support more local place-based networking between land-based social enterprises and others in their local area with an interest in how land can be managed for the common good.