Rural Business Park & Farm Bought by Community for £2.6m
Stockwood Community Benefit Society has completed the £2.6 million purchase of Rush Farm and Stockwood Business Park to hold in trust for perpetuity. Having raised over £400K from individual investors, as well as over £2m of debt from CAF Bank, Biodynamic Land Trust and Resonance’s Community Share Underwriting Fund – the dream has became a reality.
The plan, which was the brainchild of Sebastian Parsons (co-founder of the Community Benefit Trust), was to protect the farm as an organic, biodynamic haven by removing it from private ownership. The income from the Stockwood Business Park gives a stable return to the investors whilst the retained surplus will be used to continue to develop the farm and engage the local and wider community raising awareness around land and resource stewardship.
It is a wonderful example of a truly inclusive community project – the farm being organic requires more labour and offers jobs to local people; the community co-owns it in the manner of a cooperative – 1 member 1 vote; members can buy produce and get involved in the farm as well as participate in training courses and events – learning some of the skills required to build the future of the Benefit Society and the board is voted in by members annually. The minimum investment was set deliberately low at just £100 to allow even those without capital to spare to participate; and all getting the 5% return.
Parsons and his family well remember their own sadness, shared, as it was, with the biodynamic and organic farming community when their grandfather’s farm was lost to the biodynamic movement in the late 1980s, and they felt great anxiety to ensure that in future years their own eventual succession process did not lead to a similar outcome. Everyone wanted to make sure that the benefits of organic biodynamic methods for food quality, sustainability and biodiversity were protected and better understood for generations to come.
Parsons explains “Stockwood Community Benefit Society has been founded to protect Rush Farm and the community that interacts with it forever. By purchasing the whole estate – farm and business park together – the Society has a robust financial model, and a tool to further its charitable objectives.”
The deal, one of the largest community asset acquisitions of its kind, was structured by Resonance, specialists in impact investment, and eventually involved over 130 corporate and individual investors. Resonance partnered with Ethex to market the share offer with considerable success.
Daniel Brewer, Managing Director of Resonance said of the deal “It is hugely rewarding when deals like this come together and we can see the dreams and visions of communities become a reality. This asset is now locked in perpetuity for generations to come for the community to enjoy and profit from.”
Brewer continued, “CAF Bank is the largest investor and the anchor for the whole project. They have been fair, transparent and accommodating throughout this process offering terms that give room for the charitable society to grow and establish itself over the coming years. I hope we do many more deals with them.”
Peter Ostacchini, Chief Executive of CAF Bank, said “We are a bank entirely devoted to supporting charities and social enterprises, so we were delighted to be able to support this great project to maintain farmland for the benefit of the local community. Many charities and community groups struggle to borrow money on the high street, so this is a fantastic example of what people can do when they are backed by a lender which understands what groups like Stockwood are trying to achieve.”
There are 27 units in the business park with 19 tenants and the more successful each tenant becomes, the demand for more units grows. One of the most exciting parts of the scheme is to see the number of volunteers that get involved in the every day running of the farm, bringing their children along so they too can learn about how to maintain the land and the farm for the future.
Martin Large of The Biodynamic Land Trust saw this as a prime example of the sort of project that they fund – protecting biodynamic land and making it accessible to the wider public “Stockwood CBS is truly an exemplar project which with the strong revenues from the business park, give an opportunity to run a series of wider events for people to learn both generally and specifically about why biodynamic farming is so important for the food we eat, the aquifers we drink from and the biodiversity we need to protect.
“It is particularly warming to see so many small investors1 participating and many buying on trust for their children and grandchildren, who will become voting shareholders on their sixteenth birthday.”
1150 Individuals invested between £100 and £100,000. Nearly half invested less than £200, of which 10 were on behalf of people under 16 years of age.