A model way to pay
11 July 2012
A new initiative has been launched to help people find smarter and more efficient ways to raise cash for community projects. Chris Gourlay explains how the Spacehive funding model works
This spring the former mining town of Glyncoch, South Wales, became the successful pioneer of a radical new solution to funding community regeneration projects.
After a seven-year struggle to raise £792,000 for a desperately needed community centre, the residents turned to Spacehive, our award-winning new initiative, to reverse their fortunes.
Our model, which encourages local people to tap alternative funding sources for public space projects, inspired the likes of Tesco, Asda and Admiral Insurance to pledge substantial sums.
And celebrity backers such as Stephen Fry, Griff Rhys Jones and the Welsh rugby team helped to harvest private donations from as far away as Newfoundland and Patagonia.
Residents themselves dug deep, raising thousands through street collections, bingo nights and even a sponsored silence by the town chatterbox.
Following their successful efforts Glyncoch's deputy mayor Doug Williams said: "We're absolutely ecstatic that by summer we'll see a state-of-the-art centre offering the types of training and education that will kick-start people's ambitions.
"Glyncoch is a deprived area; people are used to being let down. Now they are thinking 'we can get out of this rut.'"
Lucy Neville-Rolfe, from the Tesco Charity Trust, the retailer's charitable arm, said: "This unique project shows just how much communities can achieve when they work together. We're delighted to help the people of Glyncoch reach their target."
Spacehive aims to shake up planning by allowing anyone to post projects to improve public spaces. Whether it's a community centre, park or a revamped high street, anyone can take the idea to market, raise funds and ensure it goes ahead.
Some of the more eye-catching projects currently using our model include a dog gym, a rooftop farm and a memorial centre in Royal Wootton Bassett for fallen war heroes.
Funders only pay if the project actually goes ahead. The aim is to widen the pool of funding for projects so that everyone from locals to Stephen Fry's Twitter followers in New Zealand can contribute. With councils facing continued austerity, this could come as welcome relief.
The ideal result will be a collaboration of the private and public sector, with individuals, businesses and councils all chipping in to get projects funded.
Can the model work? Communities are not awash with cash. But although the downturn is making it harder to secure funding from traditional sources for projects, demand still exists and there is money out there. We just need smarter, more efficient ways of tapping into it if we want to get things built.
The open funding system Spacehive uses was co-developed by Deloitte and a team of planning experts, and is backed by the Royal Institute of British Architects and the British Property Federation. Its model is similar to the American crowd-funding site Kickstarter.com, but has been specifically designed to help communities deliver projects in the built environment.
While the technology is new, the notion of crowd-funding public spaces is not. Britain has been doing it since Victorian times. Many of our greatest public spaces – including several large parks in Manchester – were funded through public subscription, as were plenty of statues and monuments in our towns and villages. We hope to revive that tradition, empowering communities to transform where they live by voting with their wallets for projects they like.
Research has shown a real appetite for this. And if there was anything positive to take away from the summer riots it was the strength of community spirit that rose to the surface in their aftermath. Some would argue this feeling of camaraderie only surfaces in traumatic times, but I disagree. Most people really value their communities and are keen to improve where they live.
People across the country are bursting with great project ideas, whether they're sports club owners keen to build new facilities, talented architects with a vision for reviving an unloved street, or any one of millions who are itching to improve something in their area. But the current merry-go-round of planning meetings, consultations, fundraising rallies and paperwork often means the best ideas choke on bureaucracy before any dirt is shifted.
There's a gap between nice ideas and action – funding. Spacehive cuts to the chase by letting people share the cost of the improvements they want. In return you know that if your project gets funded, you'll actually get what you asked for.
Suddenly we can get playgrounds built for £50 per family, high streets revitalised for £1,000 per local trader, and wetlands restored for £80 per twitcher.
It's a refreshing way of doing things, and as Glyncoch's success shows, it really works. The future of public space planning has arrived.
Chris Gourlay is founder and chief executive of Spacehive