Managing land for the common good: What works?

Mark Walton

Social enterprises across the UK are successfully managing land to deliver social, economic and environmental value. They are creating jobs, providing training and volunteering opportunities, and improving the land that they are working on. But managing land for the common good is not an easy process.

The organisation I co-founded – Shared Assets – works with land-based social enterprises to help them develop their businesses, and also with landowners who want to create new models of management for the land they own. We want to create tools and resources that help make land work for everyone.

We asked social enterprises what kind of support they need most to get their land-based projects off the ground, and from that identified a need for practical accessible information. Our experience of working with local authorities and other landowners uncovered a need for greater confidence among landowners, who are often concerned about the ability of social enterprises to manage a sustainable business at significant scale.

Our solution to these issues was Making Land Work, a microsite showcasing short film case studies of some of the most successful and ambitious examples of community land management in the UK. We have captured the strengths of 12 community land projects to make it easier for practitioners, landowners and policymakers to get a sense of what land-based social enterprise can do, and how to get it done.

They show the many ways in which communities are managing land for the common good, covering a diverse range from woodlands, waterways and farmland to a reservoir and even a city centre flyover!

The films cover basic information that new projects find most valuable, such as start-up costs, whether the community own or lease the land, and key income streams. They focus on specific issues or strengths and include useful details about ownership and management of land, scaling and development of the enterprise, and their experience of public policy issues such as planning, procurement, and how they secured leases and permissions.

From the case studies some common themes emerged:

  • They are in it for the long haul. Forestry, housing, food growing and local regeneration are all long term activities that require ownership or long leases of land. In some cases even getting access to the land, or the permissions and leases they need to operate, has taken years.
  • Partnership working is critical. In some cases these were direct partnerships with the landowner such as the local authority or the National Trust. In others they were complex, multi-stakeholder partnerships involving private developers, funders and the wider community to secure shared benefits and meet multiple different agendas.
  • All projects are strengthening the local economy. They are adding value to the resources they are growing or harvesting, developing local trading and supply chain relationships and, in some cases, developing the land to provide housing, leisure, and recreation opportunities.

We hope these case studies will provide practical guidance to practitioners and greater confidence to landowners. Most of all we hope they will provide inspiration for everyone involved in land management about what can be achieved when our land and waterways are managed as shared assets, to provide social, economic and environmental benefits for everyone.

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Mark Walton

Mark Walton

Mark Walton is the director of Shared Assets, a member of Defra’s Civil Society Advisory Board and a 2012 Clore Social Fellow.

1 Comment

  • Riki Stevens

    “For the common good” reminds me of the On the Commons organisation and their onthecommons website. You can do it with more than land.

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