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Want to improve your local area? Crowdfunding could be the answer

2_Andy headshot new Dec13Fed up with the way your neighbourhood looks, or think that your area needs better public facilities? Crowdfunding could bring together people who share your aspirations and bring your plans to life by turning feelings, or frustration, into funding.

The crowdfunding concept has already become an increasingly popular way of funding such things as businesses, projects and inventions. Put simply, it allows people, businesses and public bodies to pledge money to fund projects that in many cases would otherwise struggle to secure the necessary funding.

London-based Spacehive.com is the world’s first crowdfunding website for civic projects and is based on the model pioneered by Kickstarter in the US. Anyone with a project idea can post it on the website and, when the pledges and other sources of finance hit the funding target, cash is released for the project.  If not, nobody gets charged.

Spacehive is at the forefront of crowdfunding local projects, having found proven success across the United Kingdom. Projects have included a £792,000 community centre in Glyncoch, south Wales, a £38,000 open access wi-fi set up in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire and a phone box transformed into a micro art gallery in Porty, Edinburgh.  Many of their projects have received funding from major companies, such as Tesco, and they have also been endorsed by celebrities like Stephen Fry and Ian Botham.

Spacehive has also brought large scale crowdfunding to the table.  To do this, they have embarked on several partnerships, including teaming up with the Association of Town Centre Management and Mary Portas’s Town Teams.  This venture has allowed people to get involved in their local area by using crowdfunding to provide investment for town centres and local enterprises.

There have also been more direct links with the retail sector through the British Council of Shopping Centres. This has already seen success in High Wycombe, where crowdfunding has been used to fill empty shops with new businesses, and in Southampton where students set up pop-up shops to learn about retail management as part of their university course.  Projects like these promote cohesion between communities and businesses whilst encouraging people to visit the town centre and increasing footfall.

In 2012, Spacehive acted as the crowdfunding platform for projects creating new community food-growing spaces in London. This meant working with the environmental charity Groundwork, Capital Growth which is a shared initiative between London Food Link, the mayor of London Boris Johnson, and the Big Lottery’s Food Fund. Projects included community gardens, outdoor kitchens, allotments and even teaching young people how to farm!

Most recently Spacehive has joined forces with leading accountancy firm Ernst & Young and London Councils, which represents the capital’s 32 borough councils and the City of London.  The partnership aims to share the cost of community projects online by unlocking millions of pounds of funding for regeneration projects and raising millions of pounds in new funding through the web.  Spacehive and Ernst & Young will work together to establish multi-million pound match-funding partnerships with corporate sponsors, councils, grant bodies and investors to enhance London’s public assets.

Chris Gourlay, founder of Spacehive, said:  ‘Crowdfunding allows people to vote for schemes they like with their wallets. So from a council’s point of view, it’s a powerful way of measuring the popularity of projects. Pledgers are only charged if an idea hits its target, so it’s risk-free. In the real world, no one understands planning or wants to get involved unless someone’s paving over their garden. We want to change that by harnessing people ideas and unlocking cash to turn them into reality. If we can do it for movies and apps, then we can do it for civic projects too.’

Spacehive’s partnership links illustrates the many ways there are to improve a local area and the funding possibilities. Their proactive approach and work with the private and public sectors should help to bring more community-based projects and regeneration. Interest from civic heads, such as the directly-elected mayor of Bristol, demonstrates the recognition that crowdfunding and Spacehive have achieved for a new means of investing in communities. It is hoped that Spacehive’s proactive approach, combined with support from councils and public bodies, will lead to even more initiatives being rolled out across the UK.

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