What is the issue?
Unlocking the Next Economy is about creating access to the physical assets of churches to support local economic change. Stir To Action’s year-long pilot will explore how these assets can act as an important part of community economic development (CED). Our work will facilitate community engagement, inviting all stakeholders into the process from the start, provide training in co-operative legal structures, develop ways of working together, raise social finance, and support the implementation of the project or enterprise.
The financial crisis and the subsequent social spending cuts have impacted local councils and the public services they traditionally provide, with the loss or reduction of social care, leisure facilities and other services. This has also resulted in the loss of publicly owned physical assets, which have been sold to reduce liabilities and meet revenue shortfalls.
Alongside this situation, the UK’s national network of churches have also continued their institutional decline, with church reports suggesting that more than 25% of churches have fewer than 20 parishioners, and rural places even fewer. This combination of underuse, high maintenance, and lack of income generation has created an unaffordable architectural legacy.
What will the project try to achieve?
Our CED process will work with three pilot communities in the South West of England who are seeking to repurpose church assets for local use, unlocking swathes of un- and underused property, and advise church committees who are looking for community use of their assets. The project will present the social trading models of CED as an alternative to private development, and a means to retain valuable public space for religious and community use. Our project will also identify decision makers within the organisational structures of various different denominations, developing guidance for others to use.
Who might be interested in this project?
Those involved in community economic development, community groups, local authorities, social enterprise and co-operative development bodies, transition initiatives, heritage organisations, charities, church groups and parish councils, community land trusts and community benefit societies.