Unique community share scheme launched to improve north Leeds suburb

Helen Seymour, HDT chairwoman, pictured at the monthly farmers' market
Helen Seymour, HDT chairwoman, pictured at the monthly farmers' market
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A unique community share scheme has been launched in Headingley inviting people to invest their cash to be used in projects which aim to make the suburb a better place to live.

The Headingley Investment Fund - thought to be the first of its kind in the UK - will use ‘crowdfunding’ to try and improve the area for the entire community.

The HEART centre.

The HEART centre.

The fund was officially launched last night by the Headingley Development Trust and is now live and ready for cash pledges.

The Trust’s ambition is to raise upwards of £480,000, with investors promised a return of two per cent - higher than many banks or building societies offer.

Trust chairwoman Helen Seymour said: “We don’t know of anything quite like this. Community shares are now quite a common thing and have been done for all sorts of ventures. But with this fund we can really be fleet of foot in terms of investing in the local property market and making things happen in Headingley. It’s a fund that can act as a lever into local ventures. We don’t know of any other like that.”

In 2007/8 the Trust ran a pioneering community shares offer to develop its flagship project, the Headingley Enterprise and Arts Centre (HEART) - a thriving community business which operates in profit.

Headingley

Headingley

But HEART is now burdened by repayments made on its original loan and one of the main aims of the new investment fund is to be able to replace this loan on better terms.

Another aim for the Trust is to be able to develop new project ideas and business opportunities to suit the local community.

Helen said: “We did a survey and found we have 15 empty properties in the middle of Headingley – and this is meant to be a thriving centre. There are landlords just sitting on properties waiting for a bit fat rent when there are businesses which we know could work but who can’t afford to pay high rents.”

Successful ventures already run by the Trust include a popular monthly farmers’ market, a community orchard, a table tennis club, a monthly programme of films and Headingley Cafe Scientifique, a monthly get-together where local experts talk and debate the latest ideas in science and technology.

Money from the fund will also be invested in local housing, buying up homes in the currently student-heavy suburb, to rent out at low rates to long-term residents.

Helen said: “We want to get more balance. We have nothing against students personally but the balance has got out of kilter. We are not a resort. We want it to be a balanced community that offers all sorts of facilities for everyone.”

The Fund’s business plan said it aims to support the Trust’s goal in creating a “sustainable, balanced community that is welcoming and neighbourly, offers a good mix of housing, has a successful and diverse local economy and is an attractive place to live, work and visit”.

Helen paid tribute to her fellow members on the planning committee – Richard Norton, Mike Sells, Sarah Johal and Isobel Mills - who have been “plotting for over a year” to make the fund happen and said it is exciting but “nerve-wracking” to finally launch the scheme.

“We want it to work, we don’t want it to fall flat on its face. We will need enough people to put their money in.

"It’s not just about owning property but to put businesses and facilities there to really make a difference - businesses that are owned by the community.

“We’re looking to use enterprise to make it a better place for everyone to live.”

The community shares offer is being hosted on the ethical crowdfunding platform, Ethex, and anyone can invest money from £200 to £100,000.

For details and the application form, visit www.ethex.org.uk/headingleyDT or visit HEART on Bennett Road.