Community Ownership is our Vision for the Shop to be owned by and run for the benefit of the local community. This would be through a Community Benefit Society and the issue of Community Shares during our initial share offer as part of our fundraising.
Read on to find out why we’ve chosen this route, what community ownership means and to learn more about community shares.#
Please see our Share Offer page for more detailed information about our share offer that will take place in November/December 2023 and to access our latest business plan and share offer prospectus.
Why community ownership?
Weston SOS believes that community ownership is the only route to ensure the short-term and long-term success of the Shop and Post Office for the local community.
The other options we’ve considered – sale on the open market, sale as an investment opportunity, moving the shop to a different location all have considerable risks/barriers:
- Sale on the open market
Whilst Weston SOS would support an interested buyer with a compatible vision for the Shop and Post Office (and we can even support them with our survey/business planning!), there is a risk that a new owner/management would bring considerable change to the Shop and Post Office. The survey results showed strong support for the current service, staff and products in the shop. There is also a risk of the shop closing or a change of use (e.g. as offices) or eventual redevelopment as a residential property (subject to proof that it is no longer financially viable as a commercial property). No-one has come forward and expressed an interest in the purchase of the Shop and Post Office.
- Moving to a new location
All options we have considered (building custom premises, use/extension of the village hall, use of the pub) are either infeasible/impractical (e.g. listed buildings), would take too long to implement or would result in the loss of the Post Office contract which is key to its viability.
Unfortunately, the profits of a local village Shop and Post Office do not make it an attractive prospect as a profitable investment opportunity for a retail investor.
Whilst the survey results did not show overwhelming support for community ownership in particular, we believe that community ownership ticks the most boxes and has the greatest support from the local community:
- 92% of responses said that the shop meets or exceeds their expectations.
- 66% agreed that the shop should stay in its current location.
- 30% said that they would use the shop more if it was community owned.
- The amount of funds we could raise by community shares (no return on investment) versus making an investment (return on investment) was very similar.
Feedback from the survey also praised the convenience of the shop, the friendliness of the staff and the excellent service.
Community Benefit Societies
A Community Benefit Society is a company structure regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority for companies that are owned by the local community and aim to provide a benefit to the local community.
There are some key features of a Community Benefit Society:
- They are owned and run by their members.
Anyone can ‘own’ part of the Shop and PO and become a member by buying Community Shares. The members elect a management committee to govern and oversee the running of the shop and are accountable to the local community. Voting rights are on the principle of one member, one vote (i.e. each shareholder gets one vote, regardless of how many shares they buy).
- Profits cannot be distributed to members.
Unlike a co-operative, which is run for the benefit of its members, a Community Benefit Society is run for the benefit of the community. Trading profits have to be reinvested into the Shop & Post Office or to other local community projects. We can pay interest on shares to members, although generally the management committee would choose to reinvest in the local community over paying interest.
- There is an ‘asset lock’.
If the Community Benefit Society ever sold the Shop and PO – any profits (after repayment of debts & shares) from the sale of any assets (e.g. property, stock) cannot be distributed to members and must instead be distributed to other community projects.
- Proven business model.
There are over 350 Community Benefit Society shops in the UK with a 95% survival rate according to figures from the Plunkett Foundation.
Community Shares are what allow the local community to ‘own’ part of the Shop and Post Office. By buying a community share during our initial Share Offer (or once the shop is up and running), you will become a member/shareholder of the Community Benefit Society that owns the Shop.
There’s a minimum shareholding of £100 of shares (100 x £1 shares). We’ve specified a maximum shareholding of £40,000 (the limit for a Community Benefit Society is £100,000) but large shareholders should be aware that it may not be possible to withdraw their shares in one go.
Shares can be bought individually, as joint members, as a household or as a company. Where multiple people or a business own the shares, a nominated representative must be appointed.
Further to any previous information, due to the fact that Weston SOS Limited is purchasing an existing trading business, the purchase of community shares in our Share Offer is not eligible for any of the current tax relief schemes (e.g. EIS/SEIS).
We apologise for any earlier information provided that may have indicated otherwise.
Voting rights as members are on the basis of one member, one vote. Each member gets one vote on company matters (e.g. elections to the management committee), regardless of how many shares they hold. This allows members to feel engaged and part of the shop, even if they can’t provide a large financial commitment.
For those interested in larger shareholdings, we hope you’ll understand that this is a social enterprise for the benefit of the local community and that this will not discourage you from supporting us.
Shares can be withdrawn, but not for a minimum of 3 years after the initial share offer and at the discretion of the management committee. We have included provision for the withdrawal of shares over time as part of our business plan financial projections.
Shares cannot be transferred or sold to another party, except in the event of death, where the shareholding can be passed to heirs.
Capital At Risk
As with all shareholdings – capital is at risk and shareholders could lose some or all of their investment. More information about the risk will be included in our share offer document which will be published prior to launching the initial share offer.
Members (i.e. shareholders) of the Community Benefit Society elect a management committee to oversee the running and operations of the Shop and Post Office.
The management committee supports the shop manager, staff and volunteers.
The management committee is also accountable to its members and the local community.
Initially, the management committee is made up of the initial steering committee, but after a staggered transition period, the management committee is elected by its members at the Annual General Meetings (AGM) of the Society.
More information about our governance arrangements can be found on our Governance & Structure page.