The ex-mining community of Glyncoch in south Wales has taken more than its fair share of knocks over the years. So you could forgive the people of the area, where unemployment runs at around 60%, for pessimism when a lack of funding threatened to derail plans for a new ??792,000 community centre.
“People’s perception was: ‘you say we’re going to get things but we never do ??? nothing ever comes to Glyncoch’,” says local mayor Doug Williams.
Now those perceptions are changing after an innovative crowdsourced funding project helped the community raise the final ??30,000 needed to make the centre a reality.
Using the online platform spacehive.com, celebrities including Stephen Fry and Griff Rhys Jones gave their backing to the scheme and everyone from individual online donors to retail giants Tesco and Asda gave gifts to top up the grant funding already pledged.
“This idea had been eight years in the making, but it looked like we were going to lose a lot of our funding if we didn’t raise the whole amount and start the build by the end of April,” explains Williams, who’s also on the board of Glyncoch Community Regeneration which will run the centre.
“Once Spacehive got involved, it was a brilliant effort. It gee’d the community up and they increased their participation when they saw money coming in on the internet. Everyone was chasing that target and the whole atmosphere on the estate changed when they realised it was going to become a reality. Now the building has started going up and there’s a real buzz.”
Crowdfunding has already proved a hit in the arts, where film-makers and musicians bid for financial backing from the public on websites such as US-based kickstarter.com. But Spacehive’s backers believe the model could also help fund public and community projects in these challenging economic times.
“The idea is to unlock a source of funding for a lot of projects which might struggle to see the light of day in the current economic climate,” says Spacehive founder Chris Gourlay. “We have a tradition of projects being funded by a council or a developer through section 106 funding, but it makes sense to open them up to a wider contributions.
“It could be anything from a shop pledging thousands to improve a high street to a mum who wants a park for her kids to play in who’d put in ??20. It’s about people spending money making improvements to places they want to live or work in, so to a large extent it’s motivated by self-interest.”
According to the British Property Federation, the average ??500m a year in public investment on projects such as sports facilities, parks and playgrounds has now been cut in half. Chief executive Liz Peace, who is also on the board of Spacehive, says crowdfunding offers not only a way of helping to plug that gap but a potentially exciting route to tap into people’s aspirations.
“Developers put millions in in community contributions but you do sometimes wonder if it’s all a bit top-down. The experience is that the money can sit in local authority coffers for years while they work out how it is spent,” she says. “This might be a way of making it more bottom-up, of getting real community involvement.”
Peace wants to explore the idea of siphoning off part of developers’ contributions to projects that win public support in this way. She also suggests crowdfunding could supplement the ??1.2m going into high street rejuvenation projects in the wake of the Portas review.
But should we have to rely on social businesses such as Spacehive ??? in which a small percentage of the funds raised is taken as a fee ??? to help fund our public projects? In Glyncoch, Williams says communities have to be realistic. “In an ideal world, it would be nice if the state would provide, but in the economic situation we are in, unless you get off your butt and do it for yourself it’s not going to get done.”
Other projects hoping to harness that community spirit and turn it into cash via crowdfunding include a plan to transform a derelict east London dock into a river walkway and community garden by the time the Olympic Games open. The charity Gaswork Docks Partnership needs another ??79,000 on top of the ??60,000 it has already raised for the project at Cody Dock on the River Lea.
The man behind the project, Simon Myers, says: “The crowdsourcing platform is a fantastic opportunity to engage people in regeneration and give them ownership of it. Thousands of people can visit a site they have pledged ??2 towards and see what they helped build.”