Plans for public to buy shares in former store project
Two significant steps took place on Tuesday afternoon (June 12th, 2018) in the journey to bring new life into the former Co-op store at 2-4 Market Place, Caistor.
The first was a consultation at the Town Hall between senior decision-makers from Lincolnshire Co-operative, local politicians, council officers, officials from bodies with specialist expertise, and a steering group which is trying to get the project off the ground.
The second was the appointment of three Board members from Caistor who plan to oversee the establishment of a Community Benefit Society to drive the project forward.
A Community Benefit Society is one in which the public can buy shares. It operates a business that is run for the benefit of the community. The shares can be ‘withdrawn’ (cashed in), but rarely transferred. Earlier, similar types of enterprise were industrial and provident societies.
This type of organisation is widely praised for its democratic structure. Each member has one vote, regardless of whether they buy one share, or many. Community Benefit Societies are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and if a community benefit society is merged or sold, its assets must continue to be used for the benefit of the community.
Caistor residents Alan Dennis, Steve Critten and Neil Castle will make up an Initial Board of Governors, the steering group of 2-4 Market Place announced on its Facebook site on Tuesday.
The rules of 2-4 Market Place Community Benefit Company still have to be finalised. However, once the rules are approved by the Financial Conduct Authority, the Board will be able to appoint other members. After six months, the Board members will have to step down so that a new Board can be elected by the members.
At the end of January 2018, the steering committee behind the project at 2-4 Market Place confirmed that it had received £11,100 in funding support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Architectural Heritage Fund.
Also heavily involved in trying to guide the group through the process is Heritage Lincolnshire – particularly its Heritage At Risk Solutions Officer Kathryn Moore, who invited the Citizen to attend Tuesday’s consultation.
Twenty people attended the consultation, including Steve Galjaard, Chief Financial Officer of Lincolnshire Co-op, county councillor Tony Turner, and West Lindsey District Councillors Angela Lawrence and Owen Bierley.
Steve Jack, Manager of the Lincolnshire Wolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Liz Mayle, Conservation Officer at West Lindsey District Council, and John Mather, Senior Facilitator of East Midlands’ Community-Led Housing, a not for profit organisation, also attended.
An earlier feasibility study conducted by Mark Hodson seemed to form a blueprint for the steering committee, with plans to retain for ground floor frontage for retail use, start-up units for small businesses, offices and a business hub and possibly some self-catering holiday accommodation.
One point to emerge from the meeting was that Lincolnshire Co-operative did not have a long association with 2-4 Market Place, which is actually a complex of five separate buildings.
Mr Galjaard said the company’s association with the premises began in 2003.
Given the nature of forward planning that is typical for a company of this size, it seems reasonable to assume that the layout of the premises presented problems almost immediately.
The Lincolnshire Co-operative at first explored the possibility of siting a purpose-built store on the outskirts of Caistor, said Mr Galjaard.
He said West Lindsey District Council had appealed to the company to explore a location closer to the Market Place and this had been “the right decision,” but building the new store had represented a significant investment.
Efforts to market the former store had not progressed, he added.
The premises had a number of period features and “it was clear that if we wanted to try to bring the building back into use it was going to need some form of grant.
“We can’t just generate that level of money at the end of the process,” he added.
The priority had been to keep it watertight, and painting work was about to take place, added Mr Galjaard. “The vinyls on the windows helped a bit, but there’s only so much you can do.
“It’s great that people want to get involved because they can bring things that we on our own can’t do.”
The meeting heard that Lincolnshire Co-operative had stopped actively marketing the complex, and was currently looking to retain ownership, with the Community Benefit Society taking on some kind of leasehold.
Ms Moore said that arrangement “from a funding point of view raises questions very quickly, but it did mean that the group would not have to take on ownership of a very large property.”
There would be an escalation of costs, the longer the situation goes on, she added.
Mr Jack and Ms Mayle said it was important that the project does not duplicate what is “already on hand locally” with Ms Mayle urging more research to inform the process. She also warned of possible “consultation fatigue” among the public.
The Citizen representative disagreed, calling for greater engagement with Caistor residents, and calling for clarity on how the Lincolnshire Co-operative would like to safeguard its commercial interest long-term.
Mr Galjaard seemed to imply there could be scope for negotiation on this issue.
A suggestion by Mr Castle that one window of the former store is dedicated to carrying updates on the project’s progress was agreed. Another suggestion likely to be considered is to reduce the Lincolnshire Co-operative’s flagship blue branding from the frontage of the former store, but the meeting heard that a suggestion to paint the frontage a different colour would need planning permission.