Crowdfunding has proved an innovative way to engage communities in distributing funds to projects across the city, writes Plymouth City Council's Hannah Sloggett.
As a cooperative council, Plymouth City Council were looking to distribute the neighbourhood proportion of Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) money in a way that engaged communities, was cost effective and supported ownership. We wanted a less paternalistic and more enabling role for the council, guided by community support.
Working with Crowdfunder we launched Crowdfund Plymouth, a campaign to raise £250,000 for community projects via their online platform using £60,000 from CIL to offer as match funding for projects that met our criteria. The idea was supported internally by Cllr Chris Penberthy, cabinet member for cooperative and communities.
Projects could launch their crowdfunding campaigns on the Crowdfunder website. Once these projects hit 25% of their funding target, we could check whether they met our criteria in terms of project type and location. Using the online dashboard we could then pledge up to 50% of the project's target and promote it through our community and Crowdfunder's online channels.
The results have been exciting; in four months, 42 projects across the City have successfully raised over £110,000. The match funding has acted as an incentive: once the council pledged match funding on a project, every single project hit their crowdfunding target in three days. So far we've backed five projects and distributed £15,000, representing a significant amplification of the original funds.
The first project we pledged on, Stiltskin, a community arts theatre, raised £6,496 from 120 backers, helping transform a disused building into a creative arts studio and theatre for children and families in a regenerating area of the city.
Cinema In The City, a Plymouth Arts Centre project to stage outdoor cinema in interesting and disused spaces across the city, raised £5,345 from 96 backers and unlocked over £2,000 from The Arts Council ensuring the sustainability of this popular project.
Union Corner, an exciting project to transform derelict shop into an exciting community space in Union Street, raised £10,704 from 84 backers, also unlocking a pledge of £500 from the Plymouth College of Art.
Photo by Dom Moore of Stonehouse Action: a group of local residents transforming a derelict shop on Union Street into an exciting community space.
So far Crowdfund Plymouth is a more effective way to distribute funds with significant administration cost-saving and quick decisions. It is more than just engaging communities, it puts communities at the heart of prioritising what money should be spent on. They provide the solutions by putting up projects, validate the decisions by pledging and make things happen in their local area.
The visibility of this funding process is completely different to a normal grant making process: decisions are made publicly and quickly. It clearly shows how and what the council is contributing to the city and provides a profile for the projects themselves. The process requires project owners to build engagement and create their own buy-in to validate their project and make it eligible for a pledge from the Council.
It streamlines how money is distributed at a local level; rather than a project applying to several different grants, they put their projects up once and people looking to distribute funds pledge if it meets their criteria. We are unlocking community ideas that may not normally apply for grants.
We are now looking into using other funding pots and talking to heads of planning and communities in other councils who are considering crowdfunding as a way to distribute funds. We are also measuring council administration savings and level of community engagement in these local projects with great social and economic benefits.
Hannah Sloggett is Neighbourhood Planning Team Leader at Plymouth City Council.