The Occupy Movement cried out for a fairer and safer way of managing our economies and societies and it arose in response to the credit crunch which happened when the banks noticed that they didn’t trust each other anymore because they all knew just how many stupid things they had been doing and realised that if they couldn’t be trusted then perhaps the others could not be trusted either.
Shareholder value has overwhelmingly become the most important performance indicator of corporations in our world. There was a time when the most important thing to a bank was its reputation, but in the pursuit of enhanced shareholder value short cuts were taken, insane takeovers were sanctioned by Boards that should have known better (eg RBS), banks lied about their transactions (eg LIBOR), customers were sold payment protection insurance they didn’t need (PPI scandal) and small business were mis-sold complex financial hedging products without even being told that independent advice was available (IRSA scandal).
Britain once had a proud inheritance of building societies and mutuals that had grown out of Quaker roots over two hundred years ago. Fundamentally prudent, fundamentally fair, these institutions were sold off by investors who had never even realised the mutual nature of their building society meant that as well as being investors they were also owners. Not a single one of the building societies that became a bank remains, and not a single one of the building societies that fought off the carpet baggers has been damaged or lost in the financial chaos since 2008.
The Stockwood Community Benefit Society is a co-operative, or to give it it’s full name, an Industrial and Provident Society. It is a special sort of co-operative which is geared consciously towards working together for our mutual good and less towards making and sharing profit. The Co-op chain, familiar to us from our high streets, is an example of an Industrial and Provident Society that is not a Community Benefit Society. The Co-op has a points system like NECTAR or any of the high street systems, but it has had it for many many years. In fact my great-grandmother collected her Co-op points and used them to buy presents for her children! The more you spend at Co-op the bigger your share of the profit they make!
The legal nature of a Community Benefit Society has something called an “asset lock” which is a legal protection against carpet bagging. This means that even though the investors in Stockwood Community Benefit Society are the owners and could choose to sell the property, they will not benefit from so-doing, even if they property became twice as valuable as it was at the time of purchase. We are so keen to ensure that the assets and purpose of the organisation remain true to the founding intention that we have added an extra layer of protection. The Stockwood Community Benefit Society has two Custodian Trustees – one to specifically protect the land, and the other to specifically protect the commercial property.
So how is capital being worked differently by Stockwood CBS, and why is that a good thing and what does it mean for our investors?
Firstly the value of the capital is being protected and preserved, which means that it is possible to withdraw the capital and while it is invested a return can be earned on it. The investment is not speculative because there is a defined asset that is owned, managed and which has a well established history of generating income.
The capital that is invested is making possible a project that is an example of best practice sustainable agriculture and a way of engaging with normal corporate assets in a community orientated and economically sustainable way. Economically sustainable because by making commercial premises available SCBS promotes employment and commercial activity, and community orientated because of the way it does that. Firstly there is the community of investors who are connected in to the life of a place; secondly the community of tenants who work in premises that are well looked after in a location that is sustaining to the soul as well as the body, and have access to the on-site Steiner Waldorf kindergarten and workplace child care; thirdly the community around the farm and business park who come for walks and buy produce from the farm; and fourthly, the community of customers of the tenants of the business park and farm; all of whom have the opportunity to engage with the place, the methods, the thinking, the values and to learn, absorb, join in and feel part of our purposeful community.