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New Research: Co-operative Lines of Inquiry

November 30th, 2023

Research: What are the barriers and opportunities for Black and racially minoritised communities leading Community Share Offers? 


The Ubele Initiative (Ubele) is an African diaspora-led infrastructure plus organisation setup to facilitate Community Wealth Building across the United Kingdom (UK). To this end, Ubele conducts research and collaborates with a strategic alliance of leaders and groups to strengthen our networks sustainability, effectiveness, and voice within local and national infrastructure projects.  

This November 2023, Ubele is launching a new research project in partnership with Co-operatives UK and funded by the Connect Fund. Co-operatives UK is the voice of the UK’s Co-operative movement. They empower and support co-operative enterprises with specialised knowledge and expertise. Co-operatives UK also run the Community Shares Unit, a central resource for community share offers. This research seeks to analyse the barriers and opportunities for Black and racially minoritised communities leading Community Share Offers.  

What is a Community Share Offer? 

A Community Share Offer is a mechanism for a defined group of members to raise finance in return for an equal ownership share of an enterprise or asset. Community shares are not legally defined and are in technical terms, withdrawable, non-transferable share capital unique to Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies.  

Democratically owning and controlling an enterprise or asset is familiar to different communities and cultures across the world. Therefore, co-operatives are found within diaspora communities in the UK and can also emerge from socio-economic and legal exclusion, whether it be through the rotating savings system of Pardna or Committee, the collective ownership of a Sound (Sound system), or the formation of Black Supplementary Schools

Co-operatives can take many legal forms in the UK but are united by the International Co-operative Alliance’s Co-operative Values and Principles. For this research, we will focus on Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies which are legally incorporated under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014. Broadly speaking, Co-operatives are independent entities, legally accountable to their members who each hold equal democratic voting rights (one-member-one-vote) for governing an enterprise or asset. Importantly, all co-operative and community benefit societies must exist for the wider benefit of their members and community.  

Research Aims  

The overarching aim for this research is to explore why so few Black and racially minoritised communities invest in community shares, or choose the underlying co-operative business model to raise investment through community shares. Isla McCulloch and Alice Wharton's report for the Community Shares Unit in 2020 found 92% of investors in Community Shares were White despite making up just 86% of the population. Anecdotally, social entrepreneurs within our communities opt for different legal models, such as Community Interest Companies, Companies limited by guarantee or Registered Charities that cannot issue community shares. Therefore, this research seeks to map Black and racially minoritised communities who do use co-operatives, but also inquire how these models can enable innovative forms of social organisation through expanding the democratic ownership of land and property, the participatory design of urban environments, new definitions of social value, and creating opportunities to raise patient and less expensive finance.  

Therefore, in collaboration with Co-operatives UK, Ubele will collect survey data and co-produce case studies to form a critical understanding of the barriers, but also highlight the opportunities, for Black and racially minoritised communities to deploy Community Shares. During a series of workshops and forums across six English regions in early 2024, this research will explore the use of Community Shares by Black and racially minoritised communities as a mechanism for raising finance for community assets and enterprise, to pluralise the control and ownership of local economies which is a key tenet within Community Wealth Building.  

State of the Sector 

Over the past decade £210 million has been raised via Community Share Offers by Co-operatives and Community Benefit Societies from over 130,000 investors. However, given 92% of investors are White, The Ubele Initiative will work with Cooperatives UK to analyse the design of current Co-operative Infrastructural support. This includes the match funding programme from Co-operatives UK’s Booster Fund (£3.4 million investments since 2016) which has helped broaden out the types of communities and business models using community shares. Additionally, the Government’s Community Ownership Fund (COF) has also helped the wider community asset owning agenda by awarding capital grants, many using community shares as their match funding (£49.3 million investment into 196 projects across the UK from 2021). 

At the Locality Convention’s 2023 Dismantling Racism panel, Phil Tulba, Associate Director of Ubele’s Community Wealth Building hub, described the underlying catalyst for this research project with Co-operatives UK. He voiced frustration on the initial design of the Community Ownership Fund (COF) launched in 2021. Based on Ubele’s own research and engagement, Phil recognised Black and racially minoritised communities were either not aware of COF, or their enterprises and assets needed specific infrastructural support to reach the application start line.  

The Ubele Initiative’s seminal report titled A Place to Call Home (2015) was co-authored by Yvonne Field, Karl Murray and Dr. Diane Chilangwa Farmer, and produced in partnership with Locality. This report found 54% of survey respondents from 150 African diasporic organisations indicated their buildings had “insecure futures” due to a range of factors including limited access to social investment. These bleak forecasts were compounded by the Adebowale Commission on Social Investment (2022) which found that Black and ethnic minority-led social enterprises were raising finance at just one quarter the size of their White-led peers (see page 58 of the report).  

Many funders and corporations gestured towards a need to address racial inequality in the wake of Black Lives Matter, however, there is limited data to evidence a long-term structural shift in access to social investment for Black and racially minoritised communities within the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector. Lord Adebowale, speaking at Ubele’s fringe event at the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF), warned of the cyclical nature of “shame money” within post-colonial economic environments and the precarious, dependent conditions it can reproduce. Therefore, to what extent can cooperatives and community benefit societies create sustainable opportunities for Black and racially minoritised communities to raise more independent finance for enterprise and asset ownership? 

Ubele have now been invited to join the COF advisory board and will also launch Agbero 2100 in January 2024, a new infrastructural support programme for Black and racially minoritised organisations to access social investment; develop leadership and governance skills; and generate awareness of different models for land and property ownership. The Agbero 2100 programme will operate across six regions across England, and Ubele will partner with Co-operatives UK to deliver a series of workshops and forums about Community Share Offers which will feed into this wider research project.  

Lines of Inquiry 

Through preliminary desk research and community engagement this project has traced three broad areas of inquiry. Firstly, this research seeks to review data that indicates socio-economic barriers for investing in community shares. According to government data, 40% of Black Caribbeans and 20% of Black African communities in the UK own their own home compared to 68% of White and 78% Indian. This is a key reason for the formation of Gida housing Co-operative. At the Stir to Action Democratic Business Summit 2023, Phil Tulba presented Gida Housing Co-operative which Ubele are in the process of incubating. He stated how Gida ( is working towards securing 56 new homes for its members who are in housing need. This co-operative model reveals important opportunities for Community Wealth Building within deprived areas, but also challenges, such as raising capital in less affluent communities (from both local investors and mainstream institutions that may query financial risk) and using models such as community shares which may be less understood.  

A second line of inquiry for this research seeks to identify how cultural differences may create barriers for who can invest in a community share offer. Preliminary research has identified differences in community share offers designed to represent a broad diversity of members in a local geographic area, compared with community share offers designed 'by and for' a specific community of members with a shared culture. The Community Shares Market Report 2023 reports on the emergent concept of Shariah Compliant Community Shares where Islamic cultural and religious principles are incorporated into a new model approved under the Financial Conduct Authority. This model was specifically developed by Co-operatives UK and Mufti Faraz Adam at Amanah advisors after recognising the structual and cultural challenges for Muslims to invest in community share offers in line with their faith.  

Thirdly, what role can local and national infrastructure play in enabling the right conditions for co-operative development? At the Community Wealth Building Summit 2023, leader of Islington council, Kaya Comer-Schwartz, declared her commitment to Community Wealth Building through the formation of a Co-operative Development Agency titled Outlandish - a worker-owned co-operative focused on social impact through developing websites, digital tools and incubating other digital co-operatives. Therefore, what role can national and local authorities play in reducing the barriers, developing the opportunities, and brokering the connections for Black and racially minoritised communities leading community share offers? 

Research Participation 

Between November 2023 and May 2024, Ubele’s Community Wealth Building Hub, alongside the Community Shares Unit from Co-operatives UK will be seeking to survey and interview Black and racially minoritised communities that have, or are interested in, leading Community Share Offers, or even those who have considered it and not felt able to take it forward yet. Based on recommendations generated from the research, this project seeks to support a cohort of groups to consider the community benefit society and cooperative legal models, explore the potential to lead a Community Share Offer, and access bespoke infrastructural support via Agbero 2100, the Co-operatives UK Booster Fund and the Community Ownership Fund.  

If you are interested in participating in this research, please contact 


This Blog was written by Christxpher Oliver (The Ubele Initiative) with research and editorial input from John Dawson (Co-operatives UK), Phil Tulba (The Ubele Initiative) and Isla McCulloch (Co-operatives UK) 

Many thanks to Jabu Nala-Hartley for granting us permission to use this image of her at the Stir to Action Democratic Business Summit 2023.

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