Building a Community through shares

Community shares have proved to be an ideal means of ‘cementing’ finance for local groups planning to take over and restore unused or derelict buildings for the benefit of all.

There are many former churches, court houses, police stations, post offices and libraries lying vacant in Northern Ireland which could be used to provide valuable community services.

Tiziana O’Hara of Co-operative Alternatives, an organisation set up to promote the benefits of community shares, is currently in discussions with a number of community groups about the possibility of launching share offers to buy former municipal buildings no longer in use.

“We see many examples in Great Britain, where local activists have taken the community share option to revitalise an old building to make it a hub for all sorts of activities – art, culture, enterprise and innovation,” she said.

One such example is Unity Hall in Wakefield, a landmark, listed 19th century building and former HQ of the Wakefield Industrial Co-operative Society.

The building, which was used as a dance hall in the 1950’s and 60’s and a rock concert venue in the 70’s and 80’s, fell into disuse in the 1990’s and lay derelict until 2013 when Unity Works, a new co-operative raised £4.4million to refurbish it and transform it into an arts, conference and enterprise centre used by the entire community.

The refurbishment was part financed by a number of community share issues, with the result that The West Yorkshire City now has a state-of-the-art 600 seat main hall for concerts, a 100 seat Minor Hall for conferences, a café, gallery and a 10,000 square foot workspace housing local creative businesses and organisations.

Yorkshire seems to be a hotbed of people power, with another great example of a building that has been rejuvenated – Headingley Enterprise and Arts Centre (Heart).

The centre was established by Headingley Development Trust and is owned and run by local residents. The former primary school has been transformed into a lively eco-friendly, fully accessible facility that houses a large hall, four conference rooms, five meeting rooms and a café.

This £1.3m refurbishment was part financed by a £100,000 community shares issue raised among more than 800 members in 2010.

Now it provides entertainment for the people of the area with events such as ‘Films at Heart’ and ‘Jazz at Heart’ featuring young musicians from Leeds College of Music.

Tiziana said: “These two projects are fantastic examples of what can be done if the community works together to make things happen.

“There are many iconic buildings throughout Northern Ireland that could be reborn for the 21st century and a community share issue is one way to finance this. I am in talks with a number of organisations and am hopeful that some of them will choose to go down this route.”

For more information about the Unity Works project, visit  Details of Headingley Enterprise and Arts Centre (Heart) can be found on