Community Shares – Frequently Asked Questions

A community share offer is more than just a straightforward crowdfunding campaign and as such we’re sure that there’s some confusion about what it actually involves. Hopefully the questions below will answer some of your questions and clear up any points of confusion. If, however, you have any questions which are not answered in this page please don’t hesitate to contact us or download our official share offer document which contains a great summary of the project and some more FAQs.

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What is a Community Benefit Society?

Community Benefit Societies are organisations that conduct business for the benefit of their community. Profits are not distributed among members, or external shareholders, but returned to the community. For example, a nursery school might use this form to let staff take part in decision-making.

Some key characteristics of community benefit societies:

  • They are set up with social objectives to conduct a business or trade.
  • They are run and managed by their members.
  • They must submit annual accounts.
  • They can raise funds by issuing shares to the public.
  • They can be established as charities, providing they have exclusively charitable objects that are for the public benefit.

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What are community shares?

Community shares are a unique form of share capital (also called ‘withdrawable shares’) which can only be issued by co-operatives or community benefit societies registered with the Financial Services Authority. Co-operative societies are for the mutual benefit of their members, whereas community benefit societies are for the broader benefit of the whole community. Both types of society can issue withdrawable shares, and they work to similar principles. A withdrawable share can be withdrawn from investment, subject to the terms and conditions of the society concerned. This provides a straight forward way of getting your money back when you want to cash-in your shares. Withdrawable shares are very different from ‘transferable shares’, the type of shares normally issued by companies which can be bought and sold on the stock market.

Co-operative and community benefit societies can issue transferable shares, or shares that are both withdrawable and transferable. However, Sacred Earth will only issue withdrawable shares.

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What is Sacred Earth?

Sacred Earth is a community land project which was set up in 2011 on the 40 acre site of an abandoned brickworks near the village of Horam in East Sussex. We are an organisation with social, educational, agricultural, ecological and therapeutic aims. Just as everything in the web of life is interconnected, we see these aims as being fundamentally interconnected too.

In addition to our own projects and programmes we also support entrant farmers, rural craft entrepreneurs and nature-oriented therapists by providing affordable access to land, tools and infrastructure as well as mentoring and project management support. Our vision is to create a thriving community of land stewards, farmers, therapists, teachers, students, apprentices and volunteers working together on the land, supporting one another and the local community in a variety of important ways.

We’re a passionate and dynamic organisation which is committed to exploring traditional and indigenous practices as well as finding new and innovative ways of doing things.

Some of our own projects and programmes include: Some of the projects we support on the land include:

How is Sacred Earth benefiting the community?

Sacred Earth is already benefiting the community in a variety of ways. As a result of the new land-based projects we’re implementing, our transition to a community benefit society and the money we raise through the share offer we will be doing much more. We are an organisation with social, educational, agricultural, ecological and therapeutic aims. Here are some links to information about the benefits of the work we do in these areas:

We are a community focused organisation with social aims and objectives. Read these six brief case studies for more information about the social impacts which we are making as an organisation.

One of the single most significant ways in which Sacred Earth is benefiting the local community of Horam is through the regeneration of the abandoned Old Horam Brickworks over the last few years. We’ve recently reached the second stage of the application process for a Veolia Trust grant. If we’re successful this will result in implementation of a number of projects designed to make the reserve more accessible as well as opening the site to the general public for 180 days of the year.


Why should I invest? What do I get?

In addition to all the community benefits described in the previous question, there are a number of individual benefits to becoming a shareholder. Every investor will be a member and co-owner of Sacred Earth and will get a stake in key decision-making – E.g. deciding who is on the management committee and on resolutions at our AGM. For more information about voting please read our society’s rules which are available to download here.

Under the law governing Community Benefit Societies, regardless of how much you invest, everyone has one vote. We believe this fits our ethos perfectly, because all investors will be equal with everyone else in their desire for our community to prosper, regardless of how much we can afford to invest. After five years decisions about offering interest and withdrawals will be made by the Committee at the time. Should they be possible, withdrawals will be allowed on a first come first served basis. Members will be required to give three months’ notice of their request to withdraw capital. We will not release more than 10% of the total share capital per annum.

The current management committee judge that the projected performance of the business gives them confidence that they will be able to enable withdrawal by investors after five years of trading as a Community Benefit Society. They also believe that this offer represents an excellent opportunity for them to significantly lower the costs of their borrowing as a society, to achieve social benefit to the local community of Horam and the wider community of Sussex.


How much does a share cost? Can I buy more than one?

The minimum investment is £50. This is because this is an investment proposal in a community business, not a donation to a good cause. There’s also a cost of processing each investment now and every year that person remains an investor, so we can’t set the bar too low or else it’ll end up costing us more than we receive. The maximum investment is £7,500.


What happens when I want to get my money back?

Community Benefit Societies are set up to prevent share capital from being withdrawn at an unsustainable rate. In practical terms this means we will require 180 days notice in order to release your share(s). There will also be a set limit to the amount of share capital we release over a 12 month period.

Although shares are withdrawable, you may not be able to withdraw your shares if we do not have sufficient funds available at the time you wish to withdraw them. We are currently envisaging that the business side of the organisation will be profitable within five years, after which time withdrawal of share capital will be much more sustainable.


What happens if the offer fails to raise sufficient funds?

We need to reach a share offer fundraising target of £30,000 in order to deliver our business plan without significant revisions. If we do not reach this target we will not draw down on any investment and will review our business plan in order to identify if it can be reworked based on the funds we have raised. If we’re able to produce a viable business plan on this basis we will contact investors to establish if they wish to invest in the new business plan.


Who owns the land? What happens if they decide to sell?

Local philanthropist Roger Ross currently owns our 40 acre site. Sacred Earth founder Phil Greenwood met Roger while he was studying Biodynamic farming at Emerson College in 2008. They struck up a close and supportive friendship. When, a few years later, Phil took Roger to visit the Old Horam Brickworks which had recently gone up for sale, Roger was so inspired by Phil’s vision for the regeneration of 40 acre site for community use that he agreed to purchase it.

It is extremely unlikely the land will be sold. Roger Ross has been a supporter of the project since it began and we have an excellent relationship with him. In fact, as a part of the transition we’re currently undergoing we’re working with Roger to put the land into a trust which will safeguard it for community use indefinitely.

I’m interested but I’d like to know more. Do you have a share offer document or a business plan?

Yes, we have a share offer document and a business plan. Our share offer document is available to download here and our business plan is available to download here.