SouthGen, a charitable community benefit society in Southwold, Suffolk, has launched a public share offer to help turn the town’s former hospital into a new community hub for local people.
Specialist rural housing developer Hastoe Housing Association partnered with SouthGen last year to buy back the hospital, after it was closed by the NHS in 2015 in order to recycle it for new uses to benefit the community.
The proposed hub will provide a new home for Southwold Library, as well as a nursery, a co-working space for local businesses, and a farm-to-fork café to support local food production. The hospital site will also provide nine affordable homes for local people separately built and funded by Hastoe.
Two-thirds of the total target of £725,000 needed to create the community hub at the Southwold Hospital site has already been raised through successful grant applications. It’s anticipated that funding for the remaining third will be raised through the sale of the community shares, which are forecast to provide an annual return of 4% from June 2022.
The share offer is open to anyone, living anywhere, aged 16 or over. Everyone who buys community shares becomes a member of SouthGen and will have one vote in the society’s affairs, no matter how many share they own. Each community share costs £25. The minimum number that can be bought is six shares at £150, however, families, friends or colleagues can club together to buy them.
Jessica Jeans, SouthGen’s Chair, said: “We want everyone, no matter what their situation, to be able to own the Old Hospital hub and participate in all of the important decisions affecting its future and the community. The application makes it easy for people to pool their resources and form investor clubs to buy the minimum number of shares.”
Southwold and Reydon is the first community in the country to buy back its community hospital. In an innovative, simultaneous three-way property transaction completed in March last year, the NHS sold the land to SouthGen, which sold it to Hastoe who provided the money to buy the land from the NHS. Hastoe then gave SouthGen a rent-free 999-year lease on part of the Old Hospital to develop the hub.
Community shares have been used throughout the UK to finance businesses as diverse as pubs and piers, football clubs, forests, and distilleries, but this is the first time they have been used to transform a closed community hospital into a community hub.
To celebrate the share launch, local Southwold brewery Adnams is donating a limited edition six-pack of a specially brewed IPA, Old Hospital Hop, to the first 150 investors.
Power to Change has also awarded SouthGen matching equity investment by Cooperatives UK to match the first £100,000 in public investment. This means that if an investor buys £1,000 worth of shares, Cooperatives UK will buy £1000, doubling the value of the investment.
The community shares offer opens from Friday 10th May to Sunday 16th June.
The lead image is a CGI of the new Old Hospital garden.