JUST WHAT IS A COMMUNITY BENEFIT SOCIETY?

So you’re not for profit, but not a charity? You’re not a business, but you’ll be looking for investors for the hydroelectric project? People can join as members and vote for directors at your Annual General Meeting, and agree where community funds can go, but you’re not a cooperative or a Community Interest Company, Social Enterprise……

These questions and many more are what we get asked frequently and are even queries we had when choosing the best model to enable Reading Hydro to become a reality and support it thriving in the future.

Why a Community Benefit Society?

Just like a charity we have “Objects” which specify what we do and how we commit to benefiting the community and the environment. Our reason for being!

The objects of Reading Hydro CBS are, to carry on any business for the benefit of the community by:

  1. The development, financing, installation, management, operation, generation, transmission and supply of energy from renewable and low carbon energy sources
  2. The conservation of energy through supporting energy efficiency and energy use reduction.
  3. Returning proportional benefit to the community.
  4. The promotion and awareness of environmental and related issues with support for educational initiatives
  5. Enabling the local and wider community to invest in renewable energy and low carbon generation.

What’s so important about Community focus and involvement?

We are set up for the benefit of the local community and look to achieve this through building a hydroelectric scheme on the river Thames at Caversham to generate clean electricity that can be sold to raise community funds for further projects.

It will take a while to get to this stage. To begin with the scheme will be funded by early stage donations and grants, before it is opened up for public investment, probably through a share offer.

The assets (hydro scheme) and liabilities will be held by the society and once all the shareholders have been paid back the hydro scheme and the profit from it will be for the benefit of the local community.

The assets are locked which means that they cannot be sold for the benefit of the directors or members.

In the initial years we have to pay back our investors, so only a small proportion of the income from selling electricity can go to the community. When investors are fully paid back, all the profit will go to the community. We are looking at generating long-term, sustainable funding here.

Why Membership for £1?

Reading Hydro members elect the directors on the basis of one member one vote: in this respect we are similar to a cooperative, autonomous and controlled by members. Part of becoming a member includes paying £1 for a share. This entitles you to one vote at general meetings, as well as getting involved in our day to day activities as much as you’d like.

Will I be able to invest more?

We are always happy to receive donations, no matter how small, and in-kind support. When we open the hydro scheme for public investment, you will be able to invest more in it, and this investment will earn a small return.

It all sounds great, right? So what are you waiting for? Join us!

For more information on Community Benefit Society you can read about them on the Community Shares website    or on DECC. Alongside this we recently went to an inspiring conference from The Plunkett Foundation, which gave examples of the many forms a CBS can take, from pubs, farms to Whiskey distilleries!

HYDRO REFLECTIONS

Wouldn’t it be wonderful for Reading to have a Hydro Energy scheme on Caversham Weir that would be able to fund and support sustainability community projects in Reading?

Only a few years ago, in 2013, this was the origins of the idea being explored the Transition Town Reading Energy Group. Like all good ideas, it has developed over time and gone with the flow.

A brief history of Reading Hydro

From this, in January 2014 Reading Sustainability Centre launched out of the Greater Reading Environmental Network (GREN) as a community group. It was then  formalised as The Reading Sustainability Centre CIC in January 2015 and was able to apply for and be awarded grants from several local charities and the Urban Community Energy Fund, to explore and develop the hydro project further.

Securing the Site

This enabled the Reading Hydro Project to

A planning permission celebration picnic

invest the time and energy into assessing and getting all the Environmental requirements together for obtaining the Environment licences in 2016.

The last big milestone happened in the spring of 2017 when planning permission was finally granted to allow the scheme to be built at Caversham Weir.

Becoming an Independent Organisation

In 2017 Reading Hydro also moved from being a project under The Reading Sustainability Centre into a stand alone Community Benefit Society (CBS), in readiness for the launch of a public share offer to raise the capital necessary to build the scheme.

Growing our Community

From an initial 4 directors, 2017 saw us growing to 6,  bringing a range of skills and enthusiasm to the team. Alongside this, and perhaps more importantly, we’ve seen our membership grow to now over 50, and with a number of active volunteers supporting in areas from publicity and logo design to technical advice and funding applications. Members and supporters are now able to get involved during one of our Open Action Evenings  , through discussions on our facebook group interact via Twitter, Instagram and get updates via our website and newsletters. We’re also connecting with schools and are looking forward to working with the ORSAnauts on renewable energy projects.

Bringing Renewable Energy to 2018!

What will 2018 bring for Reading Hydro?  We look forward to developing it further with our active volunteers, supporting members and the local community! Join us at our next Open Action Evening.