Unique community-owned farm and ethical business park offers opportunity to earn 5% return. A £700,000 community share offer launched today offers people the chance to buy a stake in the farm which inspired BBC Radio 4’s The Archers, preserve its biodynamic farmland for future generations and earn 5% interest.
Rush Farm, near Redditch, Worcestershire, a showcase biodynamic farm, is raising funds to add the remaining 35 acres of the farm’s land in private ownership to its 150 acres, and to install solar panels and ground source heat pumps at its business park.
Rush Farm is run to the highest certified Demeter biodynamic and Soil Association organic standards. Stockwood Business Park is home to companies employing over 200 people, generating £200,000 a year in rents, and is run on sustainable and ethical principles.
The combination makes it the UK’s only community-owned farm paying shareholders a financial return. The renewables will generate extra income, as well as cut the business tenants’ utility bills, and make their units more comfortable.
Sebastian Parsons, who used to own Rush Farm with his sisters and is now Chief Executive of Stockwood Community Benefit Society (CBS), said: “We transferred the farm we love into community ownership to preserve it as a showcase of biodynamic farming forever. Our investors are joint owners and we welcome the chance to show them the impact their money is making when we open our doors for lambing days, summer fetes and other events.”
Stockwood CBS is offering shares paying 5% annual interest, financed by rents from the business park. The minimum investment is £100 and shares are available through the positive investment platform Ethex until November 30th.
Current and new investors who buy at least £5000 of shares will have the opportunity to make a further investment of £5000 or more in loan stock qualifying for Social Investment Tax Relief. This will pay 3% interest and offer an upfront 30% income tax relief, a combined 9.9% return (IRR) over six years.
Stockwood CBS, a registered charity, acquired the farm and its business park in June 2014 after raising more than £700,000 in shares and loans from 146 investors. Investors received their first 5% payments in April 2015 and the farm has outperformed its financial targets.
Its sustainable and ethical model enjoys strong support from investors, who hold equal voting rights. One in three decided to reinvest their dividends, and 3% donated them back to the charity. Many are local: 12% live within 10 miles, and a further 24% live in the region.
Lesley White, 41, a Director of LSD Accountants, a business park tenant who helps out at lambing time, said she jumped at the chance to invest. “I became an investor because I love Rush Farm, and for me it is all to do with the land and the sheep. I now feel that I am part of the farm and that I own a small piece of it,” she said.
Peter Pettifor, 50, a residential property landlord, said: “I have often felt I wanted to have a farm but could not afford one, so being a member and a co-owner of Stockwood Community Benefit Society gives me a sense of ownership and belonging. I feel that it is important to invest in land and protect the land, and the 5% is attractive as a return.”
Lisa Ashford, CEO of Ethex, said: “Stockwood’s first share offer was met with great enthusiasm from our investors because it combined strong social benefits with a fair financial return. I’m confident that this offer combining renewable energy generation and sustainable land use will prove to be equally attractive.”
Rush Farm is well-known in farming circles. Godfrey Basely, creator of The Archers, was a friend of the owners and early episodes were written and recorded there in the 1950s. Olympic showjumper Pat Smythe rode across its fields.
Since Stockwood launched its first community share offer more than 3,400 people have visited the farm on public open days, to see its Lleyn sheep and native Hereford cattle, walk in its 22 acres of ancient woodland, and learn about biodynamic and organic farming which has been practiced on the site since 2005.
The farm produces 30 acres of cereals, pasture for livestock and organic vegetables on heavy clay soils which have been revitalised with herb-based preparations, special manures and compost to stimulate microbiological soil life. Its animals are kept to the highest welfare standards, and treated with homeopathy. Wildlife flourishes and a local beekeeper and hedgehog rescue centre operate on the farm.
The 27-units in the old stable block are home to 21 businesses including a company which “up-cycles” old cars, a hand-made chocolate company and liv.co.uk, a co-worker owned company founded by Mr Parsons that is an online ethical department store and natural skincare business. Together the businesses provide work for over 100 local people and employ another 100 around the country, generating £12 million a year in revenue.
Shares are available via ethex.org.uk. Ethex has joined with Resonance for this offer. Resonance helps social enterprises structure and raise investment from values-led investors and is acting as Stockwood’s corporate finance advisors and deal arrangers. www.resonance.ltd.uk. The minimum investment in £1 Stockwood CBS shares is £100 and the maximum is £100,000. Shares can be withdrawn in accordance with the Society’s rules but not sold or exchanged and their value will not increase. The Society expects to pay 5% interest on shares but this is not guaranteed. Many regard their investment as primarily social and secondarily financial.