A different way of doing business and managing money

Work is underway to set up and test a simple and practical community finance partnership to deliver an integrated programme of finance and support services in Bristol. The pilot project is being led by South West Investment Group (SWIG), which will partner with other services to present a viable alternative to mainstream finance and support services, which are still inaccessible to so many people and almost invisible in poor areas.

Led by SWIG fund manager Sarah Osborn, the pilot, “BOOST Neighbourhood Finance” aims to pull together, re-brand and market a package of financial services in order to make them visible and accessible to people and businesses in areas and ways the commercial sector does not reach.

BOOST Neighbourhood Finance will focus on more than ethical and affordable loan finance for businesses, home and personal needs. Help will be offered for moving from unemployment into self-employment, backed up with business advice as well as support and finance for social enterprise in local communities. There is a plan to fill service cracks with a range of activities and opportunities to improve financial confidence and literacy, understand credit and how it works, access money advice and look at ways of saving and dealing with a poor credit history.

Engaging with the community is an essential element of the project and the local needs will be established at the outset with focus groups and surveys in Lawrence Hill area and Bristol wide. For the project, the information gathered from this will lead in to the full package of personal and business support once the project is fully up and running in September.

Sarah believes this initial research will help to shape the project and said, “We need to discover what information, services and activities groups and individuals are looking for and would value and it is an important early step to check that the BOOST offer is on the right track.”

An important partner on the project is Barton Hill Settlement, a Community Development Trust that has been working with local communities in central Bristol for over 100 years, supporting the education, social and family needs of local people. Widening their scope to support individual and community economic futures is a new venture for the Settlement.

Chief Executive at the CDFA, Ben Hughes initiated the vision for this work and has a longer term goal in mind.

“Our vision is to increase the disposable income in local areas, reduce the marketing for pay-day loans and doorstep finance and increase the number and success of enterprises based there.”

The pilot has received funding from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The CDFA will oversee independent evaluation of BOOST Neighbourhood Finance and work with DCLG on ways of launching Community Finance partnerships across the country from 2015/16 onwards using the experience and results of the Bristol Pilot.

BOOST Neighbourhood Finance in the Bristol Post.