Ecological Land Co-operative (ELC) is a social enterprise providing affordable access to land for sustainable rural livelihoods via the creation of low-impact smallholdings. Plunkett Foundation has been helping them to develop a communications strategy, undertake market research, refine their co-operative rules and undertake a community share offer to raise finance.

We’ve been working with them thanks to the Big Potential programme – if you’d like to find out more about this programme and how we might be able to support you through it, give us a call on 01993 810730 or email [email protected]

ELC was set up in response to the fact that it is extremely difficult for people to break in to farming and rural enterprise, despite there being a host of amazing people with brilliant skills wanting to manage the land ecologically. They believe that ecological land-based livelihoods can help solve pressing environmental and social problems, and that their model can help people to access land affordably.

Their first project, a cluster of three affordable residential smallholdings, provided three families with access to land to develop their own farm businesses. This type of small-scale ecological production delivers a number of benefits including protecting the environment, building vibrant rural communities, providing employment and training, and supporting healthy diets through affordable, local produce. 

As demand for their type of smallholding has increased, ELC have been working with Plunkett through Big Potential, a BIG Lottery Fund grant fund that is awarding £20m of grant funding to voluntary, community and social enterprises to help them deliver greater social impact by raising social investment. We’ve been supporting ELC to develop a communications strategy, undertake market research, refine their co-operative rules and undertake a community share offer to raise finance for developing their next cluster of ecological smallholdings.

Community shares are a form of investment that can only be issued by co-operative societies, community benefit societies and charitable community benefit societies. They are an ideal way for communities to invest in enterprises that serve a community purpose. ELC secured investment of £189,350 in community share capital, and also £139,000 in a low-interest, long-term loan from another charitable foundation.

According to Cate Chapman, Managing Director of Ecological Land Co-operative, “Community shares have proved a great way to fund the development of our smallholdings; with a minimum investment of just £500, the share offer provided a practical and accessible way for a wide range of people to get involved with our work, and to support the development of small-scale ecological agriculture in England. Social investors also become members of our co-operative, further strengthening our democratic organisation”.

We’re currently working with ELC to conduct a survey to help them better understand the needs of potential smallholders, particularly in relation to key factors such as costs, whether rental or leasehold smallholdings would be preferred, and the size and type of smallholding envisioned. If you’re a potential smallholder and can spare 15-20 minutes, you can complete the survey here -