Support for smallholders

An innovative co-operative that helps people to become smallholders has received a loan from The Co-operative Loan Fund as part of a new support programme.

The Ecological Land Co‑operative (ELC) is the first recipient of a package of support, grant and loan via Just Growth, the funding programme for community food and farming projects launched in July 2015. Eligible ventures that raise finance from community investment or crowd funding can have it matched with a grant (funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation) and a loan (arranged by Co‑operative & Community Finance).

ELC was set up in 2009 to help people become smallholders. It aims to buy land, obtain planning permission, and install the infrastructure to create clusters of three or more affordable residential smallholdings. The smallholders build their own sustainable homes.

This campaigning and pioneering co-operative has a complex structure that includes 122 investor members, who have invested a total of £384,000, seven worker members (both employees and volunteers) and 19 steward members, some of whom are smallholders.

The first project, on a 22-acre greenfield site in mid-Devon, was granted planning permission in 2013. It is now home to three smallholdings that operate as independent businesses but work co-operatively to manage the whole site. ELC provided a timber barn, a solar electrical system, a rainwater harvesting and treatment system, road access and a package of practical support.

ELC’s next project is the development of a 19-acre site in East Sussex. Executive Chair Zoe Wangler said: “The funding package has enabled us to reduce the price at which we will be able to offer smallholdings in our next development. This will help make the land even more accessible to new entrants to ecological horticulture and mixed farming.”