'Crowdfund Sunderland' - Spacehive project aims to get raft of community projects off the ground in the city

Communities across Wearside could soon have greater influence over projects in their areas under a new ‘crowdfunding’ scheme.

Saturday, 5th October 2019, 08:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 19:16 pm
Sunderland Civic Centre

Communities across Wearside could soon have greater influence over projects in their areas under a new ‘crowdfunding’ scheme.

In recent weeks, city leaders revealed plans to change the way Sunderland City Council communicates with residents.

The shake-up follows a restructure of the authority in April and aims to use local views to shape neighbourhoods across the city.

This includes developing individual “investment plans” for Sunderland’s five districts – East, West, North, Coalfields and Washington.

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The plans will last between 3-5 years and will be launched next year following public consultation.

In tandem, the council are also gearing up to launch ‘Crowdfund Sunderland’ – an initiative in partnership with digital firm Spacehive.

In action, the crowdfunding plans allow communities to kickstart projects that matter to them.

How will Crowdfund Sunderland work?

Spacehive is a national company which has supported more than 650 projects across the country raising over £13million.

In practice, a crowdfunding portal will be advertised through Sunderland City Council’s website and social media channels.

Residents visiting the portal can submit applications for projects in their area.

Provided the project is legally sound, realistic and in line with the council’s priorities, a fundraising target would be set.

Spacehive would then work with national partners and local businesses to encourage investment.

The scheme is expected to draw in funding from the voluntary and community sector (VCS) and philanthropists who want to invest in Sunderland.

If they choose to do so, residents can also donate their own funds to the project.

Schemes will only be paid out if they are 100% funded and aim to free up resources for Sunderland City Council to invest more into communities.

A council report adds: “Supporting projects alongside the crowd will allow the council to stretch its funding to projects with genuine community support.

“It will also help the council to reach beyond our usual communities and resident groups, typically over 50% of Spacehive’s project creators have not been involved in civic projects previously.”

How did councillors react?

Information on Crowdfund Sunderland was circulated to councillors across the city’s area committees last week.

At Sunderland North, Coun Bob Francis said he was a “great believer” in crowdfunding but asked for more information around Spacehive.

“I would like to know what Spacehive’s rules and incorporations are, what its salary structure is and what it’s going to cost the people of Sunderland,” he said.

In Sunderland West, councillors heard Spacehive’s track record of working with dozens of local authorities would help promote best practice in Sunderland.

Councillors were also told that individual area committees could use their own funds to support crowdfunding projects, if they chose to do so.

In Sunderland East, fears were raised that the crowdfunding system could be used for personal gain.

However, officers confirmed that several checks were in place to monitor the types of projects that are given the go-ahead.

The meeting heard that if any project exceeds its fundraising target, Spacehive will outline what the extra funds will be spent on.

At Washington’s area committee, the crowdfunding plans received a thumbs up.

Coun John Kelly, cabinet member for communities and culture, praised wider council plans around listening to and acting on residents views.

He told the meeting:“We want to try to really bring people together to create what we want to see as residents of Washington and this will feed through to future city plans.

“For the first time since I’ve been in the council chamber it will be a grass roots-up approach rather than a central approach.

“There was nothing wrong with the central approach, that was just the way we did things then.

“There is a recognition we need to give the public and VCS a stronger voice.”

What next?

Council bosses hope to launch Crowdfund Sunderland in January next year at an event uniting key city figures, businesses and organisations.

Information about the scheme is expected to be published on Sunderland City Council’s website and social media pages in coming months.

A draft ‘resident engagement and involvement strategy’ will also be drawn up In January/ February 2020 following consultation with residents.

New ‘neighbourhood investment plans’ are expected to be launched in March.

For more information, visit: sunderland.gov.uk