Fifty years of friendship and finance – meet Simon Ryan

We’ve been celebrating our fiftieth birthday by looking back over the projects we’ve loaned to and the people who have worked with us along the way. Today we meet Simon Ryan of The Peninsula Trust in Cornwall who we also spoke to during COVID.

“I started work on The Peninsula Trust in 2013, and I started talking to Ian Taylor in 2014, about projects and about finance. We were recommended to approach ICOF for finance, but also critically for the funding advice and operational support which we knew came with it, because we were a new organisation. We were entering the community buildings and community property field, which we knew nothing about. So we got a recommendation from a consultant to speak to ICOF and get involved with their ways of doing things. That spiralled and led on to visit by Ian Taylor and then Ian Rothwell later, and we ended up becoming a fairly frequent borrower. And we took a great deal of advice and support from the organisation.

We’ve borrowed in two separate ways, short term and long term. The short term ones were relatively simple. We do a lot of project work, and typically with European money, especially also local authority, money, it’s paid in arrears. It’s an issue for all organisations like ours.

What ICOF did from the start is say, “Show us the contract. Show us the evidence. Here’s a simple application process. This is what the fees look like. This solves your problem.”

And that was tremendously valuable. It’s really difficult to do that with commercial banks but ICOF made it really easy and it was crucial to make it all work happen.

The second sort of group of loan finance was longer term, around acquisition of property. Our first one was a three storey building in Millbrook village now called the Rame Centre. We did a community share issue and raised the first £25,000 from that and then borrowed from ICOF to make it happen – they were the critical first lender. From there, we were able to get into grant funding to develop it. We ended up refinancing, which was fine, everyone was happy with that.

We moved on to a second building, a derelict pub called The Old Ship, which is a very complicated project. It has a Community Cafe downstairs and we’re building flats upstairs for local young people. That’s going fine, but it’s really slow. ICOF came in early and provided a lot of support with that one on community shares. We chose not to go to the national providers, but instead to work with ICOF on one of the booster programmes.

Unlike many others in the commercial sector, ICOF demonstrate a genuine interest in what you’re trying to achieve. And they say things like, “That isn’t a very good idea”. They don’t say things like, “That’s not optimum”. They talk in ordinary English. And they come down and they talk to our team and our volunteers, and we come out of it going, “Okay, we now understand better what it is that’s required to make this happen”. So it’s far more than just being a lender, it’s being a supporter. It’s been so important to us, especially in the early days. It’s amazing.

ICOF –  well done. 50 years is only a beginning. Lovely to see you’re still there! Keep it coming. We all love you.”