In our series of conversations with people we’ve known across our first fifty years today we met Matt Fazal, Portfolio Manager at Power To Change.
“I am relatively new to the sector, I joined Power to Change in 2019, working across various activities on programme improvement. Before that I was working for grassroots charities and then I saw an article in a newspaper about community business, and thought, ‘wow, this is exactly what I want to do”. It was really serendipitous. Ten years ago, I wrote my dissertation about the decline of pubs in rural areas, and I interviewed the first ever community pub in England, so it was kind of full circle for me. I always wanted to do something that supported communities to bring things into ownership. I really enjoy being able to support communities to bring back some power, rather than it all sitting in the hands of private individuals. The breadth of the sector means it’s really interesting – I love the fact that we support bookshops, people’s pubs, community shops, all kinds of different and wonderful businesses. This is the stuff I wanted to do, so I’m very happy that I’m here, in this space, now.
Since May 2021, I’ve been working on the Community Shares Booster fund, supporting community businesses. We have often funded alongside ICOF. It was great to be able to learn from their expertise in terms of – for example – assessing the financial stability of the organisations we’re supporting. One of the key programs Power to Change worked on alongside ICOF was the More Than A Pub project – I wasn’t involved in it but I know that the relationship between the multiple partners was really beneficial.
Power to Change and ICOF predominantly work together through the Booster Fund now. ICOF sits on the panel and helps with the assessments. If we are investing equity into community share offers, ICOF will sometimes provide loan finance or equity financing alongside the Access Fund money that’s coming to the booster fund. We work collaboratively to decide which organisations we’re going to collectively support. We worked together to support October Books. They were looking to refinance some loanstock. We were able to put in £25k in equity, and ICOF were able to come along and support as well and it was like a really good opportunity for us to work together and really support them. ICOF were able to offer quite a different perspective, because they already had money in with them as well. It was a nice collaborative relationship in the sense that, through our various experiences with October Books, we were able to collectively come together to make a decision about how best we can support them.
I think the sector and movement is gathering more momentum and the need is only increasing. We’re seeing a lot of really important community assets falling out of community hands, whether that’s struggling to compete on the private property market or regulation making it quite difficult – Scotland has the Community Right to Buy, we don’t have that in England. So, we’re navigating a challenging landscape and it’s more important than ever that we’re working collaboratively to challenge some of these issues. Within Power To Change at the moment, we’ve got a real focus on supporting high streets, making sure they are actually reflecting the needs of the communities that are in them. It comes back to that community power piece. People often don’t feel like they have power or agency over the decision making, they feel like they’re being told that’s what’s happening without being consulted. If you listen to your community and find out what they actually want, then you can collectively decide what’s best.
Happy birthday to ICOF! Although I haven’t been in the sector long it’s been really, really great to work closely with you, on a personal level and as part of Power To Change. It is really good to have other advocates in the sector for the community business movement and growing community ownership and community power in England. Here’s to many more years of their support for the sector.”