Awesome funding news for Narrowboat Farm

As many of you know i applied for a farm start-up grant back in October. Well it took a while but we have now been awarded the grant which in a round-about way is also great news for Community Owned Moorings (COMs).

Why? Well as Narrowboat Farm (NBF) is the pilot site for COMs, it is down to NBF to put in place an infrastructure to host the first COMs site. Apart from all the glorious (or long-winded, beurocratic, boring paperworky) permissions required, the biggest barrier to COM sites is set-up costs. Once a site is set up and boaters are paying fees, then all should be hunky-dory but access to land and putting in services is an expensive business. Plus, once the pilot site has proven it’s worth, it will be easier to attract investment in further sites.

We’ve managed to get a bare minimum infrastructure in place at NBF but now the grant will help expand this so there is sufficient water, electric, parking, storage, paths etc to service a number of boats. It’s still not going to be like turning up to one of SC’S shiny flagship sites, but then that’s partly the point of this project…

The other side to this is that the farm grant will give the required boost to get the land-based market garden enterprise up and running. What has this got to do with COMs? Well, a lot. The land-based enterprise is intended to link with the moorings and bring freight (on a very small scale) back to the canals for the first time in many years. 200 years ago farms built jetties and loaded their produce on to boats to go to local markets. Well we want to bring this back.

Linking the land project with the COM project widens the benefits of COMs vastly and brings wider community benefits. Think heritage, think tourism, think local food, think eco-friendly social enterprise… Without this it is harder to justify the project to supporters, there simply aren’t enough of us boaters to justify the investment (yet, that is!!!! COMs will hopefully increase the numbers of boaters and boat movements).

So great news and another step towards making the vision a reality ūüôā

Iain

Getting to the nitty gritty with SC and prices!!!

So our last interaction with SC was an email from us on the 16th January. Last week we received a response from Deborah Burns who is our main point of contact now. You can read and comment on the latest response at the end of this document: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vC5wjJC3fCMyWza9gqHW-4qeyTQkvhMIfl5u8_5I2lM/edit?usp=sharing

But to cut to the chase, here are the first actual costs they have given us in the email:

I was looking for some form of alternative proposal from you in terms of what rent you could afford to pay based on your appraisal projections.  In order to move this point forward I have a suggestion (subject to contract);

Basing mooring prices on the market rates for the closest comparable we have at Causewayend I would anticipate you should be able to generate the following income;

Residential mooring (2 of) Р£5400 per annum

Commercial mooring (1 of) Р£2,700 per annum

Leisure mooring (3 of) Р£6,435 per annum (assuming 15m length)

TOTAL BASE RENTAL (exc any income generated from visitor moorings) Р£14,535, say £14,500 per annum so the base rental you will pay is 10%  Р£1,450 per annum.

Phased in over 3 years;

Year 1 ‚Äst ¬£450 per annum

Year 2 Р£1,000 per annum

Year 3-10 Р£1,450 per annum

If the income you generate from the moorings exceeds £17,000 per annum then you will pay 10% of this additional income to SC in addition to the base rent.

At year 10 the base rent will be reviewed on the basis of this calculation or alternatively we can build in an RPI inflationary rise at year 10 to the base rent.

So at last we have some numbers to work off. On face value, this seems like a useful arrangement for us on two counts. Firstly the amount payable is as a percentage of our income and thus helps cash-flow (however the minimum cost is a pain), and secondly it is phased in over three years which will help our cash flow as it will take some time to ‘fill the bank’ with boats.

 

Heads of Terms Negotiations Continue

The process of negotiating terms under which we can trade as ‘Community Moorings Scotland’ (or something more snappy) began with their first edition on 5th August and has gone back to them with our edit of 5th October, then back to us with their edit of 10th November. Then they decided they didn’t want to negotiate anymore! Well, they were trying to make out that they had negotiated enough and we should sign something off.

So we have just emailed them back with the issues we see within their latest version.

If you would like to see the various versions and edits, go to this google document: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vC5wjJC3fCMyWza9gqHW-4qeyTQkvhMIfl5u8_5I2lM/edit?usp=sharing

 

Wow, you won’t believe what just happened!!!

OK, so how else was i going to make you open an update about paperwork! Click-bait ahoy!!!

Does anybody have a particular penchant for paperwork? Please come forward! We have lots to do! If anyone can pop their heads up and say ‘i’ll help with that one’ that would be really appreciated. Even if you only have an hour or two to do a bit of research one evening and send in your findings, that would be great! So before you fall asleep half way through this update and close the page ūüėČ please please find one that sparks your interest and contribute, whether it is funding, how moorings are run or how to pitch our project. Please please please!

In no particular order…

The ‘vision’ document for Scottish Canals and eventually funders/others: Steve Dunlop requested a very clear and detailed vision document detailing the vision for Community Moorings and their structure and governance. So i have made a start and if you are feeling helpful, please click on this link and add comments to help with the text etc. We already have this document which was sent through to SC to kick things off, but it needs more meat.

Incorporation: after a very useful meeting with Business Gateway’s social enterprise advisor, a fairly clear way forward in terms of structure and governance has appeared. The plan is to incorporate ‘Community Moorings Scotland’ as¬†a Scottish Incorporated Charitable Organisation (SCIO). ¬†Yes it is a mouthful but here is why it works:

  • It avoids registering twice and having to report to companies house and a charity regulator as most charities have to. You only deal with the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR).
  • It restricts the operation of the Community Moorings company to operating moorings and reinvesting any profits for the good of the moorings and other¬†canal-related uses that we define (do we want to fund maintenance???).
  • Charitable organisations are heavily regulated and thus transparency and focus is achieved
  • Charitable organisations are more likely to receive funding for their purposes

In addition to this it is proposed to incorporate the land-based enterprise as a Community Interest Company (CIC). A CIC is a unique type of social enterprise that sits in a gap between charities and commercial businesses. CIC’s are free to trade, to respond to opportunities and in many ways behave like a corporate entity. There are however, two key differences:

  1. Assets owned by the company are held in an asset lock which secures those assets to applications for the good use of community.
  2. Limitations applied to dividend and interest payments made to shareholders and financiers ensure a profit can be made, but the primary focus remains on achieving benefit for the community

Funding bids: it is time to bring some money in to get this going! I have already completed a bid for the Central Scotland Green Network ‘Ideas Fund’. If you like, you can read the application here. I’ll find out shortly if we have been shortlisted for the Dragons-Den style pitch on 21st June. This is a bit of a ‘punt’ but it is a smallish pot of money (¬£5000) and it is particularly aimed at projects at early stages. Also, if short-listed for a pitch, it forces me to get the vision document sorted and get a pitch sorted! All useful things going forward. I have also been to meet the West Lothian Leader Funding committee who are very keen on us putting in an expression of interest and we could perhaps aim towards the Autumn deadline for a bid. I think we would have a good chance of up to ¬£100,000 from them. The useful thing with Leader funding is that although like most funding they will only pay 50%, it is possible to get the other 50% from another funding pot e.g. Big Lottery Fund or the Heritage Lottery Fund¬†(West Lothian is one of the 3 priority development areas for this fund).

Constitutions and Terms: For the SCIO and CIC company structures we have to write up our constitution and define charitable goals etc. Does anyone have experience of this? We will also require to create our own terms of how moorings are used and we need to go back to step 1 and consider the current SC rules for moorings and how we want to adapt these. Do we want to enforce overstaying on moorings? Do we want to be strict about mess? Do we want to allow sub-letting etc etc. The vibe from Katie Hughes is to have the rules and regulations as close as possible to theirs but let’s look at whether this works for us and how we would like our moorings to run…

A (surprisingly) very positive meeting with SC bigwigs!

Early this month myself (Iain Withers) and Alastair Martin met up with Steve Dunlop and Katie Hughes for what we thought may be a crunch meeting revealing the ‘sting in the tail’ of the so-far positive response from SC. I’m happy to report that the cautious optimism about SC’s support of the project can happily continue after the meeting!

Here are my meeting notes for your perusal…

9th May 2016: Meeting with Steve Dunlop & Katie Hughes

  • So i reckon the no.1 thing i came away from the meeting with was that they do actually want it to happen and there isn’t going to be a financial sting in the tail. They have clearly stated that there¬†is no¬†(direct) financial incentive for them.
  • They were very keen that the project is done in the right way, with the right structure, transparently and independent of the SC brand. All of which is obviously good!
  • They want a more detailed, clear vision document which goes into some detail in terms of the public-good outcomes of the project. They want a strong document for their use an that can be used to clearly explain to others why they are supporting this project. They want it to paint a bigger picture of what this project can do long-term and what the social benefits are.
  • They want us to put together a clear time-scale for achieving elements of the project and they want to use that to form the basis of a series of meetings to put in their diary¬†going forward. They want the next meeting to focus on two elements: 1. The vision document and clarity of social outcomes and 2. the practicalities of the moorings.
  • Steve repeatedly said in principle it is great but the devil is in the detail and they want to make sure that things are done right, done right first time and fit in with their corporate compliances etc.
  • On the physical structures side of things, Steve said he was happy for us to innovate and look at intermediate solutions somewhere between the SC last 50 years and the pallets and beer kegs floating about solution. They would feed this down to Brian and we would be able to negotiate structures based around our on-the-ground management/maintenance capabilities.
  • On the paperwork side, we would probably be looking at a lease of the land (25 yrs suggested) and not a trading agreement. Trading agreements would open a whole field of corporate procurement. They talked about the set-up with Pinkston and said they were happy to show us that arrangement (but maybe without sensitive numbers) and use that as the basis for our agreement.
  • On the structure side of things, they thought CIC would be most appropriate on top of the CLG to ensure an asset lock in place. Pinkston have this. (this article gives a good introduction to the different social enterprise structures)
  • They are concerned about the aesthetics and feel that anything negative would reflect on SC.
  • They want to make sure that our Ts & Cs reflect their policies and priorities and that there would be any major discrepancies so people couldn’t ‘get away with’ doing something unacceptable just because they were on our site.

Alastair also picked up on the ‘devil in the detail’ part and this is where perhaps the challenge comes. Katie Hughes will probably want to have close control on how the Community Moorings operate. She will probably not want them to undercut SC moorings vastly. She will also probably want to control how moorings are used, both in terms of commercial/leisure/resi being used for strictly these purposes and also in terms of the T’s & C’s of moorings use. So it would appear the challenge may¬†not be permission and financial, but may come in how much control we have over our own moorings. That is probably where most negotiations will be required.

But all in all very positive – onwards and upwards!

An update on the field near Linlithgow

boat-assing

After the recent lowland users meeting a group of us went to have a wee gander and get an update on progress at ‘the field’ or as Davie refers to it as the ‘Ponderosa’ which is a reference to this. I think Davie has grand ideas of the land!!!

Anyway, i want to give an update on this site and a flavour for the ‘masterplan’ here. Basically i have bought 4 acres with road access and it adjoins 175m of canal frontage which Scottish Canals owns the first 3m or so. So the moorings would be on Scottish Canal’s land but i intend to develop the land to service the moorings at hopefully very little cost to the moorings project to get a site up and running and ‘test the system’ for Community Moorings.

So here is a wee update on the moorings-side and the land-side of things:

Moorings (the canal bank basically)

  • A dredger is sat just along the canal at Park Bistro waiting to go to dredge the canal along the field. This is waiting on the Tug getting fixed and SC consulting with National Grid who own the pipeline that runs under the field. Alasdair Hamilton from SC is ‘hopeful’ this will be in the next few weeks. So a little vague on timings for that one.
  • Once the dredging is done then SC will ‘dip’ the canal again and that will give us the right info to assess the best method of mooring boats.
  • There is a wall running along at least part of the bank. From initial poking about there seems to be about a one foot straight drop into the water and then a stone shelf about two feet wide. So i’m wondering if this used to be a stone support for a wooden jetty? That could prove useful…
  • Once we know the structures we require, we will know if we will need Scheduled monument Consent from Historic (Environment) Scotland. If boats can get right up to a wall, this could be a major score as SMC would not be required, but that is wishful thinking
  • I have a meeting on 9th May with Katie Hughes and Steve Dunlop to present a more detailed business and management plan and go into more detail on the financials. This will be key to get the project financially viable.

Land

  • Electricity has been connected to the field and a very large (and very expensive) cable has been run under the field to the canal edge (but remaining off SC’s land to avoid them getting involved). This 3-phase supply will be beefy enough to expand to serve several boats if needed. An electrician is due in next week to connect it up and put it the first bollard with two 16-amp sockets to connect up.
  • Mains water has been run under the field too and to the canal bank (again off SC’s land) so there is a water supply too
  • In the next week or so the farmer we bought the land from is due in to sow grass seed. The temperature needs to raise above 7 degrees on average between day and night to allow the seed to grow.
  • Once the grass seed is down we have lots of building work to get on with. We plan to lay gravel and slabs as an entrance driveway and parking area near the entrance to the field
  • We plan to build a 10m x 6m shed initially to store equipment etc near the entrance.
  • I am planting 2000 willow trees as windbreaks and green hedging around the site. Willow grows really quick and is great for short-rotation coppicing.
  • We are going to erect a 6m diameter Mongolian Yurt as a ‘base’ to use so we don’t have to have our boats there to work away. There will be a cassette loo and shower (thanks Dougie and Bernadette!) too:

yurty

So lots going on through May on the ground and behind the scenes. If everything goes exactly to plan and on time (which it blatantly won’t haha) then we could have some useable moorings to try out come June. But don’t quote me on that, it is more likely to be the end of summer if i’m realistic!

The plan is to use half of the land to start a new farming/market garden venture called ‘Narrowboat Farm’:

narrowboat-farm-draft-logo

Through this, i will hopefully be able to access funding to build a proper big shed and give room for lots of nice wee craft and cottage industries to compliment the fruit n veg. The angle is to load and deliver by boat and use the link to this use of the canal for the first time in 150/200 yrs ago as a hook. This is where ‘Narrowboat Jack’ comes in who is a character we will use to market the produce whilst educating and entertaining folks:

narrowboat-jack-draft-logo

More on him to come… ūüôā

In terms of help, there will be two main elements over the next month:

  1. Behind the scenes help: We need to get a comprehensive business plan in place which is robust enough to present to SC and funders and hopefully gives us some good news that the project is viable!
  2. On the ground help: If anyone fancies some graft there will be plenty of building and gardening work coming up and the more hands the better on that one!

Scheduled Monument Consent – eek!

According to Scottish Canals¬†the single most difficult part of establishing new moorings will be Scheduled Monument Consent (SMC) from Historic Environment Scotland (HES – they felt the need to put another word in the middle, they were called Historic Scotland). This is because seemingly all monuments that fall into this category have the same level of protection. So in effect adding a pontoon¬†to the canal follows a similar process to trying to build an extension on Edinburgh Castle! More info is available on their website. Also from page 16-22 in this .pdf document. So tricky times ahead on this one as it appears that the vibrancy of the canals and moving boats matters less to HES than the canals looking like they used to ‘back in the day’.

In 1979 the canals were adopted as Scheduled Ancient Monuments by Historic Scotland. In order to make any changes to the canals, their banks or towpaths then SMC is required. There are case officers for the ‘east’ and ‘west’, and according to sources the man in the east can be rather tricky to convince. For example, permission to put a pontoon outside the new Bridge 49 Bistro was knocked back by HES because it would be out of place or interfered with the monument too much (i don;t know the exact reason). Never mind the fact that it means that trip boats can have ease of access to a new facility. A decision is meant to be due within 8 weeks and if knocked back there is an appeal process. If knocked back again, then the decision can be referred to ministers to overturn it. So all of that could potentially be a long process.

So the next task is to create a project outline showing the benefits of Community Moorings and the protection measures in place in terms of the heritage aspects. Then it will be a case of engaging with the case officers and hopefully building towards submitting a SMC application on favourable terms. HES promote engaging with the officer prior to submitting SMC applications so we shall! But first to get the arguments straight…

Chris O’Connell who is Scottish Canals’ Heritage officer has been really helpful on this and is willing to review a document intended for HES and help us get it right. He has obviously dealt with them many times. So this week i intend to put together a draft document for HES to explain the project and the benefits and to hopefully test the procedure on the field E of Park Farm site.

Getting the right deal with Scottish Canals

So below you’ll find the text from the first outline proposal sent to Scottish Canals which should be negotiated through and hopefully come out with something that works for both parties (but especially for us). Katie Hughes requested a simple document that outlined the vision and the trading proposal, she didn’t require any complex detail or business plans at this stage, so that is what she got. The document aims to clarify the idea, outline its benefits and put in place an argument which will hopefully end with a deal in our favour. The main goals in terms of the ‘deal’ from my perspective are as follows:

  1. Terms which are as long as possible so we have a clear future to plan
  2. Fees based on a % of moorings fees (rather than a flat fee) to help with our cash-flow
  3. A % fee as low as possible to reflect the benefits of COMs to SC

I’d be interested in input in terms of how to take negotiations forward and what to aim for and look out for…

————-

The Vision for Community-Owned Moorings

Community-Owned Moorings (COMs) will be a new social enterprise on the canals of Scotland. They are defined as moorings which are under the control of a community-run ‘not for profit’ company. So any boater who has their ‘home’ mooring (whether it is leisure, residential or commercial) at a community-owned mooring location will no longer deal with Scottish Canals (SC) with respect to their moorings. Instead the community-owned company will manage the moorings and collect mooring fees.

The community-run company could enter into a long-term trading agreement with SC and pay a percentage of mooring fees collected from boaters as a fee to SC. It is envisaged that boaters with a mooring at a COM will still deal with SC in terms of licensing, insurance and boat safety regulations (although this is available for negotiation). COMs will be located on land which is either owned or under a long-term lease to the community-run company from SC.

It is proposed to incorporate the community-run company as a Company Limited by Guarantee (CLG) and all profits will be re-invested in the COMs and potentially other projects which benefit the canal system. The COM CLG will be responsible for raising the required capital to create new COMs and have a sustainable business model to run COMs without funding from SC.

The COM CLG will work in partnership with SC to contribute to the vibrancy and quality of life on the Scottish Canals. There are a number of key aims associated with this initiative:

1. Allow boaters to become more active in contributing to the success of the canals

2. Stimulate boat movements and increase the number of active boats on the canals

3. Offer the boating community the opportunity to secure their future on the canals by managing their own moorings with security of tenure through long-term agreements

4. Create a new best-practice model for community-owned moorings which reduces the management burden on Scottish Canals and can be rolled-out elsewhere

5. Generate income which is re-invested in the canals of Scotland

Company Structure and Governance

It is proposed to establish a Company Limited by Guarantee (CLG) registered in Scotland which will will sign up to ‘The Code’: the voluntary code of practice for social enterprise in Scotland (www.se-code.net). An asset lock will be in place and all trading profits will be re-invested for the benefit of the canals (not shareholders) and any disposed assets will be passed on to a social enterprise with similar goals. Further registration as a Community-Interest Company, Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation or Charity will be investigated in the future if these structures benefit the aims of the COM CLG.

The COM CLG will be open to membership from anybody in the boating community and decisions will be made democratically through a majority voting procedure. The company’s memorandum and articles will closely define the structure, duties and powers of the business and its code of conduct. Initially the COM CLG will look to the Scottish Canals Boaters Group for its direction.

Proposal for a trading agreement with Scottish Canals

To allow COMs to succeed, it is vital to enter into a robust, long-term and mutually-beneficial trading agreement with Scottish Canals. This trading agreement should reflect the underlying benefits of working in partnership with COM CLG to make COMs a reality:

1. COMs are closely aligned to current Scottish Government policies and will be an excellent example of community empowerment by Scottish Canals

2. COMs will have minimal set-up, administrative and maintenance costs for Scottish Canals

3. COMs trading profits will be re-invested in the Scottish Canals infrastructure

4. COMs will stimulate secondary income for Scottish Canals by increasing the vibrancy of the Scottish Canals and increasing the number of people living, working and playing on the canals

5. COM CLG will bring in significant funding for facilities on the canals which would be otherwise unavailable to Scottish Canals. COM CLG will be investing significant amounts of time, money and other resources into creating new facilities on the canals.

In respect of the above benefits it is proposed to pay a small percentage of moorings income to Scottish Canals. By paying a fee proportional to the company income, it will offer the opportunity for the company to manage its cash-flow which will be vital to the success of the project. It will also ensure a fair return for Scottish Canals’ partnership in the project as the success (and thus income) of the company grows over time. It is likely in early stages that the majority of moorings are visitor moorings as the community tries and tests new moorings and the infrastructure is tweaked to the best design. Therefore it is likely that income (and therefore trading fees) will be low initially and will gradually increase over the duration of the trading agreement.

In addition to the agreement in terms of trading fees, it will probably be necessary for COM CLG to enter into long-term access agreements on Scottish Canals’ land. One current proposed site East of Linlithgow is on land owned by Scottish Canals and it is presumed that other locations will also include land owned by Scottish Canals. To ensure security of tenure and to satisfy funders, COM CLG will require a long-term lease (or licence) to use this land for the agreed purposes of access and mooring of boats. COM CLG would benefit from the longest terms possible for these agreements.

Timeline

The projected timescales for implementing COMs are as follows:

March 2016: Agreement with Scottish Canals Boaters Group to pursue Community Moorings

April 2016: Outline trading agreement negotiated between SC and COM CLG (to be incorporated)

September 2016: COM sites selected and permissions in place for work to commence

October 2016: Legal agreements in place with SC and resources in place to create first site(s)

Winter 2016/Spring 2017: First COM(s) in place and functional

A snapshot of progress so far…

just a few bullet points to show how far we have got…

– SC have agreed to support the project in principle: Katie Hughes, Richard Miller & Andrew Thin

– There have been two positive meetings with SC directors to investigate the potential and identify potential sites

– I have purchased a field with 175 of canal frontage near Linlithgow as a second ‘Greenspace’ site which is one of the potential sites for community moorings (more to come on that specific opportunity, it would have taken too long to go into that one fully)

– Andy Carnduff came up with a low(er) cost wooden jetty design as a potential moorings options

– Various Scottish Canals staff have been advising and helping e.g.¬†Chris O’Connell on the Heritage side who will help try to get ‘scheduled monument consent’ from Historic Environment Scotland, Brian Macinally on the engineering side