We Have Land!

Hello all,

As some of you know already, I’m out in Spain acquiring land for the Commons! 🙂

I came out here with 4 main tasks:

  1. to see and help my Dad
  2. to get my Dad’s land transferred into my name so we can invest it in the Commons!
  3. to send out this long overdue Commons Creation update!
  4. and to come up with a clear strategy for United Diversity.

Most of these overlap in some way. Since Commons Creation is a project co-ordinated by United Diversity I couldn’t really do 3 without doing a lot of thinking about 4 first (all whilst trying to deal with 1 and 2).

Therefore what follows is a bit of a rambling mix, part overdue Commons Creation update, and part United Diversity strategy.

I gave my first Commons Creation presentation on Sunday January 21st. At the meeting Peter Brownell said he’d give me 6 months to come up with a full legal model.

Well, 6 months is up! In fact, its over 8 months!

My last update was on Feb 16th and a lot has happened since then.

Only x (about 10 – need to check current status) people have actually set-up their standing orders and we only have £xxx (about 500 – got to call bank) in the bank.

But we now have land! And a plan!

Over the last 8 months I’ve done heaps of research into suitable legal model for the Commons Creation project. I’ve put the word out for legal models and documents and have collected a selection of rules for numerous Community Land Trusts and similar projects (such as Findhorn’s Ekopia project and Eko currency) across the UK.

Almost universally similar projects in the UK are registered as Industrial Provident Societies for the Benefit of the Community (IPS BenCom for short).

These guarantee a democratic co-operative structure whilst providing both a legal asset lock (ensuring assets brought in common are not sold off for private profit) and a simple way to raise money (i.e. it is possible to sell “shares” called “loan stock” that are basically fixed low-rate loans to the co-op).

Individuals can only invest up to £20k in an IPS, but there is no such limit on other IPSs investing in each other (which is significant considering how many similar projects are IPSs).

The IPS legal structure has a lot going for it and is currently under review and so could improve further (e.g. Credit Unions and similar might be allowed to perform more banking functions, limits on investment may change and registration costs may come down).

A handful of like minded projects in the UK are also registered as Community Interest Companies, or CICs, a new legal structure that requires a Community Interest Audit to guarantee community interest (an IPS BenCom also has to show how it will benefit the community but the rules aren’t quite the same), provides a legal asset lock, and can either be a Company registered be Guarantee or Shares (which could also be sold to raise funds).

Then there are Limited Liability Partnerships, or LLPs (what United Diversity is already). This is also a relatively new legal structure and is very tax efficient and flexible (its what all accounting firms are).

Unlike other legal structures that have fixed legal formats and rules that have to be followed, LLPs are simply governed by their Member Agreement, and this Member Agreement can be whatever format the Member’s agree (at present United Diversity doesn’t even formally have one, which means we default to standard partnership law).

I originally described the Commons Creation collective as “a network of individuals and groups raising funds for and awareness about world changing land, money and media projects”. This is actually a much better description of what I’ve always dreamt United Diversity will become.

Commons Creation is just part of that dream. The land investment part.

More specifically Commons Creation is a co-operative long-term investment fund whose purpose is to acquire and develop land and property into order to provide food, housing and energy that doesn’t cost the earth (economically or ecologically), and to provide a fair income return to investors (of time, money, or “monies worth”).

The proposed long-term plan for the Commons Creation legal model is to create something like a Community Land Partnership (CLP) described at https://www.opencapital.net/co-ownership.htm

The examples given are of an LLP with four Members:

  1. a Trustee Member – which holds the freehold of the Land in perpetuity on behalf of the Community;

    For any land acquired in the UK this is will either be an IPS or a CIC. Its hard to make a decision on details while IPS laws and regulations are being reviewed, so its best to wait and see what happens (in part simply because its expensive to register an IPS with customised rules and these fees may fall).

    With land outside the UK, e.g. Spain (or wherever else we happen acquire it) is probably better to entrust it to some local body incorporated under Spanish law than to either an IPS or CIC registered in the UK. This requires further investigation.

  2. an Occupier Member – which consists of the community of individuals and/or enterprises which occupy the Land and the property on it;

    In Spain this will be my Dad and whoever else ends up living or working on the land. Again, probably some kind of local association will probably be best and we need to research the options (although I think what they call an Association is likely to be the best bet)

  3. an Investor Member – which consists of the consortium of individuals and enterprises who invest money and/or money’s worth (such as the value of the land) in the CLP;

    By creating and signing a Member Agreement that stipulates minimum levels of member investment in the commons, Members of United Diversity will effectively be forming this consortium. An important first step.

    With our banked fivers and my Dad’s land already in the pot we’ll be able to convince more and more people to join the fun. Eventually people will begin to wonder Can I afford not to?” 🙂

  4. a Developer/ Operator Member, which provides development expertise and manages the CLP once the development is complete.

    This could be an existing or new local association, co-op or business, United Diversity, or whoever really. The point is that all stakeholders can become members of the Community Land Partnership and earn/invest proportional shares in the rental revenues collected on the land.

If we wait for such a complex structure to be in place before we do anything, we’ll never start. Trying to set-up such a partnership now would also be premature. We need to build capacity before attempting to manage such a complex partnership.

So lets just formalise (with a Member Agreement for United Diversity) and expand (via our events and existing social networks) what we’re already doing (banking our fivers in the United Diversity saving account).

Proposal: continue to use United Diversity LLP, but get legal help to write up a legal Member Agreement that formalises a minimum level of member investment in the Commons (and what that means, i.e. how investment decisions will be made and how returns on investment will be distributed).

Assuming everyone likes this plan, existing members of Commons Creation will then legally become members of United Diversity LLP and existing members of United Diversity LLP will need to sign the new agreement and start investing their minimum amount in the Commons too (if they haven’t already done so!).

United Diversity is transforming, from a small social enterprise with big ideas, into an exciting social action network implementing big projects.

Commons Creation is the land project. It is a co-operative long-term investment fund whose purpose is to acquire and develop land and property into order to provide food, housing and energy that doesn’t the earth (economically or ecologically), and to provide a fair income return to investors (of time, money, or “monies worth”).

The long-term plan is to set-up a Community Land Partnership (CLP) as described and outlined at https://www.opencapital.net/co-ownership.htm and above. For now we’re just pooling our funds in the United Diversity saving account, but first bit of land – 5 acres in Spain – has already been acquired!

OpenCoin is the money project. And the first 30k of funding for that has been obtained too! See https://opencoin.org and https://uniteddiversity.com/ideas/ for more info.

MUST.tv is the media project. A MUST Report promo is nearly finished and we’ve got a regular slot on BBC World next spring! Check out the MUST.tv invite on https://uniteddiversity.com/ideas/ for more info and see https://biovoyager.wordpress.com

There are other exciting ICT projects too (notably Hub+, Dissconnected, CopyCan, and The Merton Rule – plus Dialstation once Dymitri is officially a member). Everyone needs to communicate, and money and media are both subsets of information really, so we end up doing a lot of information and communication technology!

Everyone loves the name “United Diversity”.

Coupled with our “Together We Have Everything” strap line people seem to instantly understand the essence of the whole thing.

Conversely, very few people understand immediately what “Commons Creation” is all about and nearly everyone (including me!) confuses “Commons Creation” with “Creative Commons”.

Commons Creation is a fitting name for a long-term investment project that seeks to create and develop parcels of common land, but it will be much easier to get people to join a collective called United Diversity.

Therefore rather than member groups saying “join Commons Creation!” and linking to https://commonscreation.org we’ll say “join United Diversity!” and link to https://uniteddiversity.com.

The “Commons Creation Flyer” becomes the “United Diversity Guide” (something I’ve wanted to do properly since the early days, eg. https://tinyurl.com/3azozo from back in 2002).

Here is a brief outline of the plan (i.e. the beginning of the United Diversity Strategic Plan).

  1. Open a United Diversity Triodos saving account and put all Commons money into there for then on.

    Due: ASAP.

  2. Get legal help to create United Diversity Member Agreement and formally sign up existing Commons Creation and United Diversity members.

    Due: Before Feb 8th, 2008 (Synergy Project @ SeOne and United Diversity’s birthday).

  3. Hold regular (monthly-ish) United Diversity Gatherings (at Passing Clouds and other venues). These will be all day events with food, film, dotmocracy, stalls, music and dancing.

    I’ll need help organising them from members but any time contributed will be counted as an investment in the commons and will earn shares proportionate to the “monies worth” invested.

    Due: at least one before Feb 8th, 2008. Ideally every month starting in November 2007 up until late spring/ early summer 2008 (and throughout the year if we’ve got enough capacity in London)

  4. Publish a regular United Diversity Guide – a weekly round-up of member news and projects (OpenCoin, MUST.tv, IdSpiral’s Ekopia Cafe project etc.), inspiring links, videos and events. Member groups will re-post/share the Guide with their MySpace friends, mailing lists etc.

    The wide distribution of the Guide will not only inform and inspire, but will help recruit further members and potentially provide a additional revenue stream (we could sell advertising in the Guide to approved ethical businesses – much like we intend to do with MUST.tv/BioVoyager) generating further funds for the Commons.

    To begin with, I’ll compile and edit the Guide each Monday (for publication on Tuesday) using information gathered from all the lists and feeds I subscribe to and all the social networking sites I’m on.

    For good measure members will also be able to submit news and links on the website or via e-mail. Eventually (once more elaborate systems are in place) the Guide will be edited collaboratively by members.

    The whole thing will be good practice (and will pave the way) for the MUST Report (a 6 monthly video round-up of all the most significant positive changes happening in our world, made up from BioVoyager footage and film submitted and shared on MUST.tv)

    Due: I’ll attempt to do a first edition on Monday 8th October, 2008 for publication on Tuesday 9th, 2008. I shouldn’t have any problems pulling together the content, but will need help creating a nice template for future editions.

  5. Organise an annual United Diversity Tour, initially to our land in Spain – a vegoil/biodiesel tour and/or cycle tour. Visit and document inspiring projects and throw parties along the way.

    Due: First small Tour (hopefully more than just me on my bike!) Spring/Summer 2008. Plans need to begin being made immediately. I’m going to make it happen in some shape or form, event if it is just me cycling there on my own! Proper ideas can be discussed online and planning meetings can be help at gatherings.

  6. Organise an annual “Building Man” Festival, initially very small, on and around our land in Spain – a cross between all the green festivals in the UK, Burning Man and a Village Building Convergence (see https://vbc.cityrepair.org )

    Due: First small Festival in Summer 2008. Probably Aug 1st – 16th, 2008 for the main event although hopefully we’ll magically manage to get a load of stuff done before then too (because it’ll be a bit too hot to work too hard by August). Aug 1st – 16th are nice dates because a) Aug first if a New Moon b) Aug 8th is my Dad’s birthday and it will be 08/08/08 c) Aug 11th – 15th is Buenache Festival d) Aug 16th is a Full Moon. All seems fitting 🙂

That’s it!

I could go on and on with more details, but I think this document is both long enough and good enough to go.

I hope I’ve made myself clear, that existing members of Commons Creation and United Diversity are happy with my proposals, and everyone get as excited about all this as me!

Whatever your thoughts and feelings, please please give send some feedback – I’d love to know what you think!

I leave you with a toast…

“to United Diversity – Together We Have Everything!”

Big smiles,