Synergy Centre 3.0


In Camberwell (2005-2009) and Brighton (2015-2017) The Synergy Centre team has run two previous Centres in temporary, ‘meanwhile’ spaces. While they served as valuable stepping stones, generating significant experience, venue and project management and community development skills, both previous centres revealed the inherent short-comings of meanwhile uses . Considerable time, energy and money was invested in setting up the Centres, resulting in a short-period of successful delivery, only for all the momentum to be lost when the property owners asked for their buildings back and we had to vacate. Synergy’s goal, therefore, is to secure long-term tenure, preferably in the form of free-hold ownership, on a property so that it can achieve sustainability of operation and impact. 

Due to the supportive demographic and political environment, our efforts are currently focussed on finding a suitable premises in Brighton and Hove, but once the model is established and the concept proven, we envisgae it being replicable in other settings,  elsewhere in the UK and internationally in the developed world as well as the Global South.

The proposed Brighton Centre will support B&H Council’s efforts to move towards carbon neutralaity and a culture of sustainability and wellbeing as an alternative to current orthodox energy intensive and materialist lifestyles. Experience shows that having a place to gather, network, discuss and plan can significantly increase the capacity of the community and voluntary sectors, thereby increasing its ability to deliver benefit and raise awareness.

Proposed Centre Facilities

  • A live music, multi-media / variety arts and conscious club venue.

  • Affordable workshop / dance / multi-purpose space for local groups to organize activities and meetings.

  • A community art gallery and artists workshops / studios.

  • A health and wellbeing space suitable for activities such as yoga, meditation, tai-chi etc

  • Affordable office space for local not-for-profit organisations.

  • Affordable sound and video production studios for established and emerging professional, local young people and others.

  • A community café, serving vegan / vegetarian food.

  • Affordable accommodation for centre crew, beneficiaries, visiting artists, volunteers and visitors.

Prospective uses

  • Drop-in facilities for information about how to address climate change, such as energy conservation, waste reduction, renewable energy, healthy and sustainable lifestyles.

  • Signposting opportunities for local people themselves to come up with new ideas about how to tackle climate change, so that the premises acts as a central hub for consultation and engagement to inspire, empower and involve local people in an ongoing way.

  • Exhibitions about and workshops in good practice in sustainability and well-being.

  • Affordable co-working space, particularly for people and organisations working in the ecological, health and wellbeing sectors.

  • Outreach, engagement and community development Synergy Events to discuss, debate and raise awareness of issues relating to the Council’s Carbon Neutral 2030 agenda. This will implement the B&H Climate Assembly‘s call that the public be regularly consulted and engaged in discussions about how to tackle Climate Change and seek to enrol a wide range of stakeholders in a ‘One City’ approach.

  • An online discussion and consultation platform to promote more community engagement with the policies, ideas and changes necessary to deliver the Carbon Neutral 2030 strategy. This platform will also enable local people and organisations to network, share ideas and develop collaborations. The proposed use of on-line democracy tools such as this will be the first such use in the UK.

  • Under the ‘Synergy Community‘ umbrella, a membership of people seeking to adopt changes in their own lifestyles so as to ‘be the change’, rediscovering a sense of agency and social purpose, inspired by a culture of ecology, health / wellbeing and care for others and the environment.

  • Using a ‘Synergy OS’ online platform, the Community will invite people to measure their progress towards a more sustainable lifestyle by adopting steps such as giving up meat or car ownership, switching energy providers, insulating their homes etc. The Community will also operate a complementary currency to promote the exchange of goods and services within the Community and thereby grow the sustainable economy.

  • Promote the development of the local circular economy, and the application of the Council’s Circular Economy Strategy, by partnering with local organisations working in the field such as Circular Brighton and Hove, Tech-Takeback, Freecycle and Freegle.

  • Provide training and mentoring support for people seeking to become more active in the sustainability, health and wellbeing sectors, such as guidance in setting up a social enterprise or community group, fundraising signposting, financial management, networking and public relations etc. The Centre will therefore become an incubator of further activity in the sector, offering support and advice for other Climate Hubs elsewhere in the South East region and nationwide.

  • Opportunities for young people, including students attending the two local universities and other tertiary educational institutions, to volunteer, thereby gaining experience, raising their skills and thereby developing their employability. Opportunities for local emerging artists to showcase their work and get a foot on the professional ladder will also be provided.

  • Support services for people suffering social exclusion and marignalisation such as rough sleepers, people with poor mental health or the long term unemployed.

Social Enterprise Model

The Synergy model is ideally suited to the current economic and social environment, in which local government is having to cut back on the services it provides, looking to the voluntary sector to fill the gaps. Rather than relying on public funding, Synergy operates a social enterprise model to deliver affordable community arts and social space by hosting weekend ‘conscious events’ that combine multi-media entertainment with awareness-raising of topical social, environmental, cultural and spiritual issues. The income from these events is used to cross-subsidise charitable activities that seek to tackle social exclusion through training and work-based learning and by creating an affordable, supportive, welcoming and creative environment for people suffering disadvantages such as homelessness, long term unemployment, poor mental health or substance misuse. We also support local organisations and projects that work with such beneficiaries with affordable or free space and signposting to sources of funding and potential partnerships with other like-minded people, creating valuable ‘synergies’.

Co-Production & The Core Economy

Synergy is a strong advocate of the principles of co-production, which sees local people and organisations as vital partners in the design and delivery of services, particularly in the social-care sector. The core economy is defined as “home, family, neighourhood, community and civil-society”, which can be supported through the provision of affordable community infrastructure which support the development of more active and resilient communities.

Social Value and Community Wealth

We believe that the proposed project would generate significant social value, as defined in the Brighton & Hove City Council Social Value Guide. Specifically, by providing infrastructure for local people, voluntary organisations and social enterprises to engage and act on issues pertaining to climate change, this initiative explicitly heeds the call of the Guide to give “greater recognition of the contribution of Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) organisations and local businesses.” (paragraph 1.4). Moreover, by promoting a community-wide approach that will foster a greater degree of collaboration between the Council and the community, it will emphasise the “value in ‘how’ we do things, as well as in ‘what’ we do and how much it costs.”

By empowering local people and organisations to share the burden of tackling climate change with B&H Council, the proposed hub will play a leading role in generating community wealth, particularly by facilitating the progressive procurement of services by the Council from the community to address social problems, such as climate change, and by facilitating the socially productive use of land and property. The report of the Policy and Resources committee on Community Wealth building of 23rd Jan 2020, states that Community Wealth Building can include :

  • developing and growing small enterprises, community organisations and cooperatives,

  • exploring the use of physical assets such as land and property to support community growth and resilience.

  • encouraging greater community participation in decision-making.

A ‘Climate Action Centre’, using a building to develop partnerships between local small and micro-enterprises, community organisations and cooperatives so as to encourage greater community partnership in decision making about the implementation of the Carbon Neutral 2030 plan would clearly achieve these aims.

The financing of the Synergy Centre 3.0 – a community finance model

There are fundamental differences between the finance model we propose and conventional ways of financing property development. The finance we are proposing would be generated is investment finance, made preferably through venture philanthropy and inspired by a desire for a high social / ethical and modest financial return. Annual repayments are therefore lower than with conventional debt-based finance, which increases the commercial viability of the model. Importantly, as the finance is not debt-based there is no prospect of repossession or closure during an economic down-turn.

The way in which the CDP model works is as follows.

A Brighton Synergy Community Development Partnership (or alternatively a ‘Cooperative’) will bring together a variety of local organisations, who are interested in developing a building as a centre to support the voluntary, arts and wellbeing sectors in Brighton.

Membership to Brighton Synergy CDP will be open to the following :

  • Local organisations working in the field of culture / creativity, health and wellbeing or the alleviation of disadvantage / social exclusion.

  • Local people interested in attending events at the centre, hiring the facilities, getting involved or those generally supportive of the cause.

  • The City Council, who could contribute a publicly owned building into the partnership, following the principles and practices outlined in the Quirk Report.

To raise the finance to purchase the building and conduct the renovations, the CDP will issue a form of credit named ‘Synergies’, either redeemable against the future income of the Centre as it develops to be held as an investment.

There are two ways of financing the issuing of credits:

Short Term – suitable for members of the Synergy Community and partner trades people working on the renovations, who either buy or are allocated credit for time worked, at a rate of £0.90 per Synergy.

For example, an individual who wishes to support the development of the Centre and envisages attending events or workshops, can purchase 100 Synergies for £90. They can then redeem these credits by paying for tickets to events or workshops at the Centre with these Synergies at a 1:1 value, thereby gaining a 10% discount. Alternatively they can retain the credits and sell them either to another individual or to the CDP for an agreed price. Similarly, a local plumber, electrician or plasterer who works on the renovations is willing to accept part payment in Synergies, which are paid at the same rate of one credit for £0.90. They can then use these credits to pay for tickets or sell them on at a later date, most obviously to the operating company of the Centre as it starts to generate surpluses. Members of the Synergy Community who purchase the Synergies will also be able to use them to trade with other members of the community, within the Synergy Economy, whereby the credits become a unit of a complementary currency. These currencies are gaining increasing recognition as useful tools to lubricate and stimulate economic activity in cash-poor communities and to keep wealth in local communities.

The issuing of community credits in this way is an excellent way to i) reduce the amount of expensive investment capital needed ii) transfer ownership of the asset to the community, thereby increasing the likelihood that the community will support, promote and patronize the centre in the future.

Medium to Long Term – suitable for venture philanthropists (VPs) investing larger amounts over a longer period of time.

The VPs purchase credits at a £1:1 Synergy ratio, but their credit allocation is index linked to prevent depreciation, so that at the end of every financial year, the CDP will issue a top up allocation of credits to preserve the value of the investment in real terms. On top of this, the VP can negotiate a further annual allocation of credits of 1-3 % which will serve as a ‘capital rental’ fee. At any time, the VP can sell their credits to another investor or buy more credits, should the CDP be issuing more to raise additional finance. Once again, as the Centre generates surpluses, it will start to buy back the credits bought by investing VPs or, should the VPs not be in a hurry to be repaid, invest the residual funds in further Synergy ventures.

Repayment of the credits is done at a level that is affordable to the operating company. Once it is fully operational, the target will be to repay between 10,000 and 20,000 credits a month, increasing as the centre becomes established and revenues increase.

Reducing Renovation Costs – by employing trades people from within the community, the CDP can reduce renovation costs by paying them partly in credits issued by the partnership. Materials and agreed minimum labour costs can be paid in conventional currency but some of their profit can be paid in credits to effectively part-defer payment. Unskilled renovation tasks can be performed by other members of the community, once again on the basis of a credits allocation.

Affordability – a fundamental premise of the Synergy model is that of affordability, a key component of the not-for-profit ethos underpinning the model. As the purpose of the enterprise is to maximize community benefit, everything traded by the Centre is priced at an affordable level so as to maximize accessibility. Tickets to events are offered with a significant concessionary reduction for those on low incomes. The price of food and drink within the venue will be similarly affordable. Once again, this sets Synergy events aside from the competition. For investors, the affordability of the capital rental means insures that it is – by definition – more likely to be paid and therefore entails lower risk, which justifies the lower level of return. This creates a virtuous circle completely opposite to that of debt-financing, where the greater the risk, the higher the interest demanded by the lender and the more likely it is that the borrower cannot afford the loan.