The value of members to their community

The CLA and the Countryside and Community Research Institute are exploring how members contribute social value to their local communities
beautiful countryside sunset

As part of a programme of work exploring the social benefits that landowners provide for their communities, the CLA has partnered with the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) to discover and quantify the social value delivered by CLA members.

Judicaelle Hammond, CLA Director of Policy & Advice, explains why the study has been commissioned:

In 2019, we surveyed our members to collect data on landowners’ economic, environmental and social contributions. Social contributions encompass all the things landowners do for the people who live and work around them, or for society. For example, it includes providing space for community activities such as sports, village events, permissive access or hosting school visits.

Thanks to figures from the survey, we convinced the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that rural areas face specific challenges and need their own solutions on topics such as energy efficiency targets and housing. However, few members responded to questions about social contribution, and we did not obtain statistically robust conclusions on this.

We are in uncertain political times, with a general election 18 months away. In preparation, the CLA is looking for better evidence of the social benefits landowners provide for their communities and beyond. To build that evidence, we are partnering with the CCRI, based at the University of Gloucestershire. The research team is led by CCRI’s Professor of Social Economy, Paul Courtney.

Paul and his team are undertaking a study co-funded by the CLA and the National Innovation Centre for the Rural Economy. It aims to articulate and quantify the social value delivered by landowners (in financial terms) and calculate cost savings to the state.

Professor Paul Courtney explains what the study will involve and the theory behind it:

The study’s first stage sought to explore the nature and extent of the social contribution – or social value - generated by CLA members’ activities. The team found that the impacts of these activities lie in five main areas:

● Health and wellbeing

● Balanced, sustainable communities

● Education, interpretation and skills

● Social enterprise and inclusion

● Culture and identity

Social value

Such value is rarely accounted for. The CCRI has found that CLA member activities generate tangible social impacts for communities and make them more sustainable by, for example, providing volunteering opportunities, which empower people and build cohesive communities.

In the same way, several CLA members run thriving businesses or provide employment opportunities that contribute to the local economy – but the social value generated is often overlooked.

Professor Paul Courtney

The life and work skills, employability and retention of younger people in rural areas have a wider value to society than just economic growth, employment or productivity. Many are social enterprises by definition – for example, reaching out to vulnerable groups or providing social services to disadvantaged or isolated communities – but this contribution is rarely captured or valued.

In each impact area, the CCRI has uncovered a range of social outcomes that will be examined in depth during the study’s subsequent stages. These include contributions to education and health, as well as significant social contributions around strengthening local and cultural identity and generating a sense of belonging within rural communities and to rural life.

The findings of this exercise are being used to inform the design of an online Social Value Survey for all CLA members. The survey will gather data to enable a calculation in monetary terms of the social value generated through CLA members’ activities, distinguishing between the impact areas and members’ varying activities. It is also being used to develop a checklist that will give members an idea of the kind of social value they are likely to be generating based on their principal activities. The research team suggests that it will be useful for members to try using this checklist before completing the survey.

Social return on investment

The research team will also conduct three Social Return on Investment (SROI) case studies. Recognised by the UK Government, Social Return on Investment is a methodology that seeks to capture, measure and monetise the wider value that is often overlooked by conventional cost-benefit models. By drilling down into the nature and extent of the social value generated on the ground, the case studies will involve data gathering to evidence the change in measurable outcomes experienced by a range of stakeholders.

Combining SROI case studies with survey data will enable us to make aggregate estimates of social value generation across the CLA membership. This will be of interest to the communities and wider society served by members, as well as local and national government and other decision-makers, including funding commissioners, planning authorities and business development officers.

The findings will also be of interest to politicians, who need to see the social value generated by landowners and managers as integral to the fabric of rural communities. These communities face challenges due to the cost of living crisis, the pandemic and climate change impacts, many of which have profound social and economic implications.

I am delighted to lead this study, which will give CLA members not only a voice in the social value arena, but also traction in showing the wider social contributions of its activities - many of which align closely with the UN’s Sustainable Development goals.

Stay tuned for the survey to come out soon.