Dublin City Council plans to launch a new crowdfunding platform for the city on 3 October, which will allow people to fundraise for small projects to boost their neighbourhoods.

The Spacehive platform is already in use in the United Kingdom, where it has helped fund things such as renovating a boxing club, converting a double-decker bus into a community space and writing a book about the lives of local people who were affected by the Windrush scandal

Here in Dublin, a council report presented at the council’s recent finance committee meeting says that Spacehive will help groups to refine their proposals and that Dublin City Council will match the funds raised, up to €5,000. 

Councillors on the finance committee on 21 September gave the nod to go ahead and launch the project.

“It gives people a direct input into what is funded and what is not,” says Sinn Féin Councillor Séamas McGrattan, who chairs the committee. 

The idea has a lot of potential, whether it’s a community organisation fundraising for equipment or someone who wants to throw a street party, he said. 

Businesses and philanthropists may also sponsor projects, as well as the general public, he says. “I think this could grow.”

Dublin City Council wants to kick off with smaller projects, envisaging a cap of around €10,000 at first, says McGrattan, as they establish the model.

How will it work?

“Say if I want to have a Halloween party on my road,” says McGrattan. “I make a pitch on this website.”

He would post his idea on the Spacehive platform, with an estimate for how much it would cost. If the price tag is €5,000 for the Halloween party, then he needs to attract donations from the public of at least €2,500, he says. 

If he hits that, the council would step in and match the funding. “There has to be interest first,” says McGrattan, “you have to show there is local support.”

If his idea for the Halloween party is a flop and his neighbours reckon it’s a waste of money and don’t back it, then the idea dies. 

“Ultimately it will be the community that decides that because if they support it it gets off the ground,” he says. 

If the project can be fully funded locally, the council may not need to chip in, he says. 

But for those projects that have local backing, but can’t quite get the full amount, the council –  out of a starting pot of €300,000 – will bridge the gap. 

Crowdfunded projects won’t be taking over jobs that should be done by the council, like fixing paths or planting trees, says McGrattan. “It’s other initiatives.”

If the idea pitched is illegal, dangerous or inappropriate Spacehive won’t list the pitch in the first place, says McGrattan. “They have criteria for it,” he says. 

The council will also have a committee that will double-check the proposals before committing council funds, he says. 

He expects that most early users will be community organisations, sports organisations and residents’ groups, he says. A local sports club that needs particular kit say, he says.

Spacehive holds all the money until the end. If a project isn’t fully funded, the money goes back to donors. 

“The fact that the council are involved, it will keep the governance of it right,” says McGrattan.

The idea came about because Dublin City Council was looking for ways to get people to input into the budget, says McGrattan. 

“It gives people a direct input into what is funded and what is not,” he says. “They are involved in the decision-making by supporting something.”

It also grew from discussions on the committee about how Dublin City Council can raise money for city projects under existing revenue-raising powers. 

Starting small

At first glance, many of the projects in the UK seem more ambitious than those that would fall within the €10,000 cap. 

In Lancaster, Morecambe Winter Gardens is renovating its theatre, a protected structure that used to host music events. Volunteers have already done much of the work, according to the pitch, but they need to pay conservation professionals to restore the mosaic flooring. 

The estimated cost is £45,00o. At the time of writing, with 21 days to go, they have raised nearly £27,000. You can’t help hoping that they get there. 

In Cheshire, a boxing club hopes to raise nearly £35,000 to improve access, renovate the club and start work on an extension. So far they have raised just £1,671, but there is still time. They have 64 days left. 

Building Bridges Burnley aims to tackle the stigma around men’s mental health by running programmes targeted at men, including support groups, exercise classes and workshops. 

It has reached its target of almost £19,000 through a combination of donations from the public, a substantial contribution from the local council, and some local medical services have also pitched in.

For Dublin City Council, starting out with smaller projects, costing less than €10,000 will help work out the system, McGrattan said.  “The idea is to start with smaller projects to tease it out.”

Project organisers will be responsible for getting the work done not the council, he says. 

Another thing to monitor is whether or not crowdfunding projects could aggravate inequality, if wealthy people fund projects mostly in their own areas. 

Past research done in the United States, based on data from a not-for-profit platform there called IOBY, found that wasn’t the case though.

“I found very little evidence that projects are coming up in wealthier places, or the ability to raise funding really depended on the neighbourhood income,” said David A. Brent, an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University, in November 2019.

“Maybe, even more interesting, we found that the donors are from wealthier neighbourhoods than where the projects exist,” he said at the time.

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lneylon@dublininquirer.com.

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