It seems scarcely believable that ART — now ART Business Loans — one of the first of a new breed of community development finance institutions to be established in the UK, is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this June.
Set up to lend to businesses and social enterprises unable to access finance from the banks, ART is a social enterprise, its primary objective back in 1997 and still its driving force today being to support access to appropriate finance for enterprise and the creation or preservation of local jobs for local people.
“We were set up as a result of a report from a commission chaired by the late Sir Adrian Cadbury, who became our first Chairman,” explains chief exec Steve Walker. “One of the major areas the commission looked at was access to finance for people and communities who were finding it increasingly difficult to engage with the banks. ART was established in response to this problem.”
“ART lends in addition to the banks,” Steve says, “lending only if they can’t and often lending alongside them as part of a package of finance. We currently lend across the West Midlands, offering £10,000 to £150,000 to businesses and social enterprises unable to access any or all of the finance they need from the banks.”
ART’s highly experienced staff team — which is supported by a volunteer board of directors — adopts a personal approach to lending, offering valuable information about finance options and signposting to other finance providers where appropriate.
Since June 1997 ART has lent over £21m to more than 900 local businesses, including social enterprises, which as a result have been able to create or preserve over 7,000 jobs. Borrowers have come from diverse market sectors and used the loans for a variety of business purposes, including to support cashflow.
Social enterprise borrowers have included Betel of Britain, Ashiana Community Project, Amina Trust, Birmingham Buddhist Vihara, New Jerusalem Church, Jericho Foundation, ChangeKitchen, and the LearnPlay Foundation.
“We have grown significantly over the past three years as demand for loans has increased,” says Steve, “and we continue to help viable enterprises that can’t get vital finance from elsewhere to survive, thrive and grow. We have money to lend now and urge enterprises in need of a loan to get in touch.”
ART may now be considered part of a wider ‘alternative finance’ market — including peer to peer lenders and crowdfunders — but in many ways ART is the grandfather of them all: the result of a vision that Sir Adrian Cadbury and a group of other similarly determined campaigners had for local community finance in Birmingham.
Congratulations, ART, and happy twentieth anniversary.
→ ART Business Loans is at Innovation Birmingham Campus in Aston, 0121 359 2444.