What is a development trust?

Development trusts are a particular type of partnership organisation one that offers benefits to the local community and has advantages for many public bodies, non-profit agencies and funders.

The Development Trusts Association estimates that there are well in excess of 150 Development Trusts in England and Wales, with many similar organisations in Scotland, and in Northern Ireland.

While there is no one model for Development Trusts, they do have common characteristics of being concerned with the regeneration of an area, not for private gain, aiming for long term sustainability, and community based and accountable.

Trusts offer considerable benefits. However, for trusts to be successful, they require a well planned start up process and considerable support during their early years.

What trusts do

The Development Trusts Association, in its introduction to trusts, says:

'Because they respond to local needs no two Development Trusts are alike, and because they recognise that to regenerate a community means adopting a comprehensive approach they are involved in a wide range of activities.'

Trusts are engaged in a wide range of economic, social and environmental regenereation, ranging from the development and restoration of property to advice and training. For example:

To promote and support economic activity they

To improve the local environment they

To improve local services and amenities they

'Many develop a land or property base which can earn them income. Some specialise and others are diversifying. But all are providing local solutions to local need. They have proven themselves to be innovative, responsive, business-like, professional and effective.'

The structure of development trusts

A development trust is usually a company limited by guarantee with charitable status. Profits cannot be distributed to members, but must be used for the further benefit of the local community. The membership of a trust is drawn from a geographically-defined area; members may be both individuals and organisations or just organisations. See the Constitution sheet for more information.

The board of a Trust is made up of representatives from the public, voluntary/community and private sectors; these (along with individuals and additional funders if appropriate) may be elected from 'voting sections' of the membership.

The board is the policy-making body, and is unpaid; paid staff may be employed to carry out the day-to-day operations of the trust. A Trust may set up subsidiary organisations to further its objectives, for example trading companies whose profits are covenanted back to the trust.


A Trust would expect to obtain revenue to fund its operations and activities both from grant income and trading income. Core funding (for staff and running costs), particularly in its first few years, might come from a variety of public sector sources. Private sector sponsorship might be obtained, including help in kind such as secondments. Charitable funding could be sought for specific projects. The Financial sustainability sheet provides more information.

© David Wilcox <david@partnerships.org.uk>. Tel +44 (0)1273 677377.This information sheet may be freely distributed with this attribution.