The CSU is a joint initiative between Locality and Co-operatives UK. Its objective is to support enterprises, promote good practice and raise awareness of community shares as a sustainable funding mechanism for community enterprises.

The term community shares was coined by the Development Trust Association (DTA) (now known as Locality) in its 2008 publication Community Share and Bond Issues, which examined how a growing number of community enterprises were raising investment capital from their local supporters.

In the same year, Co-operatives UK published a document called “Community Investment” - using the original industrial and provident society legislation, addressing the same phenomenon, but focusing exclusively on societies. (The Co-operatives and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 saw the removal of the term industrial and provident society from legislation.)

Towards the end of 2008 the DTA and Co-operatives UK came together to establish the Community Shares programme, an action research partnership funded by the Cabinet Office and the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The programme ran from 2009 to 2011. Over 70 societies registered during this period have now successfully completed a community share offer.

The Community Shares Unit (CSU) was launched in October 2012. It continues as a joint initiative between Locality and Co-operatives UK.  Its overriding objective is to grow a sustainable market for, and the long term success of the use of community shares to raise equity finance and participation, with due process and protection for investors, in a range of community and co-operative enterprises.