Real Ideas is many things: social enterprise; catalyst; anchor and enabler, but at its simplest it’s an organisation providing support and space to people in communities with good ideas.
One such space is Liskeard Library in south-east Cornwall. Sitting in the middle of this small market town, Real Ideas saw it had the facilities, location and potential, not only to increase the numbers and diversity of people who use the library, but to connect this building on the high street more effectively. It could act as a gateway for the wider community to experiences that support, enrich and extend activities across the town.
Acquiring the library as an asset transfer from Cornwall Council, Real Ideas will work with the community to renovate and repurpose the building to become a more engaging space, open longer and with a broader appeal. Library, enterprise and cultural space by day, perhaps book-club, pop-up cinema or acoustic music event space by night. Upstairs there will be co-working for start-ups and entrepreneurs, as well as meeting and learning spaces to hire, plus support, networking and events to help people get their community business and social enterprise ideas off the ground.
Lindsey Hall, CEO at Real Ideas explains: “There are lots of people who are very energetic and have great ideas in and around Liskeard. We can help accelerate what they’re trying to do using the library on the high street as a focal point, a cluster, a set of practical resources that people are able to access.”
And they have a lot of experience here, having renovated and re-purposed several buildings such as the Devonport Guildhall in Plymouth over 12 years ago as a social enterprise hub, accelerating local businesses that benefit the local community. It’s this local accelerator role that Power to Change knows is a vital element of the mix when helping community business get off the ground and become sustainable.
“Third sector organisations on the other hand, can work in more flexible, fluid ways with communities and different groups of people and are really good at creating cultural change”
That’s why through their Empowering Places programme, following a pilot in 2017, they chose Real Ideas as one of six catalyst organisations to receive up to £1m in funding and support to help community businesses start up, thrive and achieve positive change for their neighbourhoods: in this case Devonport and Stonehouse in Plymouth.
The programme, known locally as Make Things Happen, is working at both a strategic and grassroots level, through a mixture of hands-on business support, training and seed funding. With a particular specialism around high streets it is supporting organisations such as CLIIK, the Village Hub and Nudge Community Builders to breathe new life into their high streets and help reduce the inequalities felt by many communities across England.
For Lindsey, the power of partnership and playing to respective strengths is critical: “A positive ecology means that different partners play the role that they are well suited to. Local authorities can be really brilliant at helping you unblock things like planning processes or relationships related to infrastructure, but they are not so good at running public facing venues. Third sector organisations on the other hand, can work in more flexible, fluid ways with communities and different groups of people and are really good at creating cultural change.
“The private sector is important too. We want these things to be sustainable, so a trading relationship is really important, and the private sector often have great models and the ability to be flexible in a way that the public sector isn’t. For me there’s a virtuous triangle. If you can get that right, there’s lots to be gained from it.”