A good year for community business

It’s been a busy year for Power to Change and a busy year for community business. The sector is growing and the year ended with community business in the national spotlight as Assemble won the Turner Prize for its work with Granby Streets, a community-led housing and regeneration initiative in the Toxteth area of Liverpool.

For Power to Change, 2015 has been a year of set up and learning. We have run three pilot programmes through which we have sought to support community businesses at the same time as learning more about how best to use our funding going forward. Demand has been high. For our initial grants programme worth £9 million, we have received close to 700 bids worth over £129 million, almost the full value of our endowment.

So far through this grant programme, we have supported more than 40 community businesses ranging from a community bakery to a community-run narrow gauge railway. We have provided £6.5 million of funding into the community business market since May and will award the remaining £2.5 million before the programme closes in March next year. Read our case studies to find out more about the wonderful diversity of the community businesses we have supported.

Power to Change has also been piloting blended funding with social investors, Key Fund and Social and Sustainable Capital. Through this pilot, we have been using our grant funding to unlock loan finance provided by the social investors in order to increase the overall amount of capital available for community businesses. So far, with £980,000 of grant funding, we have unlocked over £3.5 million of blended finance to 14 projects, using our grant to work with partners and to unlock funding that would otherwise not support community businesses.

Alongside support for individual community businesses, we are interested in how harnessing the combined strength of government, the business community and local people, we can do more to enable community business to thrive in particular places. As an initial pilot, we have just begun working in Sheffield and Plymouth to deepen our understanding of how community businesses can solve social problems and contribute to the development of more socially sustainable places.

So what have we learnt so far? A lot as you would expect from a newcomer. But three things stand out.

  • First, we have learnt that community business is a new concept that is not widely recognised and we need to do more to communicate what we mean by a community business and the value that community businesses can bring.
  • Second, we have learnt a lot about effective grant-making and how we can improve our processes going forward. This learning will be fed into the development of our new funding programmes for next year.
  • Third, we have learnt that our programmes need to place greater emphasis and be clearer about the things we care most about, notably financial sustainability and community and wider social impact.

Power to Change has built a lot of this learning into our strategy for 2016-18 and will be sharing that with you in the New Year. The strategy will set out our priorities going forward, our approach to funding and the outcomes we are seeking to achieve through our different programme activities.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you whom we have worked with throughout this year for sharing your expertise and for your patience as we have learnt. Power to Change has benefited tremendously from all these interactions.

We look forward to working with you in 2016 to make a reality of our ambitious plans. In the meantime, wishing you all a happy and restful festive season.