Community businesses can fill the gaps left by public and private sector

Communities can build the homes, businesses and transport links that local people need, according to three new reports published today.

The three reports examine how local people can take over building affordable housing, running their own pubs and establishing new transport links. This would see communities stepping in to ensure that services overlooked by local authorities and the private sector are not lost.

The research, commissioned from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and WPI Economics by the independent trust Power to Change, describes how community groups can run local assets most effectively.

A number of common themes were identified as success factors across the different types of community business, including:

Business factors: Crucial to all successful community businesses was identifying a clear business need and local market that enabled the creation of a self-sustaining business. While, the biggest challenge in this area was access to finance.

Importance of committed volunteers: Successful community businesses benefit hugely from a range of volunteers. There are volunteers that provide strong leadership, those that provide essential skills and knowledge to help set up and run the business, and volunteers, who without, the businesses could not run day-to-day.

Working in partnership: Partnering with other organisations, from industry bodies to other community businesses, enabled access to the diverse range of skills necessary for running a successful community business.

Local buy-in: Engaging with the local community was, unsurprisingly, vital for all community businesses. In particular, a constructive relationship with the local authority that helped them to navigate sometimes complicated regulations or planning processes.

The benefits of community businesses include:

  • Community-run transport can establish new routes linking people with jobs and training, and can ensure older people are not socially cut off
  • Community-run housing can develop affordable new homes for people who may be forgotten, like young tenants stranded at the bottom of waiting lists
  • Community-run pubs can revive local areas, with an influence beyond the pub itself to the whole community

 

Community businesses are organisations rooted in a local area, run by and answerable to members of the community, and which make a trading profit to re-invest in doing more social good. There are already thousands of community businesses in the UK, doing everything from planning new affordable homes to reviving struggling local pubs. Last year, they grew 5 percent, faster than both charities and small businesses.

 

Case study: Cuckmere Community Bus Ltd

Cuckmere Community Bus Ltd (CCB) runs eight 16-seater minibuses, operating on 25 local bus services seven days a week.

It serves older passengers in particular, on routes which had become too sparse and generated too little income for other providers. CCB has found a way to make this work profitable, however, by expanding some of the quietest routes and by winning contracts to service local events. It also receives a small amount of grant funding.

By collecting feedback from local people, CCB has been able to adapt over the last four decades and shape its services to the needs of the community it serves.

Its income last year was just over a quarter of a million pounds.

 

Ailbhe McNabola, Head of Research and Policy at Power to Change, said:

Communities are increasingly proactive about taking on problems on their own doorstep. If the state or private businesses have stopped offering services, or if those services have seen much better days, local people will often be better placed than anyone to offer an alternative.

That extends to local boozers, buses and bungalows. The idea of running your own community pub or transport service or even house-building project needn’t be that overwhelming. There is plenty of advice and support to help along the way.

And there doesn’t need to be a trade-off between doing good and making money – this research shows how community businesses can do both’.

Matt Barnard, Head of Communities at the National Centre for Social Research, said:

This research offers a roadmap to setting up a successful community business.

Four factors, in particular, are crucial – a solid business model based on local demand, partnerships with other like-minded organisations, a group of committed volunteers and a close working relationship the local authority’.