Helping local councils to harness community spirit

A new guide designed to help local councils across England better understand the benefits that community businesses can bring to their areas is set to be launched later this year.

National charity the Plunkett Foundation has announced the new collaborative partnership with Power to Change, the independent trust that supports community businesses in England, and the National Association of Local Councils (which represents England’s 10000 local councils and 100000 councillors), to produce a Guide to Community Businesses specifically for local councils.

The guide for parish, town and community councillors will set out the principles of what a community business is and help councils to consider whether this form of business could be appropriate in their own community.

To help inform the guide the organisations involved are looking for real stories and experiences they can feature – and are calling for anyone involved previously with a parish council, community business collaboration, or partnered project who would like to share the knowledge to get in touch.

Community businesses are enterprises that are owned and run democratically by members of the community and others, on behalf of the community. They come in many forms, including shops, pubs, woodlands and anything which lends itself to community ownership. In addition to developing and safeguarding valuable assets and services, community businesses address a range of issues including isolation, loneliness, wellbeing, work and training.

The charity says that during the coronavirus pandemic the vital role small local businesses play in serving the needs of their local communities has been more evident than ever.

Chris Cowcher, Head of Community Business at Plunkett, said: “The businesses deserve our unreserved gratitude and there is a growing understanding of the need to protect and safeguard their existence, to ensure they remain open always and not only used in times of crisis.

“This is a really exciting project that we hope will lead to even more community businesses being developed in areas across the country. Having seen previously how a parish council has worked with a local community pub in Church Fenton, Yorkshire the benefits of such a relationship is clear. We looking forward to helping more communities explore this way of collaborative working as a result of this work.”

The NALC’s chairman Cllr Sue Baxter said: “I welcome this initiative. Many local councils already support and encourage a range of community businesses including shops and theatres. But the sector could do more and I hope this guide will encourage more of my councillor colleagues to champion this approach as they help communities recover from the implications of the pandemic.”

Ailbhe McNabola, Head of Research and Policy at Power to Change said: “Every year, community businesses responding to our annual survey tell us that their local councils are extremely important and that their support can make all the difference when it comes to setting up or growing their business. We hope that this guide, and the support of NALC and the Plunkett Foundation to get it into the hands of local councils, will help build even more productive relationships”.

The new collaboration aims to harness the growing sense of community spirit which the Covid-19 lockdown produced. Even in those communities where businesses such as pubs, shops, post offices, bakeries, libraries closed long ago there is a growing sense that communities are committing to “build back better” and ensure sure key services are locally available in future.

In some areas there is a desire to reintroduce or reinvent services lost, long before Covid-19 was even a term.

Role of local councils

So what are the options available to communities, and could community business be a potential solution in some areas looking to seize upon this moment?

Local councils play an important role at the heart of their communities. They can offer support, guidance, expertise and even access to potential finance for locally-led initiatives, such as setting up a community business. We hope that this new Guide to Community Business will inspire many more partnerships between councils and community businesses, to develop and sustain a range of vital services for local benefit.

Share your story

Real stories and experiences will form an important part of the new guide – and the Plunkett foundation is calling for anyone involved previously with a parish council, community business collaboration, or partnered project to get in touch. As well as featuring these case studies in the guide itself, charity is also planning to host an online gathering of experienced and interested parties.

Contact Plunkett by getting in touch with Alison Macklin, Community Business Manager: alison.macklin@plunkett.co.uk.