How 2020 put our name to the test – place-focused programmes and digital skills

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In this blog series, we’re looking back at this difficult, unforgettable year and the many ways Power to Change had to adapt to support the community business sector during the pandemic.  

Place-focused work 

The Empowering Places catalysts have come into their own in this year of crisis in their role of community anchors and have proved that organisations like theirs are the heart of a network connecting communities to public institutions and national support. Their creativity, energy and compassion has helped create and develop over 70 community businesses in six priority places: Bradford, Grimsby, Hartlepool, Leicester, Plymouth and Wigan. If you’d like to read more about their work, our delivery partners, Cooperatives UK, have written this excellent set of case studies. 

One of the highlights of 2020 has been Nudge Community Builder’s acquisition of The Millennium Building on Union Street with Eat Work Artsupported by our short-lived Resilient Neighbourhoods Fund (launched early 2020, and then, well, Covid.) This wasn’t the only major community asset transfer we’ve supported our catalysts with this year as the Wharton Trust purchased a shop and houses in Dyke House, Hartlepool, through our Homes in Community Hands and Community Business Fund programmes. They also received confirmation of the transfer of The Annex Community Centre into their ownership after 30 years of occupation. 

It’s not all about physical assets though, as we are proud that our catalyst in Wigan’s bid to become a Social Enterprise Place, through Social Enterprise UK, was successful. It is incredible to play a role in the story of these organisations as they build on their strong relationships and continue towards achieving their visions to make their hometown a better place to live and work. 

In Liverpool, Power to Change has been working with social economy experts in Liverpool City Region to develop Kindred – an independent and innovative organisation offering investment and non-financial support to socially trading organisations in the City Region. Kindred is an independent Community Interest Company which will be owned and led by the sector in the City Region. In 2020 Liverpool City Region Combined Authority approved £5.5m funding for Kindred, matched by a £1m contribution from Power to Change. In response to Covid-19, Kindred leapt into action and started delivering peer-led business support ahead of schedule. Its team of social economy experts helped nearly 200 socially trading organisations through the crisis, and helped cement the social economy’s status as a vital contributor to the city region’s economic recovery. 

With local partners Bristol City Council and Quartet Community Foundation, Power to Change funded a timely piece of research engaging the VCSE sector to identify their needs post-Covid and the opportunities for them to be part of the economic recovery of the city.  

Helping the community business sector to utilise digital 

In January we re-launched the Twine website, and over the year have added lots of new tools and resources to support community businesses respond to the pandemic. This included launching Benchmark in April, to support community businesses to better understand their organisation’s financial health, where they might have vulnerabilities and how funders and other organisations can get them the support they need. Alongside this tool we also published a success guide for delivering digital services, both of which proved extremely popular.  

As lockdown restrictions eased and businesses re-opened for the summer, we saw many community businesses sign up for Visitor, our visitor registration app which facilitates track and trace. To further support them manage their services remotely and work at a safe distance, we also updated tonnes of new features on Volunteer, our app to help manage voluntary work.  

In 2021 we will continue to provide these resources, plus we’re launching a pilot with Design Council to help community businesses deliver services digitally, as well as a pilot with London South Bank University, to provide an online learning platform for community businesses seeking to improve their digital skills. 

In our next blog we’ll be looking at how we have been measuring the impact and making the case for the community business sector through 2020.