How we’re backing community business

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Power to Change has a renewed purpose and ambitions. With it, we’re shaping the conditions for community business to thrive.
15 May, 2024
Ailbhe McNabola

Ailbhe McNabola

Deputy CEO

Last year, the Power to Change team reflected on what our role should be and how this has evolved since the organisation was established. We thought about all we’ve achieved since 2015 and what work still needs doing for community businesses. We also considered how the world around us has changed since then.

We asked community businesses and our key partners what their priorities were. And we asked them what role Power to Change should play, now and in the future. This got us thinking about our purpose. The message was clear: Power to Change has a vital role to play in shaping the conditions for community business to thrive.

Our story

Power to Change was established in 2015 with an endowment from the National Lottery Community Fund (then the Big Lottery Fund). We were created to support and grow community business in England, because the role and impact of enterprising community businesses that benefit their local place was increasingly recognised.

Our goal has remained the same since that time. We want to see more communities in England run businesses that give them power to change what matters to them. Because we know community business works to create more resilient places. Communities that are better to live and work in for everyone.

In our early years, we focused on growing the community business movement. Since 2015, we have supported community businesses directly through funding and capacity building programmes totalling £107 million. We also developed a robust research programme to gather evidence about the role and impact of community business for the people and places they serve. We uncovered what community businesses need to make the greatest impact.

As of last year, £45 million of our spend has contributed to bringing an additional £210 million into the community business sector, in the form of matched and pooled funding, crowdfunding, government funding, community shares, loans and mortgages, additional grants and investments, refinanced debt and social investment. This means that for every £1 contributed by Power to Change, an additional £4.68 has been leveraged into the sector.

Through our research and the experience gained from our support programmes, we invested in ‘market development’ to reduce barriers and open opportunities. This included developing and growing innovative forms of finance that are better aligned to the community business model and opening up new areas of opportunity, like community energy and high street renewal. We also began making the case for community business with government, regional and local authorities, and social investors.

In 2023, as we looked ahead to the future, it became clear that there was a lot more work to do. We heard from community businesses that we have a key role to play in dismantling the barriers they face and unlocking more funding.

How we’re backing communities

In 2023, the Power to Change team – staff and Board – took some time to think about what we’ve achieved since 2015 and how the context we are working in has changed. We asked community businesses and our key partners what their priorities were and what they wanted to see from us. This thinking about the role we should play in the coming years brought us to a conversation about our purpose and ambitions.

We are proud of what Power to Change has achieved in its first eight years, but we are also driven to get on and do more. We know community business works to build stronger communities and better places to live. We’ve seen people create resilient and prosperous local economies when power is in community hands. We also know the barriers that stand in the way of their success. That’s why we’re committed to shaping the conditions for community business to thrive. We are backing community business from the ground up – turning bold ideas into action.

Our vision for community businesses

We want communities have the power to change what matters to them. We have set out the ambitions that we are working towards, because we are ambitious – for what community business can achieve and for what we can do to support that. But what is the change that we want to see?

Our ideal future for community business is one where:

  • Communities can fully utilise their power. Through community business, communities have a greater say in the decisions that affect them.
  • Communities contribute to an economy that works for people and planet. Through community business, communities balance enterprise and purpose to build prosperous local economies.
  • Communities can achieve their aspirations and are resilient when faced with challenges. Through community business, communities make meaningful connections and build their social capital.

Shaping this future isn’t something we can deliver in isolation. We’re using our experience to bring partners together to do, test and learn what works. We’re working alongside community business to engage partners and stakeholders with whom we can deliver a supportive environment: policymakers and politicians, funders and social investors, and intermediaries and support organisations.

Our focus now

This year, we’re focusing on three areas we think capture the most pressing needs for community business.

Financing the future economy

We know that the right kind of finance – at the right time – is instrumental in the success of community business.

Using the breadth of our knowledge and experience, we are advocating for more affordable, flexible and accessible finance for community businesses. Through working in partnership, we’re leveraging investment into the community business sector. We’re investing in new ways of increasing the long-term financial sustainability of community businesses, testing ways to break the cycle of grant dependency. And we’re influencing decision makers – from funders to regional authorities – to grow the social economy and shape finance that works for the future economy.

Building community power

We believe communities should have the power to change what matters to them in their local area.

We’re working with partners to make the case for governing the country differently and we’re supporting the We’re Right Here campaign’s calls for a Community Power Act that would put powers in the hands of communities. We’re providing practical ideas about how to empower communities and we’re ready to test these out on the ground.

Taking back the high street

We want all communities to have the power to create vibrant and resilient high streets that work for them.

But to do so, local people must have a seat at the table. They need the opportunities and funds to take ownership of the spaces and places that matter to them. Through evidence, advocacy and working in partnership, we’re creating the power, backing and resources that community businesses need to take a greater role in shaping the future of their high streets and town centres.

Work with us

Our renewed purpose and three areas of focus give us the roadmap for helping community businesses thrive. But we can’t do this alone. We’re continuing to partner with funders, social investors, community business, and government at all levels to shape the right conditions for communities to have the power to change what matters to them.