‘The best networks are like family’: The value of community business networks

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Bill Graham shares why he values local, city-wide and national community business networks.
27 Oct, 2017

Our research found that 72% of community businesses work closely with others, and that this is one of the most important forms of support a community business can get.

 Bill Graham, Manager at New Wortley Community Centre in Leeds, and regular guest blogger, shares why he values having different networks to support and grow their community business.

We all have our own networks, whether it’s family, friends, business or elsewhere. Together they add to the rich tapestry of the life we lead.

But for various reasons, sometimes these networks break down (lack of contact, miscommunication and differences of opinion). For families, I’m sure this can all happen in a day and yet they can be repaired just as quickly. The family unit has to be strong to survive! Maintaining good relationships can often feel like a balancing act, but where we see value in them, we brush our differences under the carpet to progress forward.

So, what is the value of community business networks?

Community businesses tap into many networks: local networks, city-wide networks and national networks and these can take many forms.

In my local area, I know many people who will approach me or I will approach them, if I feel I need some local input into how we continue to deliver services for the benefit of our local community. I want to hear from them, whether good or bad. There can be a real honesty delivered face to face when you are a trusted member of the community.

In Leeds, the city-wide networks are very varied and it can sometimes be difficult to decide which ones to spend time cultivating. But without doubt these networks bring opportunities from all directions. If anything, a lack of capacity can lead to opportunities going begging as they say! Despite this there are some people and organisations in Leeds who I can trust to share my thoughts or issues with, and I often find new partnerships and Ideas spring from these honest conversations.

Nationally, I am a member of a few networks – Locality is one that springs to mind. Their annual convention is coming up in Manchester soon, and if you have any interest in community building and work, come along and connect network of like-minded community organisations are driving an agenda of localism.

And I am also a member of the Community Business Panel at Power to Change, the independent trust supporting community businesses in England – where 15 community business leaders from across England come together every few months to share experiences of running a community business, and help input into the strategy at Power to Change.

At the last meeting an outspoken member of the panel questioned the value of the meeting – and it immediately makes you question the value of the network. There was a fierce debate around the value of our time and whether it is wise to meet even infrequently, when we have so much to do in our own communities. But as I looked around a room full of inspiring leaders, involved in headline grabbing projects and innovative work I thought “isn’t it good to be in the company of people who are outspoken, honest, happy to disagree but still come together time and time again?”

I think the best networks are like family; yes you can fall out, have disagreements but having a common purpose, ‘putting more power and opportunity back into community hands’ keeps you together. It’s important to remember we are all on the same side and together we can present a stronger voice for community business.

Bill Graham,

Manager of New Wortley Community Centre


Talking about networks. If you’re interested in community business, you could join one of the 13 community business peer networks. Whatever you are interested in, from food growing to community volunteering, find the network for you.

And if you are looking for online networks, why not Join the ‘Community Business Network’ on Facebook. A space to ask for advice, share tips, meet other businesses and share news relevant to community businesses.