In May I shared how and why we’re evolving Power to Change’s future role, that we are here to focus on and support community business in the long term. We know community business strengthens local communities. We’ve seen it in action in the time since we were created by The National Lottery Community Fund in 2015 in our role as funder, innovator, advocate, and champion. We have the evidence that community business works. Now, we are looking ahead to the contribution we can and should make, reaffirming our purpose – to help to create the conditions for community business to thrive. We want to see them enabled and supported to tackle issues like the green transition, the cost of living crisis, and decline on our high streets. We’ve spoken to a whole range of people, and what they have told us has helped us to shape our future role and understand more what we need to do and the challenges that we need to think about.
So what are we going to do?
We want to be more grounded in community business. Nice phrase, but what does it mean? We’re still working it out, but we will be working with community businesses and others to understand this in more detail the coming months. We have started by running a listening exercise and have funded a community business-led group to bring other community businesses together for a process of shared learning. But we can and will do more.
Our work will centre on creating the right conditions for community business to thrive. We will work to influence change, evidence impact, and amplify what works. We’ll work alongside community businesses to dismantle the barriers they face and unlock more funding. We see powers, resources and backing as the key areas in which the power of community business can be unlocked and we will focus on delivering against these.
Power. We know power is too distant from communities. Polling for Power to Change across England showed three quarters of people felt they had no or not much control over the important decisions affecting their local area. We need to devolve further power from Whitehall to communities. A major devolution of power to communities – like what we have been advocating for with the We’re Right Here campaign – would enable community businesses to do more alongside their statutory sector partners. Think of the work of organisations like Back on the Map in Sunderland or Future Wolverton near Milton Keynes, great examples of community businesses bringing local stakeholders together to transform their local high streets.
Resources. Getting the right funding at the right time is a constant challenge for community businesses. We know community businesses use the financing they receive in a productive and sustainable way. But gaining access to this funding can be tricky, whether that’s the right sort of government grant, like the Community Ownership Fund or access to patient private and social investment. It can’t be right that community businesses like Hastings Commons have had to secure funding through nearly 100 separate grant, loan and social investment awards.
Backing. One of the biggest challenges for community businesses is the unlevel playing field on which they operate. Enterprising community businesses need the backing and support that more traditional forms of business receive. Think of the tax breaks and venture capital funding that is there to support the growth of traditional forms of business. Such a regime doesn’t exist in the same way for community business and this needs to change. There is little tailored business support for community businesses, which is hampering their ability to fully realise their potential in recharging local economies. With many of the responsibilities of Local Enterprise Partnerships passing to local government, now is the time to think again about business support.
In order to tackle these barriers, we have reshaped our staffing structure and will be further evolving our approach to working with community business so that they can secure the conditions they need to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
We want to thank everyone who has worked with us to test new ways to strengthen local communities and local economies. We’re really excited about the future and the change we will make together creating the conditions for community businesses to thrive. With the right conditions, we know they can play an even bigger role strengthening our local communities.
Watch Tim discuss the future of Power to Change in this short vlog: