How are community businesses improving the wellbeing of local communities?

As part of Power to Change’s Open Call for research, we funded the What Works Centre for Wellbeing to review of all the best evidence on how community businesses may contribute to wellbeing. Amelia Byrne is the Research Officer at Power to Change, managing commissioned and grant-funded research into the community business sector. 

Why do we look at wellbeing outcomes?

By understanding how community businesses could improve wellbeing, we can better understand the overall influence that a business is having in an area – whether intended or not. This helps to make the case for community business – showcasing why they’re important and what they offer. This evidence review confirms what we know about community businesses anecdotally; they do have a positive impact on community wellbeing.

How do community businesses improve wellbeing?

Three key ways that community businesses work to improve community wellbeing are by engaging with the local community, developing the skills of local people, and strengthening community infrastructure. These processes nicely reflect the values found at the heart of community businesses.

Engagement with the local community is vital to community businesses’ success, allowing businesses to adapt and shift to meet local needs. Outside of the services they run, these businesses provide opportunities for local people to get involved. This could be as a customer or beneficiary, as a volunteer, or a member of staff. Getting involved can reduce social isolation and enhance social relations.

Community businesses are great at focusing on developing the skills of local people. This often leads to increased confidence in communities – improving individual wellbeing and employment prospects which lead to a stronger local economy.

Community businesses operate services or premises which are often not commercially viable. These services provide vital lifelines to communities. Through strengthening community infrastructure in this way, community businesses work to improve local neighbourhood environments, making them better places to live.

What wellbeing outcomes are we seeing?

The review highlights that across sectors, regions, and services operated by community businesses, wellbeing outcomes remain prominent. Key outcomes experienced at a local level include community wellbeing, community involvement, enhanced neighbourhood environment, enhanced social relations and reduced social isolation.

There are however, as noted in the review, significant risks posed to community businesses which may negatively impact community wellbeing. These focus around capacity and sustainability of businesses: recruitment and management of staff and volunteers, management and transfer of assets, availability of funding, and conflicts between obtaining funding and the values of the community business. These factors negatively influence wellbeing outcomes by restricting or stopping the community business from running, preventing the opportunity to achieve the outcomes it may when it is functional.

Now more than ever, when community connection is needed to maintain our spirits during lockdown, community businesses are facing uncertain times ahead. The impacts of this, whilst entirely unknown at this point, may ultimately influence the wellbeing of local communities. If you’re able to support your local community businesses during this time, do. Help to keep them running so the community can continue to reap the wellbeing benefits after COVID-19.

If you’d like to learn more about the wellbeing outcomes of community businesses found within this review, read the full report here.

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