Supporting community businesses at every step - what are we learning?

Over the next two years, Renaisi are evaluating three of Power to Change’s programmes: Bright ideas, Trade Up and Community Business Fund. Annabel Litchfield reflects on five key findings from their first analysis of the application and assessment data for these programmes, and what we are learning about supporting community businesses at every stage of their lives.

  • Trade Up attracts fewer applicants, but has the highest success rate

646 organisations applied to Trade Up over the first three rounds, with almost a third successful (209). On the other hand, both Bright Ideas and Community Business Fund attracted well over 1,000 applicants since they both began in 2016 (1,299 and 1,696 respectively). However, only 147 and 158 were successful for Bright Ideas and Community Businesses Fund respectively, a success rate of 11% and 9%.

Table 1: Applications and grants of Bright Ideas, Trade Up and Community Business Fund

Could openness of the programmes be one of the reasons why Trade Up has fewer, but more successful, applicants? Bright Ideas[1] and Community Business Fund[2] have more flexible application criteria than Trade Up[3] and are therefore more “open”.

This “openness” could have an impact on the number, and success rate, of applicants. Firstly, the pool of possible applicants is a lot smaller for Trade Up than Bright Ideas and Community Business Fund, which leads to fewer applicants. Secondly, being more open leads to more speculative applications, which both increases the number of applicants, but may also increase the number of applicants that are more likely to be unsuccessful.

  • All three programmes support Community Businesses across all regions of England

Bright Ideas, Trade Up and Community Business Fund all support community businesses across every region of England. Across all three, the highest proportion of applicants come from the North West, South West and Greater London. Fewer applicants came from the East Midlands, East of England and the North East.

Chart 1: Percentage of successful and unsuccessful applicants by Region, all three programmes

Focusing in on the Community Business Fund we find some interesting regional insights. Three regions were over-represented in successful applications: Greater London (19% successful vs. 13% unsuccessful), South West (19% vs. 14%) and Yorkshire and Humber (15% vs. 11%). On the other hand, 11% of unsuccessful applicants were located in the South East, compared to 2% of successful applicants. There may be a number of reasons for this, but one may be the selection of applicants based on IMD score, which we explore further in our next finding.

Chart 2: Percentage of successful and unsuccessful applicants by region, Community Business Fund
  • Over 50% of successful applicants are in the 30% most deprived areas of England

56% of successful applicants to the three programmes are in the 30% most deprived areas of England, as defined by the Index of Multiple Deprivation[4].

Chart 3: Percentage of successful and unsuccessful applicants by IMD decile, all three programmes

What’s especially interesting here is that for the Community Business Fund, 61% of successful applicants are in the 30% most deprived areas of England compared to 44% of unsuccessful applicants. This reflects the fact that the assessment stage of the Community Business Fund is skewing towards selecting applicants from more deprived areas.

Chart 4: Percentage of successful and unsuccessful applicants by IMD decile, Community Business Fund

This isn’t surprising, given Power to Change use applicants’ postcodes to access relevant statistics and data about local areas to help understand the needs of the communities your business serves, and IMD can be used as an indicator of greater need in a community.

  • Successful applicants are most likely to be community hubs

Across all three programmes, 46% of successful applicants are Community hubs, facilities or spaces, compared to 30% of unsuccessful applicants. In contrast, organisations in health, care or wellbeing and employment, training, business support or education are typically under-represented in the pool of successful applicants.

Chart 5: Percentage of successful and unsuccessful applicants by sector, all three programmes

Delving a bit deeper, the most pronounced differences between the sector of successful and unsuccessful applicants can be found in Trade Up. 44% of successful applicants are community hubs, compared to 14% of unsuccessful applicants. This raises a number of questions: are people from community hubs better at writing applications? Are community hubs more likely to have an obvious way that they can increase income through trading? Do community hubs find it easier to fit in to Power to Change’s criteria? The next stages of the evaluation will seek to explore these.

  • Most applicants seek to achieve impact through improved health and wellbeing

When applying to Trade Up and Community Business Fund[5], organisations are asked to reveal their primary area of impact. For both programmes, the most cited primary impact area was improved health and well-being. In contrast, very few applicants (both successful and unsuccessful) noted improved local environment or reduced social isolation as their primary impact area.

Chart 6: Percentage of successful and unsuccessful applicants by expected primary impact area, Trade Up (left hand side) and Community Business Fund (right hand side)

That being said, many applicants revealed more than one impact area, and it is not always the case that the impact you hope to achieve is the impact you actually achieve. A key part of our evaluation will be to investigate the impact successful applicants achieved, particularly the impact of the Community Businesses on people and place.

Find out more

Whilst these are our top five findings from our initial piece of data analysis on the application data of Bright Ideas, Trade Up and Community Business Fund, many more insights can be found, and explored, in our data visualisation here.

[1] Bright Ideas provides advice and a small amount of revenue funding to develop, test and get to the stage of launching a community business

[2] Community Business Fund helps community businesses grow and become more financially sustainable

[3] Trade Up is aimed at supporting the growth of community businesses with a focus on increasing their sales and income from trading

[4] The English indices of deprivation measure relative deprivation in small areas in England called lower-layer super output areas. The index of multiple deprivation is the most widely used of these indices. More can be found here:

[5] Bright Ideas applicants are not asked this question upon application.

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