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When communities ask: 'What if we ran it ourselves?'

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  • Enterprise
  • Social enterprise

Visitors to The Anglers Rest in Bamford, Derbyshire will find it is more than a pub. It also houses a café, shop and post office, but it’s more than the sum of those parts too; The Anglers Rest is a true community hub, owned, run and accountable to the village. Today it provides part time employment for 25 people, full time employment for 3 and has supported a number of staff through training qualifications.

But it could have been a very different story. In 2012 the pub was earmarked for permanent closure and it looked like the locals would lose their village's last drinking establishment, until, that is, someone suggested they buy it and run it themselves.

It is estimated that there are now over 5650 community businesses[1] like this across England: pubs, shops, libraries, sports clubs and more, business which are creating a special kind of impact by engaging local people as creators, not just consumers, of their outputs.

According to Power to Change, the independent charitable trust set up to grow community business across England, these organisations already generate £0.9 billion of income on £1.4 billion of assets and, in recent years of austerity, public funding cuts and service closures, they are flourishing – the sector grew 9% in 2015 alone[2].

But, as the members of the Bamford Community Society know, moving from flash of inspiration to sustainable community business requires serious commitment and a host of skills from those involved. From galvanising the locals to navigating legal hurdles, from identifying Trustees to managing volunteers, leaders within these organisations have to navigate it all, often with very little available time, other commitments or without an experienced network to help them.

With the nature of the state changing and increasing political desire to see 'resilient' communities, able to tackle social challenges, it is vital that organisations like this are supported to grow and develop. However, as we identified through the RSA's Connected Communities study, community businesses, even in the same sector and region, have different skills accessible to them depending on who is involved locally. Therefore investing in the skills of the people who found, run and advise them is just as necessary if we are to realise the benefits that such organisations could bring to communities across England.

That's why the RSA, in partnership with Power to Change, RIO and Sheffield University Management School, have recently launched a programme of practical support for community business leaders who are looking to take their established business to the next phase of development.

The programme will provide core business skills training, from funding to employment law, alongside a focus on personal leadership development tailored to community leaders who understand the importance of a collaborative approach. Crucially, the course is designed to bring together people from different businesses, giving them an opportunity to learn from each other, share their experiences and build their networks. Access to peer-to-peer support from others who have 'been there, done that' is something that Power to Change have identified as a challenge for geographically disparate and resource constrained organisations. As well as group learning, the participants will hear from and visit established community businesses whose experience will help them to put the business theory into context.

Businesses like The Angler's Rest present a unique way of communities shaping their local places and spaces and improving their long term social and economic prospects. Understanding and addressing the challenges community business leaders face is key to enabling these businesses to flourish and encouraging other groups of locals to ask 'What if we ran it ourselves?'

The Community Business Leaders Programme will run in cohorts across the country between now and autumn 2017, the first kicking off in the South West, with expressions of interest open until Sunday 17th April.

If you know anyone involved in a community business, please share this with them.

[1] Power to Change, 'The community business market in 2015'

[2] Power to Change, 'The community business market in 2015'

 

 

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