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Since June twelve inspiring individuals from ten community businesses in the South West have been taking part in the first cohort of our Community Business Leaders Programme. This is a unique opportunity for people involved in community businesses in England to receive expert training. We cover all areas from finance to strategy, whilst developing and reflecting on their own leadership style and skills. At the end of the course, participants leave with the tools to help make their organisations more sustainable and impactful. Applications for the next cohort are open now. Find out more and apply today.

The Power to Create comes from good leadership. This is what we’ve seen from our community business leaders and the organisations they are part of. In spite of political and economic upheaval these people are making the places we live better and brighter. What unites them is their passion to make change for the better and to work with their communities to put collective ideas into action.

As our course in the South West comes to an end, what has the group learnt from being involved?

1. Being a leader is not about “being the boss”

“I’ve come to understand leadership in a different way. At first I didn’t think of myself as a leader and wasn’t sure about applying for the course. But I realise now that leadership it is about the way we work with others to put ideas into action. It’s also about defining boundaries and making decisions about what to do and what not to do.”

At the start of the course many of the participants expressed discomfort at referring to themselves as a ‘leaders’. Its not surprising, the images we are fed of leaders and leadership rarely reflect the different forms it can take. The newly elected US President may be going against the grain politically but he is certainly of this conventional ‘great man’ mould.  

But this is only one style. The leadership we are talking about is plural and diverse, and is being enacted by people in the roles of chief executive and volunteer, and everywhere in between. It’s about a way of being and doing; something everyone can do and something everyone can get better at.

2. Building in ‘time out’ pays back

Running a community business is no mean feat. Balancing paid and unpaid work, managing volunteers, getting to grips with governance and finance, business planning etc. all whilst keeping the wheels turning day to day takes time and energy. Squeezing in time for reflection is not easy; for most of the South West cohort fitting this course in was a challenge, but one which paid dividends.

“This programme has given me the time out to think. It’s enabled me to go back to my colleagues each time with an idea or a ‘starter for 10’ to get our thinking moving forward. We were already planning to refresh our business strategy but being on the programme has sped up the process, and we’ve become more coherent talking about our strengths.”

“The level of creativity that regular time out has brought me has been very beneficial for us. I now need to find a way of embedding that space in my regular routine.”

3. Inspiration is all around us

“I was inspired by the Independents for Frome. I’ve been thinking more about what enables a town to do something like this, and what can be achieved when organisations like ours work together.”

We designed this programme to make the most of the innovative work already taking place in communities across the South West. Each training session took part in a different town, enabling the participants to gather inspiration and learn from others: In Frome we saw how an independent town council is empowering the local area; the Director of the Eden Project talked with great honesty and insight into the challenges they have faced; and at Devonport Guildhall we saw how our partners RIO are working with the community to revitalise an area with a changing economic history.

With examples like Granby Four Streets and Bamford Community Society, we look forward to being inspired by more projects in the Midlands and Northern England with the next cohort.

4. We can’t do it alone

“Our organisation has had some significant challenges recently. Being part of a supportive group has helped. There were times when I thought, ‘How long before the next session?!’ Sharing ideas and practical tips has been re-energising.”

For everyone involved, us included, it was the people that made this programme. Each participant and expert brought his or her own experiences and skills to bear as the course developed. People involved in community business are doing it because they care deeply about those around them and want to help make things better for their community. Living up to those aims and ambitions can be exhausting and emotionally draining. Having a group of people around you who share the same challenges helps. The emotional support provided by peers who are going through the same experience helps participants deal with tricky issues and offers them the confidence to take the next step for their business.

What next?

A lot has happened for our community businesses over the last 6 months: moving to better premises, completing building projects, writing new business plans and hiring new staff. And there will be plenty more advances over the next year - we haven’t seen the half of what these innovative businesses can achieve.

As for us, we’re preparing for the next course, which will run in northern England from January to June 2017, and are looking for 24 individuals from community businesses to take part.

So, if you are from an established community business and want to develop your skills to support your organisation and community, and meet likeminded pioneers then sign up below to receive further information, contact josie.warden@rsa.org.uk, or listen in to our FAQs webinar on Thursday 17th Nov 1-2pm.

Deadline for applications 9am 12th December

The Community Business Leaders Programme is a partnership between RSA, Power to Change, Real Ideas Organisation and Sheffield University Management School.

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