THE Plunkett Foundation, the long-established rural affairs charity and co-operative think tank, has announced a full merger with the Village Retail Services Association (ViRSA).
The trustees of both charities have decided to merge activities following a period of working closely together.
The move will enable the resources and expertise of both Plunkett and ViRSA to be used to promote and develop community-owned village stores as the most rapidly growing sub-sector of social enterprise in rural Britain.
Since its establishment just over ten years ago, ViRSA have supported the establishment of around 150 community-owned stores as a practical way through which small rural communities can save the last shop in their village.
Many of these shops have become the heart of their communities, providing essential services and acting as a focal point for community interaction. Almost all community-owned shops have succeeded, showing that community enterprise can work where private enterprise sometimes struggle.
Plunkett and ViRSA will now try to enable more communities to save their shops and to further develop existing community-owned stores.
The Plunkett Foundation ? established by the late visionary Anglo- Irish agricultural co-operator and social entrepreneur Sir Horace Plunkett ? is recognised as the UK's leading centre of expertise on community and social enterprise in rural areas, and is a major supporter of these initiatives through their current Rural Revival campaign.
Following the merger, the ViRSA head office has moved from Dorset and is now established in Plunkett's new Oxfordshire offices in Woodstock.
The ViRSA name and current mode of operation will be retained under the Plunkett umbrella - including its national network of fieldworkers. Plunkett will bring its 85-years of experience to bear in deciding how best to scale up the ViRSA's achievements to date and build on the charity's efforts and successes.
The Trustees of both organisations are enthusiastic about the development, with David Button, Plunkett chairman commenting: `Plunkett have always believed that rural communities can solve their own problems through enterprise-based community self-help. Community owned village shops are one of the best examples of this proven model in England today`.
Susan Knox, ViRSA's chair, added: `The tie-up with Plunkett is the perfect way for ViRSA to take forward the achievements of the past ten years. Through this new relationship we aim to double the number of community-owned village shops in the next five years.`