COMMUNITY-owned village shops are the fastest growing social enterprise form in England today, according to recent research conducted for the Small Business Service by the Plunkett Foundation.
The sector has grown from a standing start 15 years ago to now around 150 individual enterprises, and is growing at an approximate rate of 20 new shops each year.
Research from the Foundation has showed they are sustainable businesses drawing on volunteer labour and community commitment to create a business model which works in an environment where privately owned village shops appear to be failing.
Research discovered typical shop results in substantial social benefits for the community far in excess of the actual services they provide.
Many shops act as social meeting points for isolated rural residents, a source of information, and even a stepping stone for the re-entry of vulnerable residents into the local labour market.
Plunkett's recent merger with the Village Retail Services Association, a charity established specifically to promote and support community retailing, is set to give a further boost to the growth and development of this proven social enterprise model.
The two organisations are now working together to promote the benefits of rural community retailing to rural policy makers whilst continuing to support rural communities on the ground to establish new enterprises.