Rural charity celebrates record year for communities

A rural charity is celebrating a record year for community enterprise. More communities than ever are exploring community ownership as a way of saving shops and pubs, according...

A rural charity is celebrating a record year for community enterprise. More communities than ever are exploring community ownership as a way of saving shops and pubs, according to the Plunkett Foundation.

The Foundation’s Impact Report shows 924 communities from across the UK contacted it for support in 2012. Despite tough economic times, 25 new community-owned shops opened, two more than in 2011, bringing the total number to 303. Four co-operative pubs also opened.

The enquiries the Foundation received covered a wide range of rural activities including food and farming, libraries, bookshops, fisheries, watermills, broadband solutions, village halls, cafés and community hubs.

Peter Couchman, Plunkett Foundation’s Chief Executive, said: “The increase in the number of communities contacting us for support is a clear indication that rural communities are becoming increasingly confident in tackling challenges using community ownership. The fact that no community shops closed this year also illustrates the sustainable nature of the model, and, in fact, over the past 25 years, only 13 community shops have ever closed.”

Of the 25 shops to open in 2012, Plunkett worked with 21 of them throughout their process of setting up. Eighteen used Plunkett’s bespoke model rules for an Industrial and Provident Society for the Benefit of the Community, which allows the raising of money through community shares.

The south-west of England saw the greatest level of growth with ten new community shops, followed by the south-east with six.

The Green Man in Toppesfield became the first co-operative pub to open in the east of England, and Saith Seren in Wrexham became the fourth to open in Wales, which now has the highest concentration of community pubs in the UK.

The Co-operative Group’s Enterprise Hub has been working with the Foundation and in 2012 it provided business advice to help 59 communities establish a co-operative or help an existing one to thrive.

Added Mr Couchman: “2012 saw the 14th co-operative pub opening and a further 50 communities exploring community ownership as a way of saving their local. At a time that’s seeing around 18 pubs close a week, co-operation is clearly a solution and we want to encourage even more people to consider it."

The report also details how the Foundation’s work will continue thanks to a major new grant. In 2012 the Village CORE programme, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and delivered in partnership with Co-operative and Community Finance and Lankelly Chase, came to a close. During its six years the programme supported 90 new shops, 89 of which are still open and trading, with a combination of grant and loan finance and business support.

In November the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation announced a further £454,000 award to Plunkett. This will enable it to continue supporting rural communities to open community-owned hubs, from shops and pubs to food enterprises, over three years.

Publication of the 2012 Impact Report coincides with a new campaign from Plunkett Foundation promoting community ownership to a wider audience. New support including an advice line and an online network to help communities save their local pub has launched as part of the Community Ownership Campaign.

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