Community-owned business growth at highest level since the pandemic

Plunkett UK figures show 32 new organisations opened in 2023

More new community-owned businesses opened across the UK in the last calendar year than at any other time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Plunkett UK. 

A report from the national charity, which supports rural community businesses, says that last year showed a 4% increase in the sector, with 32 new entities resulting in a total of 787 community-owned businesses trading by the end of December 2023. The figures also show that the community ownership sector has almost doubled in the last 10 years, with more than 350 new community-owned businesses opening.

“There is an increasing number of resilient, thriving and inclusive rural communities across the country, thanks to the tireless work of a growing network of community-owned businesses, which are supported by Plunkett UK,” said Dominic Hare, CEO of Blenheim Palace, sponsor of Plunkett’s Impact Report 2024.

“Against the odds, the five-year survival rate for community businesses remains an outstanding 99% – more than double Office for National Statistics’ data for small and medium-sized enterprises, which is 44% over the same period. Over 20-plus years, community-owned businesses’ survival rates also remain phenomenally high at 92%. In reality, very few businesses close once they are community-owned.”

Read the full Impact Report 2024 here

The 2024 Impact Report is published at the midway point of Plunkett UK’s five-year strategy, which includes an ambition to grow the community business sector by 20% by 2026, while providing more services and amenities that communities value and need, and enhancing the local economy through localised supply chains and creating access to more employment, training and volunteering opportunities. Tackling climate change and promoting equity, diversity and inclusion are also part of the strategy.

In 2023, Plunkett received 424 enquiries and delivered 606 days of one-to-one support to 260 community businesses, by matching community groups with an expert adviser. In the same year, £2.9m was raised by 3,600 people in rural communities, who bought community shares to help these businesses open last year.

Last year saw 16 pubs, 14 shops and 1 cafe opened by communities, as well as a multipurpose hub – Focus Easington, in County Durham.

Focus Easington is based in Easington Colliery Methodist Chapel, which had been at risk of closure since 2022, and provides key local services to people in need in an area of high deprivation. Working with the Benefact Trust, Plunkett supported the community’s aspiration to see the chapel sympathetically modernised to become an accessible, multifunctional community space offering regular worship alongside youth provision, a lunch club, employability sessions, health and wellbeing services and a community-owned launderette.

Focus Easington provides key local services to people in need

One of the pubs opened was Menter y Glan Ltd, in Powys, Wales, which won  Plunkett’s 2023 Rural Community Business Award for Community Food and Local Supply. The business operates around the ‘farm to fork’ approach using meats, dairy products, vegetables and serving drinks from over 40 local suppliers. 

“Behind every recipe is the story of how that food or drink product (sold at the pub) was crafted,” said Menter y Glan. “We believe this approach not only embeds the local economy into people’s purchasing choices, but it also creates a sense of place and enhances, or in most cases, reconnects people with nature, the seasons and how food is produced.”

Alongside its work with rural communities, 2023 saw a brand refresh for Plunkett UK, and the launch of the charity’s universal business support service.

“Every community business trading at this time is a testament to not only the model but also the thousands of people behind them driving them forward each and every day,” added Dominic Hare.

“Given that there continue to be tough times ahead, we encourage community business leaders to make the most of the valuable advice and support available through Plunkett, and to seek Plunkett’s help every step of the way. You are not alone and are in very good company.”