Three keys to thriving community businesses

June 21, 2023   By Tim Davies-Pugh

Community businesses can reap huge dividends for local areas. But how do we unlock their potential? And what role can local government play in this? Power to Change’s Chief Executive Tim Davies-Pugh sets out his stall.

At Power to Change we know community business can breathe new life into communities – we see and hear this every day – and given the opportunity (although many community businesses make their own opportunities) we know they can play a significant role in recharging local economies.

At Stronger Things last month, I joined a panel discussion centred around what is needed to support community business in recharging their local economy, alongside Cllr Doug Pullen, Leader of Lichfield Council, Immy Kaur, Co-founder and Director of Civic Square, and Tony Burton, Chair of the Power to Change board.

Sitting on the stage looking out at the people (in the audience and online) driving the community power movement forward, it was clear that the answer is right there. Talent and power exist everywhere, but the opportunity to realise and exercise it is not spread equally.

So what can we do? The answer lies across three areas: power, partnership and resources.

  1. Power
    Power is too distant from communities. Polling for Power to Change across England showed three quarters of people felt they had no or not much control over the important decisions affecting their local area. Why not devolve power further away from Whitehall into communities?

    Local and regional government play a vital role in empowering communities. By incorporating the strategic case for supporting community business (like Back on the Map in Sunderland, a great example of a community business bringing local stakeholders together to transform their local high streets) into their economic development plans, they can ensure communities have the resources they need to build a thriving social economy. Community businesses are also more likely to employ local people and more of the money spent in them stays local.
  2. Partnerships
    Strong partnerships can facilitate the exchange of knowledge and learning, harnessing the power that resides in communities. Local authorities are ideally placed to bring stakeholders together in support of community development, but they need to spend time and effort nurturing partnerships with the social economy in their area to achieve this.

    We would like to see the formation of new neighbourhood governance arrangements, such as community covenants, to establish an innovative new way of working between communities and local government that enables cooperation and sustainability. We’ve already seen this partnership in action with Centre4 a vibrant community hub in Grimsby, where a close-knit partnership with the local council has boosted civic engagement in the area.  
  3. Resources
    There is little tailored business support for community businesses, something that needs to change if they are to fully realise their potential in recharging local economies. Local authorities can influence the market to help community businesses access business support and finance that suits them. The best business support for community business is local, tailored, bespoke and delivered by trusted people who understand and have experience of the social economy, ensuring learning continues to flow within the community. 

Through power, partnerships, and resources we can tackle the barriers facing community business. 

At Power to Change we understand the barriers community businesses face and know local and combined authorities have an important role to play in supporting them, as part of the social economy. Alongside local and regional government we can build strong partnerships to help community business thrive. It’s time to level the playing field by growing the resources and capacity communities have. 

Power to Change is the independent trust that strengthens communities through community business.  Find out more about how they use their knowledge of community business to help local economies to thrive.   

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