How can you build resilience locally? Three principles from the Resilient Communities Fund

June 17, 2024  

How can local authorities, funders and central government build resilient communities, create positive relationships with businesses, and simultaneously deliver impact across multiple priorities and themes?

New Local reviewed Power to Change’s Resilient Communities Fund (RCF) – a £1.3m emergency grant funding programme for community businesses to become more resilient to both climate change and the cost-of-living crisis. As we launch our findings, Imran Hashmi outlines three principles for local authorities to strengthen their support for community businesses.

By backing community businesses, local authorities can support a variety of local societal goals and objectives

Our review found that the most common type of impact experienced by supported community businesses was social and community impact, although many experienced other forms of important impact too, including financial and environmental.

Social and community impact included things like increased use of their buildings by the community, particularly warm spaces during the cost-of-living crisis, and increased community engagement. We heard from businesses that because of RCF support, they were able to continue to operate and provide space for a wide range of community uses. We heard examples of community pubs becoming busier because the RCF allowed them to retain and hire more staff, and community cafes able to continue offering subsidised warm drinks for residents.

We were able to open up our ICT cafe for longer periods during the day. Additionally, we were able to provide a “warm” space for locals who needed a space during the cold months, along with a hot drink.

Community business

Financial support that is flexible, non-prescriptive and simple has many positive returns

The RCF was designed as a relatively simple and light touch support programme – with minimal administrative requirements for businesses, particularly at the application stage. This is critical for time and resource strapped businesses.

Crucially, supported community businesses were free to use the funding in any way they saw fit, and given many of them have longstanding connections and relationships to their place, they were best placed to understand what type of investment would deliver the most important impact for their business and community. Many supported businesses used funding for core costs and working capital (bills, wages), without needing to provide justification. This led to a feeling of empowerment for supported businesses and helped build a mature relationship between funder and business. A relationship based on flexibility, understanding and trust.

This is one of the key factors in how the fund has managed to deliver on multiple priorities and impact across a range of themes, with the flexible funding allowing them to be freed from the day-to-day challenges of running their businesses (particularly financial) and providing them with headroom to focus on delivering more services and support to their communities.

It felt like a really mature relationship between business and funder. I know best how to run my business, and I felt empowered that they left me to use the funding in the best way possible for me and my community.

Community business

Tailored capacity support can complement funding – but it should be optional

The capacity support provided by the RCF was entirely optional and not a condition of receiving funding. This support was offered in a variety of ways, from more light touch materials available online, to webinars, to more intensive and bespoke one-to-one advice.

By being given the option to choose whether to access the support, many businesses felt this continued the open, flexible and mature approach of the fund. It was up to them to decide if they wanted to use it or not. We found that because of this, those who did access support did so intentionally, with a specific purpose and interest, which led to it being extremely effective and useful for them.

Our full review of the RCF provides further detail and lessons on how the fund was designed, delivered and its impact, with a specific focus on building resilience to the energy and cost-of-living crises. It provides yet more compelling evidence that shifting power to communities – by supporting community businesses to continue to deliver important services – can lead to both positive outcomes for businesses and the economy, but also a wider range of positive outcomes for society.

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