Plunkett Foundation’s 10th Annual Rural Social Enterprise Conference
Thursday 25 November 2010
Telford International Centre, Telford, Shropshire
The Plunkett Foundation’s Rural Social Enterprise conference was this year on the theme of Better Business. We believe that the combination of positive social impact, economic viability and community engagement unlocks a better form of business in rural communities. Co-operatives, mutuals and social enterprises, ranging from community-owned shops and woodland to co-operative pubs and broadband, have demonstrated that they are sustainable, robust and not only survive but thrive in rural communities facing challenging times.
The conference drew together evidence from across the sector to inspire others to embrace this viable, better form of business, and featured workshops, networking opportunities and inspirational case studies.
After an introduction by Chair Peter Cleasby, Plunkett's Chief Executive, Peter Couchman (right), set the theme for the day, welcoming delegates to a 'new age' of social enterprise - one that is seen not as an alternative form of business, but a better form of business. Drawing attention to the overwhelming statistics relating to current successful models - such as the community-owned shop model - he highlighted the importance of supporting such models, and warned of the very real danger that such enterprising rural communities may be overlooked by the Big Society. Download Peter Couchman's presentation here.
The Commission for Rural Communities' Dr Stuart Burgess also took the stand, reminding delegates of the tough challenges rural communities face in today's world, and proposing that only by solving these issues themselves - problems such as broadband access, transport and affordable housing - can they forge a way forward. Dr Burgess echoed Peter Couchman's warning that more support is needed to enable these communities to help themselves.
An inspirational case study came in the form of Alison Macklin, Shop Manager at Brockweir and Hewelsfield Community Shop and Cafe. Alison spoke candidly about the way in which the two neighbouring communities put Better Business into action and responded to the need of the people by setting up and running what is now a very successful community shop, cafe and workshop venue with IT facilities and even a children's play area. Download Alison's presentation here.
Delegates then broke off into individual workshops. These were:
Co-operative Pubs and how to save your local through community engagement. This workshop welcomed Mike Benner, Chief Executive of the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA), who spoke of how the community-ownership model is becoming an increasingly popular way to stem the flow of pub closures across the country. He welcomed Martin Booth from the George and the Dragon Co-operative Pub in Hudswell, North Yorkshire. Not only is the George and Dragon a fantastic example of a successful co-operative pub, it also provides the community with 10 allotments, a village shop, library and internet access. As an increasing number of people turn to this model to save their local pub, the co-operative movement as a whole has developed a support package, led by the Plunkett Foundation, which is currently being circulated to the 82 communities interested in pursuing this model. CAMRA (http://www.camra.org.uk/) and Pub is the Hub (http://www.pubisthehub.org.uk/) can also offer advice to those communities who feel co-operative ownership is not appropriate for them but still wish to save their local. Download the presentations here:
Changing our behaviour and local food, which welcomed Ian Fitzpatrick who focused on how understanding consumer behaviour can strengthen the role of community food enterprises. He highlighted key ways that behavioural change research could promote better business; by making it easier to buy local food (in terms of access and cost), by helping to shape people's values and promoting local food as part of the mainstream, not a finge activity; by making it personal - by telling the human story of the food production; by helping to join up producers/suppliers and consumers and fostering business partnerships and by linking in to education, increasing people's awareness of food provenance. Making Local Food Work (http://www.makinglocalfoodwork.co.uk) is a five year, £10m BIG Lottery-funded project which is working across the country to reconnect land and people through food. From there, a huge range of resources and support organizations can be accessed. Download the presentation here.
The rural Post Office and Better Business workshop saw Steve Fox from Post Office Ltd (http://www.postoffice.co.uk/portal/po), the conference's main sponsor, outline the new Post Office Essentials model. Essentials, also known as Post Office Local, is currently being trailed across the country and would help community-owned shops to increase their footfall and trade by offering a range of Post Office services from their own till, including a customer collection service, withdrawals/deposits, postal orders, banking, benefit payments, e-top up facilities and customer collection service. The cost to the retailer would be £700, which would include staff training and set-up costs, and research suggests that in the shops who have adopted the model so far, 100% of them have reported seeing new customers.
The role of social enterprise in reviving faith buildings was chaired by Dr Stuart Burgess (left) and heard Wendy Coombey from the Diocese of Hereford talk about the success of Yarpole Community Shop which resides in a church. Yarpole is a great example of using a faith building to consolidate a community’s facilities, encouraging cohesion and maximizing the potential to reinvigorate volunteers. The Diocese of Hereford have developed a toolkit for communities thinking about ways to revive faith buildings called Crossing the Threshold, which can be downloaded from their website at http://www.hereford.anglican.org/churchgoers/community_partnership_and_funding/about_us_and_latest_news/index.aspx, and Churchcare offers information on their website too, at http://www.churchcare.co.uk/develop.php. Download the presentations here:
Following the morning’s workshops was a lunch of local food followed by networking session and the chance for delegates to explore the exhibition stands. Exhibitions came from the following organizations:
Charity Bank - http://www.charitybank.org/
Social Enterprise West Midlands - http://www.socialenterprisewm.org.uk/
Social Enterprise Mark CIC - http://www.socialenterprisemark.org.uk/
Co-operative & Community Finance –
Church of England - http://www.cofe.anglican.org/
National Association of Local Councils - http://www.nalc.gov.uk/
National Care Farming Initiative - http://www.ncfi.org.uk/
The afternoon saw a return to workshops from:
Malcolm Corbett from the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA) delivered a workshop on Providing community broadband in rural areas. He spoke of the current situation – that there are currently 3 million households (10% of UK households) who can only get 2mb per second broadband, and a further 166,000 households with no broadband access at all, relying only on dial-up connection. With 950,000 people working from home in rural areas, this lack of broadband access is clearly a massive problem. The government wants the UK to have the best next generation broadband in Europe by the end of this parliament, but achieving this will require huge investment to lay fibre optic cables across the country, predicted to cost between £6 billion and £25 billion.
So far, investment from BT and the government only amounts to £4 billion. This means an alternative – community – approach to solving the problem is required. There are currently various pilot projects taking place across the country, all of which are making use of the huge potential of communities, for example in Alston Moor in Cumbria (above), in North Yorkshire, Wales and Manchester and even in Sweden. More information about increasing access to broadband can be found on INCA’s website, http://www.inca.coop/. Download the presentation here.
Community-owned shops – the bigger business model was led by the Plunkett Foundation’s James Alcock. James spoke of the pioneering success of this resilient model in reducing shop closures by saving 10% of rural village shops that would otherwise have closed. Their robust legal structure and fair, democratically-elected committee leads to a greater social impact, increasing community awareness and cohesion and reinvesting the profits back into the community. James welcomed Cheswardine Community Shop as a great example of how the community-owned shop model leads to success for the whole community. At Plunkett, James manages the national community shops network (http://www.plunkett.uk.net), a resource bank and information sharing forum as well as a database of all the community-owned shops in the country. Download the presentations here:
Community Land Enterprises and Better Business was delivered by Martin Large from the community-supported agriculture (CSA) project in Stroud and Charlotte Hollins from Fordhall Community Land Initiative, the country’s first ever community-owned farm and education centre that now has over 8,000 landlords. Community Land Trusts represent a better form of business because they increase access to land, food and markets through co-operation and involvement of the whole community. Not only do they provide this now, but future generations will also be able to enjoy all the benefits that community-owned land can deliver, such as housing, farming, orchards, woodland and additional income. Through working the land, the whole community can work together, increasing individual involvement and empowering them as a whole. Fordhall Farm (http://www.fordhallfarm.com/index.php) and Stroud CSA (http://www.stroudcommunityagriculture.org/open-csa.php) are both great examples of this in action. Download the presentation here.
Following the workshops, keynote speaker Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co- operatives UK (left), addressed delegates for the conference’s closing session. In it, he outlined how widespread the co-operative movement has become, with co-operative organizations across the world gaining more and more recognition for being better forms of business. Download Ed's presentation here.
The conference also saw the launch of the Plunkett Foundation's Better Business report, an inspirational guide with practical examples of the ways in which communities are putting the Big Society into action. In it, Peter Couchman issues the Foundation's call for a new approach to business, an approach that embraces the true potential of rural communities. He says:
"Rural communities are facing unprecedented challenges to retain their local services. They are increasingly turning to themselves to solve a range of issues that affect them and they are solving these challenges through enterprise - co-operative, mutual and social enterprise forms of business.
"With the Government's commitment to creating the 'Big Society', more needs to be done to recognise the role that enterprise could play in creating empowered and entrepreneurial communities that are more able to help themselves. We are calling for a 'Business for All' approach, where forms of enterprise that communities own and run are at the forefront of delivering the Big Society."