The Plunkett Foundation has announced the 2015 winners of the Rural Community Co-operative Awards at its national networking event on Thursday 25 June in Dunchurch, near Rugby.

Winners include the Anglers Rest co-operative pub in Bamford, Derbyshire; Oldbury on Severn Community Shop in Gloucestershire; Ide Hill Community Shop in Kent and Lyme Regis Development Trust in Dorset. Also recognised was Marian Osborne as the Unsung Hero from Wellow Village Shop in Somerset. Chittlehamholt Community Shop in Devon was voted as the People’s Choice Award winner, which saw over 500 votes being cast.

Judges from the Award sponsors Hastoe Housing Association, WBC, Suma, Co-operative College, Triodos Bank and Ecology selected the final winners from a shortlist and presented them with their prize money of £500 at the ceremony.

The Awards were hosted by Karen Lowthrop of trailblazing woodland social enterprise Hill Holt Wood. Every year, Plunkett Foundation celebrates the most outstanding examples of the rural community co-operative sector. Now in their third year, the Awards showcase the co-operatives that have made a real difference to individuals within their communities, from helping to overcome social isolation and loneliness to addressing specific health issues. They also recognise innovative business practices from both established rural co-operatives and newer enterprises.

Bamford Community Society (the Anglers Rest co-operative pub) in Derbyshire won the Pioneer Award, sponsored by WBC. This award recognises flagship community co-operatives that have done something new or different, have gone above and beyond to inspire others to do something similar and/or have helped the sector to develop. Judges commended the Society for:

• The wide variety of services they offer - Post Office, cafe, pub, retail, IT facilities, WIFI, book swap, dry cleaning, tourist information point, art gallery, secure cycle racks and tools, and even a farmers’ market which supports local producers, integrates a wider part of the community and provides the community with another new service.
• Sector support and development
Hosting and part-organising the community co-operative pubs conference which was attended by 50 people.
Providing support and encouragement to 10 co-operative pub projects and 3 community projects .

Oldbury on Severn Community Shop in Gloucestershire won the One to Watch – The Newcomer Award, sponsored by The Co-operative College. This award sought applications from new community co-operatives established on or after January 2013 that could demonstrate a commitment to community engagement and support alongside a sound financial performance. The Shop, which was established in February 2014, has 181 members and 50 volunteers. Judges commended it for:

• Community engagement – including an annual incentivised questionnaire (10% off voucher), and feedback book
• Financial management and success
Nearly £10,000 profit made in the first year!
Already donated to local organisations
• Support of local businesses – 24 in total, 8 of which are within 2 miles!
• Good management practice - Constantly reviewing their activities
• Support of volunteers – making sure they feel valued
• Involvement of the whole community

Ide Hill Community Shop in Kent won the Business Innovation Award, sponsored by Triodos Bank. This award sought applications from established community co-operatives, established before January 2013, that could demonstrate a commitment to community engagement and support alongside a sound financial performance. Judges commended Ide Hill for:
• Service provision - Good product range and service mix, providing for a wide swathe of the community
• Financial management and success
Funding their move from a shipping container to a new-build through trade, membership and fundraising
Regular monitoring
Good level of profit
• Support of staff and volunteers - incentives for both volunteers and supporters to encourage them to remain involved
• Passion for development, but crucially not at the cost of volunteer fatigue

Lyme Regis Development Trust in Dorset won the Capture your Co-operative – The Film Award, sponsored by Ecology. This award celebrated submissions that used short films to demonstrate the positive impact that community co-operatives make to the lives of individuals and groups within the community. Judges were particularly impressed with:
• Being new, innovative, exciting and wide-reaching
• Connecting local people to their area, and being a sense of unity and pride
• The potential positive economic impact it could have

Chittlehamholt Community Shop in Devon won the People’s Choice Award, sponsored by Hastoe Housing Association. This award saw over 500 votes being cast to determine which exemplary enterprise should be honoured for making a difference to a vulnerable individual or group of people, with particularly reference to helping them overcome social exclusion, physical isolation, health issues or financial hardship. Their nomination, voted for by the public, was as follows:
“Since this Community Shop opened, the volunteers have become a close, supportive group, conscious of the needs of the disadvantaged and quick to respond positively.

Typical of this is the case of Tim and Heather.
They arrived in the village at the time the shop was opening. Heather suffers from MS relying on wheel-chair or motorised mobility scooter. Tim, her husband, is full-time carer. Attracted by the friendly atmosphere in the shop, Heather wanted to be part of this, ie a volunteer. Thanks to her tenacity, some encouragement and re-organisation she was soon behind the counter, serving.

Recognising her limitations, volunteers rallied to support her and maximise her input. This included becoming responsible for the Volunteer Rota. She is always keen to be in the shop and all of this was recognised when she was elected to the Management Committee.
Each Thursday volunteers take Heather to a day-long embroidery and quilting workshop. This provides Tim with respite and a chance to play golf. Heather can pursue her hobby. Other volunteers ensure They have opportunities to socialise.

Heather confides that being appreciated has been a blessing, we notice the difference and importantly, so does her consultant.”

Marian Osborne from Wellow Village Shop Association in Somerset won the Unsung Hero Award, sponsored by Suma. For this award we asked co-operatives to nominate an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to their enterprise and therefore their wider community. The community nominated Marian with the following statement:

“Marian has been the THE constant & much of the inspiration in the growth, sustainability and promotion of the Village Shop. In all seasons and weathers she has been responsible for much of the work that is unseen and unglamorous. But more than that you can be absolutely certain that if Marian is behind the counter you will be assured of a warm and efficient service, if the shop doesn’t have the stock she will make sure you get it, if you have a question about the village or village activities she practically always has the answer.

It’s difficult to sum up her impact as a major influence in village life. Just one of those people who make life pleasanter for everyone she meets with gentle charm and a stunning intellect, totally reliable with impregnable integrity.”

James Alcock, Head of Frontline at the Plunkett Foundation, said: “We are delighted with the response we have had to the Rural Community Co-operative Awards. Entries came from across the UK and from a wide variety of community co-operative types. The judges’ votes were often split due to the calibre of the entries and we’re absolutely delighted to recognise everyone for their fantastic achievements.

He continued: “The awards celebrate all that makes community co-operatives great – their co-operative ethos, their community engagement and their approach to overcoming the problems rural communities face together. We would like to thank everyone who applied as well as overall sponsor Hastoe Housing Association and individual award sponsors for all of their support.”