Could community ownership be the key to saving local pubs and shops?

In March 2021, the UK Government announced the launch of a new £150m fund to support community-owned businesses. With the first round of bidding about to begin, we take a look at the idea and how it might work in the post-Covid environment.

Owned and run by their members, the number of community-owned businesses has grown steadily over the last two decades. In 2001 there were 67 community shops and 4 such pubs in the UK.

Today 399 shops and 150 pubs form part of more than 700 businesses run for the benefit of their local areas, helping to promote social cohesion and fostering a sense of pride among residents.

They exist to ensure businesses can keep operating where they may otherwise have been under threat, sometimes becoming the last pub or small shop in a village or town. The effects can be transformative, with failing businesses turned around to become valuable local assets.

Interest has grown significantly during the last eighteen months. According to the Plunkett Foundation, a national charity that supports and campaigns on behalf of community businesses and provides advice, training, and networking, as many as 14 new shops and 12 pubs opened in 2020. These figures are incredibly positive when considered against the backdrop of the pandemic and all of its attendant challenges. The charity has seen a 50% increase in inquiries over the period.

people eating inside of cafeteria during daytime

Liz Woznicki, communications manager at the Plunkett Foundation explained further: ‘They can have both paid members of staff and volunteers. They go above and beyond providing basic service and provide a wide range of additional services, such as post offices and cafes, meeting rooms etc. Additionally, they become a hive of community and voluntary activity. They promote inclusion, help with loneliness, and look after the most vulnerable in society They help create employment and training opportunities.’

Throughout the crisis, their immense value has been very clearly demonstrated with many becoming a focal point for their area. The number of community shop volunteer workers has jumped from a pre-pandemic figure of approximately 7000 to over 12000, as businesses have diversified to provide food deliveries and support to those most in need.

As well as pubs and small shops, community businesses include farms, woodlands, bookshops, and even distilleries. Although often associated with quiet, rural places, they exist in a wide variety of locations and benefit all manner of communities.

The model produces high rates of success. Ninety-five percent of community businesses survive and The Plunkett Foundation is aware of only one pub that has permanently closed since becoming community-run.

Funding under the package will be available across the UK. Although there are no definitive criteria, according to the website bids could include cinemas, galleries, music venues, and museums along with the more traditional pubs and shops.

Speaking about the scheme, Liz Woznicki told us, ‘We believe that the Community Ownership Fund will provide a valuable lifeline to many community groups and we are working with many communities to take advantage of the new scheme as soon as it becomes available.’

Photo by Toa Heftiba


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