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‘Revolutionary’ scheme hands power back to communities

A new £8m programme has been launched, aimed at creating clusters of community economic development across England.

The Empowering Places programme, funded by Power to Change, will support seven local areas over the next five years to catalyse new networks of community businesses, through a mix of grants, support and practical tools.

Co-operatives UK will deliver the programme in partnership with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, New Economics Foundation and Kineo.

Analysis by the Power to Change estimates there are currently around 5000 community businesses in the UK, a growth of 5% since last year. A report on the government-backed community economic development programme, published last week, revealed a growing desire among local groups for greater control of the local economy, but found many feel they lack legitimacy and power.

The seven catalyst areas and organisations that will receive support include the Real Ideas Organisation (RIO) and Millfields Trust in Plymouth.

The Real Ideas Organisation is a social enterprise that encourages micro-enterprises, coops and social businesses in the Stonehouse and Devonport areas of Plymouth. They have taken over a number of buildings, including the derelict Devonport Guildhall, turning them into spaces that support start-ups and social enterprises and create jobs and prosperity for the community.

The Empowering Places programme will help RIO in its plans to grow the local community business sector, and will monitor the impact on employment and wellbeing. Over the coming years the organisation will aim to strengthen its links with the local community and help community business to become a natural path for many, supported by a local ecosystem of start up and development support, investment opportunities and local partnerships.

Lindsey Hall of RIO said: ‘Having been involved in piloting the programme and now being nearly a year in, we have already seen how transformative it can be for individuals to have support to realise ideas they have dreamt about, sometimes for years.

‘It is also having a positive effect on the eco-system of community economic development, building new networks and ways of working to tackle issues that have festered for years’.

Organisations in Bradford, Grimsby, Hartlepool, Leicester, Luton and Wigan will also be supported under the scheme.

Vidhya Alakeson, chief executive of Power to Change said: ‘Empowering Places is the first of our three place-based programmes to launch and probably our most revolutionary. By working at grass-roots level, we will be truly handing over the power for economic regeneration to local communities. The results are already highly promising in Plymouth and we have high expectations of the programme’s roll-out’.

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