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Turner Prize win shines light on community business

Last week’s announcement that Assemble has won the 2015 Turner Prize for their collaboration with Granby Four Streets has provoked even more debate than is usual about what is, or isn’t art. I’m not qualified to pass judgement on that but I’m thrilled that a spotlight is being thrown onto community businesses.

Granby Four Streets is now the most high profile example of this growing movement of community businesses in the UK – profit-making businesses run for and by communities, focused on delivering social and economic benefit to their local area.

Granby Four Streets has its roots in the riots that took place in Toxteth in 1981, after which the area went into decline and its housing, services and residents suffered, despite or possibly because the area was subject to a series of top-down attempts at regeneration.

Over the next 20 years, the community of the Four Streets triangle of Beaconsfield, Cairns, Jermyn and Ducie Streets came together to tackle the decline themselves: successfully halting the demolition of their last four remaining original streets in the mid 1990s, cleaning, planting and painting their streets and the 100 odd boarded-up terraced houses in them.

More recently they set up a Community Land Trust, and the streets have really started to come back to life as a result. Builders are renovating the previously empty houses, there is a monthly street market that’s been running for six years and the Community Land Trust is working on renewing the terraces transferred to it from the local council. The grant from our organisation, Power to Change, is also going towards the refurbishment of five of the initial ten houses – and the Trust has its sights on more.

Let’s not forget the power of the small that is so inspiringly

demonstrated by community businesses like Granby Four Streets.

But Granby Four Streets is just one of an estimated five thousand community businesses in England, where communities are responding to a need or opportunity, not by waiting for someone to help them, but by taking their futures into their own hands. That is why Power to Change exists, with £150m endowment from the Big Lottery Fund, to provide that support.

There are some key lessons that Granby and other community businesses demonstrate for anyone considering setting one up:

  • Be local and incremental: Granby Four Streets is literally just that, four streets. The Community Land Trust is rooted to a very particular place, led by and for people who live within that place so any successes the business enjoys is felt by the community. However, considering its modest size, moving from protesting about the local area to winning the Turner Prize has been about taking a large number of small, incremental steps forward, and not being put off by the occasional step backwards. Community businesses are progressive in the literal as well as the social sense.
  • Do it together: If you have an idea to improve your area, it’s vital to bring the community together to make sure the initiative is a community endeavour, rather than championed by a few passionate residents. Granby Four Streets’ Community Land Trust has a rotating board of local residents, members of the local community and stakeholders, ensuring community buy-in and ownership of the Trust.
  • Collaborate: Despite the need to root a community business within an area and be community-led, the successes that Granby Four Streets has enjoyed have come from their ability to identify and secure external expertise and support when needed, from their local authority, Assemble and indeed Power to Change, which helped when they needed a grant to help fund the refurbishment of five empty homes to provide affordable housing for local people.
  • Have a business mindset: The clue is in the name. Sustainability comes from creating viable businesses that generate income to support the overall project, so you can break out of the tiring process of constantly seeking the next pot of money to keep you afloat, particularly at a time where those pots are in short supply.

There is much talk of Northern Powerhouses as a route to regenerating whole cities and regions. Let’s not forget the power of the small and the many that is so inspiringly demonstrated by community businesses like Granby Four Streets.

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