Keeping it Local: Challenges & opportunities faced by community businesses

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Mick McGrath, Development Officer at Locality, discusses the challenges & opportunities faced by community businesses.

I was asked to pen a blog and so I have, with well-known catch phrases from Dad’s Army (in case you wonder!)

We’re Doomed, Doomed!

The UK is losing over 4,000 publicly owned buildings and spaces every year. Once they are gone they are gone. Save our Spaces is Locality’s campaign to save our much-loved publicly owned buildings and spaces from being sold off for private use.

Locality’s Keep it Local campaign is aiming to turn the tide on bureaucratic commissioning and big outsourcing contracts. This prevailing way of doing things means poor quality, tick box services that fail to resolve people’s problems. Demand continues to rise and money flows out of the local economy.

Whilst I’m at it, it’s increasingly normal for organisations to have to deal with more demand and less resource for their services, struggling to attract and retain staff and trustees, access the skill sets they need to adapt and grow, and deal with change. The list goes on…

Don’t Panic, Don’t Panic!

But there are positives to be found too. It’s sometimes lonely out there and we don’t talk so much these days. Attending get-togethers like Charity Bank’s Road to Growth events and meeting kindred spirits are often the first things to get dropped as people face the challenges and hunker down.

New perspectives and approaches are so important to share. Locality run peer exchange visits and Power of Community events for our members to provide people with headspace. Having time to talk and meet people to share ideas is so important, not to mention good for wellbeing. So I look forward to seeing lots of you at the Road to Growth event in Derby.

Do you think that’s wise, Sir?

I see the best and the worst of the sector in stressful circumstances. Locality run a service called Lifeboat which seeks to save organisations which are floundering. The most important asset in this instance is time to be able to address the issues often linked to understanding finances. People are sometimes scared to ask for help, don’t know how to address the problem or are in denial. My experience is that funders want to assist and protect their investment, but speed is key. Locality also has Lighthouse, which uses a diagnostic questionnaire to spot the warning signs before a crisis hits.

Too many organisations do not fully appreciate or understand their Unique Selling Point (USP) and impact. The sector has historically been slow to shout about its achievements. There are so many easy ways to do this now through social media and online tools.

Sometimes business plans and accounts can be seen as a “must get around to” task or looked at every few years. It is about having them in a format that works for you and so are used regularly in reporting by officers and trustees.

(Don’t) Put that light out!

A positive example that encapsulates these collective thoughts, is Stonebridge City Farm in Nottingham. Less than a year ago it looked like they were going to have to close due to limited finances and an unclear vision.

In response to this they began a fundraising campaign which has surpassed their 30k target. This showed the group that there is so much affection for their farm which they had little appreciation of and that the community does not want to see the farm close because they value it so highly.

They also accessed Lifeboat support which allowed the CEO and trustees to understand the issues. They agreed a new path and are now clear on the organisational direction. The CEO, who came from the private sector, is driven by a desire to “make a difference” and applied several business approaches whilst keeping the charity’s purpose and ethos. They are a good example of a community business.

Stonebridge City Farm is not out of the woods yet - but they now have a change management approach, increasing confidence, clear direction, values and strong leadership, as well as a passionate and engaged staff and trustees, income and diversification approaches and a good story to tell. They’re in great shape to thrive going forwards.

There will continue to be change and challenge but there will also be opportunities. For example, we continue to see more community asset transfers of public land and buildings happening, community-led housing schemes in development and communities taking ownership of their areas through Neighbourhood Plans which allow for local control and ownership.

We are not doomed!

The views on this page are of Locality.

Locality is an event partner of Charity Bank’s Road to Growth events, a series of free regional events exclusively for leaders of charities and social enterprises as part of our commitment to support the social sector.

The half-day sessions this September and October will provide insight on the state of the social sector at a time of change. Panelists will share research and insights on the challenges and opportunities that exist and give examples of how charities and social enterprises are responding.

Road to Growth