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Community Businesses and the power of communities – one year on

22 November 2022 · Categories: Communities Care, Innovators Learn

Over the last year, our community business project has explored the potential of community businesses to offer more care options within their communities. The fantastic Naomi Sampson supported our project on an outplacement funded by Power to Change. Here are her reflections on the project and what we’ve learnt…

The power of communities

Wow, what a year! It’s been great to connect with over 40 community businesses and enterprises, especially visiting in person, as well as via online calls. I’m super impressed at how, despite rising costs, struggles to recruit staff and secure grant income, community businesses keep going. 95% of the community businesses who engaged in the project already deliver health and care outcomes, either formally or informally including:

  • activities to boost physical and mental wellbeing
  • activities to socialize, or learn new skills
  • employment opportunities
  • volunteering opportunities so people can get involved in their community

We’ve met inspiring community businesses championing new models that value both staff and people receiving care, on equal positive terms. Our story about Co-operative Care Colne Valley (CCCV) is a great example of a caring community coming together to champion a community-led and owned care model.

Key themes and learning about community businesses

Group of people in a community centre / community business. Some people are wheelchair users, some people are standing.Community businesses employ an average of 10 people, so they are often not much bigger than community micro-enterprises (CMEs), but they often reach a larger number of people due to the breadth of their activities. The term ‘community business’ is still not widely known or understood, and even community businesses themselves won’t necessarily describe themselves as a community business. We also found speaking to community businesses, that many of their needs and challenges, are the same as smaller community enterprises.

The project has highlighted that it’s important to look at the function, not form, initially and no one type of business can cater for everyone.

Being locally rooted and involving local people in co-producing a range of quality person-centred choices will create more locally responsive solutions of varying sizes.

Times are still tough for community business following the Covid-19 pandemic. Rising costs and the lack of resources to explore diversifying offers to create more personalised choices, that are also viable in the current market, are key challenges. Many community businesses already work closely with statutory partners, however these relationships can sometimes be frustrating.

With these challenges comes creativity.

Paint pots stacked up in front of a graffiti sign that says ‘repaint’We’ve seen community businesses, such as Bradford Organics Communities Service, finely balance income from multiple sources including contracts, grants and trading, to provide an integrated inclusive offer to local people. It demonstrates what can be achieved pooling or linking budgets from different sectors and different parts of the health and care system to achieve shared goals.

Helping community-led businesses flourish

The project provided support to 22 of the community businesses we connected with, including sharing links to practical resources such as our Marketing Guide, Small Good Stuff, learning and funding opportunities and examples of good practice.

It was great to connect people from different parts of the country to learn from each other and swap practical tips and ideas.

It takes time (sometimes over 2 years), energy and resources to help new community businesses get started. Having the supportive local systemic conditions and culture helps community businesses, and community enterprises emerge, survive and thrive. We know that places that commit time, leadership and resources to asset-based approaches will help unleash potential within communities.

Connecting and collaboration catalyses change

An older man is stood outside in front of a field and trees. He is wearing outdoor walking clothing. He is smiling and holding his thumb up.Community businesses, particularly community anchor organisations, are often a key ingredient of strong caring communities, helping people to help each other. There is more potential, with the right conditions and support, for community businesses to offer more choice to individuals as part of a diverse range of local options that can:

  • Keep people well and enable them to live in their own homes for longer
  • Help people come together, make friends and be part of their community, reducing isolation
  • Create good jobs
  • Create volunteering opportunities and employment opportunities for disabled people and people with learning disabilities
  • Generate wealth locally and keep it local

With strategies for greater integration across the health and care system, including Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), comes the opportunities to bring people together from different parts of systems, including people with lived experience and community assets, to develop shared visions.

Key to this is the ability to identify and join ‘dots’ (the gifts, talents and range of assets, including community enterprises and businesses), that can co-produce solutions to create quality choices for local people to live happier healthier lives.

Fortunately, Community Catalysts loves building bridges between communities, local authorities and local health systems to unlock new opportunities (see Innovators Learn for details).

Next steps

A photo of Naomi smilingA big thank you to the team at Community Catalysts. Wow, what a talented bunch of professionals you are, and so committed to creating lasting positive change! I’ve learnt so much from the team and from the connections I’ve made. I have a new found positivity by focusing on strengths, as opposed to deficits. It’s very refreshing and inspiring.

It’s exciting to see Community Catalysts are already developing more choices for people supporting new, small and bigger local enterprises and businesses. For example, check out projects in Islington and Nottingham, which create new community options for people with learning disabilities.

Finally, thank to everyone who has spared their time to share their insights and experiences, particularly those running community businesses, to contribute to the community business project.

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