Looking back over the past year, I can say with absolute sincerity, that this has been the proudest period of my time at Plunkett Foundation - working with an extraordinarily talented and committed team of staff, trustees and advisers, and an equally passionate and committed network of community businesses who work tirelessly to support people most in need. In such testing times, when it would have been easier for Plunkett and community businesses to withdraw or retreat from service delivery, we have seen the opposite, with community businesses stepping up to expand their activities, and Plunkett similarly diversifying and growing its own support.
A recent tour of community businesses, ranging from shops, pubs, woodlands and farming enterprises reminded me of what we all have in common – the belief in collaboration. Whether in the process of starting out a new community business, or having recently opened, or even having been trading for years, everyone I spoke to, pointed to the value of keeping in touch with other community businesses, nationally as well as locally, to keep in tune with current trends, challenges and solutions.
Plunkett too has had a phenomenal year of collaboration, with long term partners such as Esmée Fairbairn, The Co-op, Dulverton Trust, and others, who in turn have resourced us to maintain our core advisory service UK-wide. We’ve also worked with new partners such as AllChurches Trust and Midcounties Co-operative to expand our service and support even more communities in innovative ways.
We were delighted to have the opportunity to accelerate our work with corporate partners during 2021, including those in the development and construction industry such as Hopkins Homes, Thakeham and Welbeck. Working with these organisations has been an opportunity to inspire new audiences about the benefits community businesses can bring to a local community, and has challenged our own thinking on how the community ownership model could take an even more proactive approach to create opportunities for all, especially those who may be disadvantaged and overlooked in terms of social and physical connectivity, health and well-being, and access to employment and volunteering.
Looking ahead, these partnerships – new and existing - have influenced our emerging strategy for 2022-26 in which we are maintaining our vision for resilient and thriving rural communities, but being bolder in our mission to create even more innovative, impactful and inclusive spaces. Within this strategy, there is a continued commitment to building a network of rural community businesses. Already, we have seen the network in action with events such as #WalkforPlunkett, the Community Ownership Awards hosted by Dame Prue Leith, the launch of the Community Business Panel and a significant growth in our membership.
Whatever comes our way in 2022, the last twelve months has reassured me of the endurance and resilience of community-owned businesses. The policy, communications and research output of our Information Hub has also demonstrated how the community business model is of its time – and never more relevant to tackle the issues society faces today. We are pleased that government policy also recognises this and offers support for community ownership as part of its ‘levelling up agenda’, the launch of the £150M community ownership fund, and support for community businesses through the pandemic. We will of course continue to represent the interests of members in respect of any policy development, from the UK Government and also with the devolved administrations.
Looking back at what we have achieved together in 2021, I’m feeling ever confident about the potential for community businesses to play an even bigger role in rural communities in 2022, and how Plunkett will work with partners, new and existing, to grow the support available for community businesses, making it an even stronger network than it is today.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been involved with Plunkett this year, and to wish you a very Healthy and Happy New Year.
James Alcock, Chief Executive Officer