The cusp of any new year is an opportunity to look forward with renewed hope, positivity and anticipation – and this year is no exception. Based on the extraordinary events of 2020, and truly spectacular response of rural community businesses, I can clearly see the opportunities for community businesses in 2021 – new and existing – to develop and thrive. Plunkett too must show its own innovation and resilience as we adapt, expand and improve the support we, as an organisation, offer.

I’ve been impressed by the return to local sourcing to ensure continuity and regularity of supply of essential goods and services. The renewed emphasis on inclusivity and diversity through the creation of new employment and volunteer opportunities. The investment of technology such as apps to enable online ordering and diversification of business activities. And the focus on green, and low-carbon initiatives which respond to the global climate crisis that we are all facing. Above all, I am impressed with the resilience of community businesses and those who run them, and the sheer determination to remain open and retain valued local services and community hubs for the benefit of all who live and work locally. It has been an extraordinary year, and despite all the bad that has come with it, I am feeling positive that there has been much learning and innovation which will have a long-lasting legacy which will inspire and fuel the rural economic recovery. Watch our vision for this rural recovery here

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our supporters who have maintained their support for Plunkett and our work throughout this challenging period, and particularly to three organisations who volunteered additional support to fund our own response to the Covid crisis: Power to Change, The Coop, Dulverton Trust and The National Lottery Community Fund. We also welcomed new supporters of our work in 2020 including Hopkins Homes, Thakeham Housing, and Allchurches Trust – so thank you also to them for having the confidence in us and our ability to deliver new activity in such testing times.

Looking ahead to 2021, we will grow our relationships in all corners of the UK with the organisations with which we work and strive to find and develop new working opportunities. As chief executive, I will be working hard to spread Plunkett’s message of hope – and making the new connections and new partnerships needed for the years ahead. One area in particular, where I feel community business is less understood and valued, is within government, and public policy in general. This had very real implications in 2020 as we strived to fight the corner for Community Businesses when they were faced with national shortages in food supply and disproportionate access to Government support schemes and ill-informed measures.  We were vocal on behalf of our members, and we were heard, but the inadequate understanding of community business model was painfully clear. Therefore this is an area we wish to bolster in 2021 and ensure community businesses and rural communities are better supported.

But I and Plunkett can’t do it alone.

For Plunkett to be the innovating organisation it has and always must be, we must be led by our members, partners and supporters. We must understand your needs, concerns and aspirations if we are to successfully lobby government at all levels. So via our newly launched Information Hub, kindly funded by Esmee Fairbairn and Power to Change, we will increase our consultation with members, and undertake research to ensure we better understand and represent the community business sector more effectively.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that the community business model can and does achieve anything that people want it to. I want us to build on that, and see the model being used in more diverse sectors – from food production and processing, cottage industries, through to public services, and integrated transport solutions. The possibilities are limitless.

So my message for 2021 is one of hope and positivity. These are uncertain times, one such example being the Brexit negotiations that hang in the balance as I type, but I promise the innovation and resilience shown across the sector will inspire Plunkett as we play our full role in securing the rural recovery. Project funding will come and go, but our support for the community business model, whether that be a community pub or woodland, shop or café, our support is unwavering. As a friend of the sector, I invite you to join Plunkett for the crusade that lies ahead.

Finally, I would like to thank all our partners, and all Plunkett’s staff, advisers and everyone who has helped support a community business in any way over this uncertain and challenging year.

Happy Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

James Alcock, Chief Executive

December 2020