A new report from Plunkett UK, published in partnership with the Benefact Trust, sets out the benefits of co-locating community-owned businesses within active places of worship.

Written as part of the legacy of Plunkett’s support programme for community businesses in places of worship, the ‘Unlock the Potential’ report reviews the learning of the work, which has been funded by Benefact Trust and asks the question what next?

It also identifies the benefits of the model and makes a clear case for replicating the model in other places in future.

Co-location brings dual benefit.

Plunkett’s research has long shown that one of the main reasons aspiring community-owned businesses fail to reach trading stage is an inability to secure a suitable venue from which to trade. At development stage all aspiring community business projects must consider whether they should purchase an existing asset (shops, pubs, land etc.), build something new, set up their operation in a modular building and increasingly what other facilities exist locally and could they ‘host’ a community business in future. It is the latter point that is leading more and more groups to look at the potential of setting up their business in the local church.

The work that Plunkett has been doing with Benefact Trust, which has supported over 130 groups, shows that exploring co-location with places of worship has many benefits. Such a project present new options in already much loved, centrally located community buildings not least how the increased footfall and income can help support the maintenance of these historic assets.

Projects require patient support.

The report recognised the benefit of groups being able to access advice, support, study visits and webinars. These services, which were delivered by Plunkett, have been invaluable to groups exploring co-location – building confidence amongst the volunteers behind the projects. Furthermore, grant funding enabled groups to build genuine momentum for their projects and in turn the funding secured greater levels of support from their community too. Plunkett’s universal business service means that groups can continue to access some limited advice, however without dedicated funding to support this work, there is a risk that the levels of interest (currently apparent) could tail off.

The reality is that co-locating community businesses within an active place of worship takes time. The complexities associated with making changes to heritage assets (to make the space for a business) can lead to project progress being ‘stop-start’ and prolonged. This can make retaining volunteers, as well as keeping the community engaged, more of a challenge than more traditional community-owned business projects.

Getting the “buy in” and support from the church community is an essential part of co-location projects. The report identifies that the strength of relationship can vary greatly across different dioceses. Access to ongoing advice and support is therefore important to maintain momentum over time.

Project Manager, Susie Middleton said: “We are proud of the support Plunkett has been able to offer to groups, working in partnership with Benefact Trust. Having engaged such a diverse range of projects, at different stages on their journey over the past few years has meant that we can pull together this report which we will now use to plan how we can support more co-location projects in future. As well as seeking to provide access to grants and advice, we have noted that some groups believe that receiving funding to employ a dedicated project manager could be beneficial to help keep the project progressing over a longer period of time.”

You can read the full report via this link and should your project be interested in receiving support, please do get in touch via info@plunkett.co.uk to see how we can help.

If you would like to learn more about our work with places of worship, or would be interested in partnering with us to support continued sector growth, please get in touch with Susie via susie.middleton@plunkett.co.uk.

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