Local village shops owned as community businesses are continuing to thrive where private enterprise has failed, according to a report launched by the Plunkett Foundation. However, it is not all good news as the report highlights a reduction in the number of community shops open and trading for the first time since records began.

A comprehensive report on community shops has been published by Plunkett Foundation, the national experts in setting up and running rural community businesses since 1919. The ‘Better form of Business’ reports were funded by Power to Change, the independent trust supporting community businesses in England.

The report shows that at the end of 2017:

  • There were 346 community shops open and trading across the UK
  • Community shops created 1,380 paid jobs and 10,350 volunteer positions
  • Community shops generated a combined turnover of £53m and donated £112,500 to community projects across the UK
  • The long term survival rate of community shops was 94% showing community shops are a resilient model of community business

Despite this, Plunkett has seen a record number of community shops close in one year during 2017 (7), with a number of key factors contributing to this, including:

  • The need to keep refreshing committees and volunteers to ensure both resilience as well as engagement with future generations.
  • The lack of permanent premises being available – 74% of community shops are based in rented/leased premises
  • The need to adapt to customer, member and community needs to ensure the long-term running of the community shop.

Furthermore, the research found that despite strong interest from rural communities in establishing community shops, they are taking longer to reach trading stage. This is mainly due to a shortage of funding opportunities towards start-up costs other than what can be raised within the community and, unlike community pubs, community shops lack a dedicated loan and grant programme. In response to this, Plunkett Foundation is pro-actively seeking to work with partners to ensure that new and existing community shops have access to the support and help they need to reverse the trend of a slowing growth rate. Support to facilitate improvements in the following areas would make a substantial difference to the sector:

  • Funding specifically to help new community shop groups to take ownership of shop premises,
  • Funding to help existing shops expand and diversify their services,
  • The creation of bespoke resources for community shops to guide best practice,
  • Sharing existing expertise and knowledge within the sector.

James Alcock, Executive Director at Plunkett Foundation, said: “This year we are delighted to see trading figures that continue to demonstrate how community businesses are at the forefront of strengthening the rural economy. As well as saving vital rural services such as shops, the stand out success of community businesses is found in the social impact they achieve. They bring people together of all ages, backgrounds, interests, and give them a purpose to interact; put simply, community shops reduce social isolation and loneliness.”

James Alcock added: “For the first time, we are in fact seeing a decline in the growth of community shops. This is an area of concern for us and shows how running a community business requires ongoing support and investment. I would like to thank the many people involved in community shops for contributing to the reports and highlighting the challenges as well as the successes of running a community business by telling their own stories. We also thank our funders and partners who have helped us to sustain our services over the last 100 years as we continue to support community businesses through challenging times.”

Ailbhe McNabola, Head of Research and Policy at Power to Change said: “We believe in better places through community business so every piece of research to help us understand the sector is vital. It is clear that more support is needed for community shops, which are often essential for rural areas. We have a number of support programmes and funds in place to support a wide range of community businesses and we hope to see the sector grow even more strongly in 2019.”

Plunkett Foundation represents a network of nearly 600 rural community businesses trading across the UK. It supports these organisations to thrive and help communities explore the idea of a community business. It aims to grow the sector by raising awareness of the community business model to more communities and reach geographic areas and individuals most in need.

To download a copy of both the community shops and community pubs ‘Better Form of Business’ report, visit: