Harriet English, Head of Engagement provides an insight to our work in Birmingham earlier this week.

Birmingham looked magnificent in the sunshine as we arrived for the Conservative Party Conference on Monday morning. With it taking place at the grand International Convention Centre (ICC), which is right next to the amazing new library there was much to admire in the urban scenery as we turned up to Plunkett’s second conference of the season. For me, it was my first conference, and unlike the reported buoyant mood in Liverpool that Chris and James had spoken about last week there was a much more defiant, combative atmosphere on show in the Midlands.

As had been our intention at Labour’s event a week earlier, our main reason for going to the Conservative Party Conference was to represent our member’s interests and to promote community ownership as an opportunity to create inclusive, innovative and impactful spaces. Fresh from launching our new strategy in September we have been keen to speak to politicians, partners, other organisations and businesses that could support our ambition to grow the community-ownership sector by 20% by 2026.

Plunkett were invited to contribute to a fringe event along with our partners Thakeham, as we had been in Liverpool for Labour’s conference too.  Again the session was hosted by the Centre for Social Justice and it considered “How Thriving Place-Based Communities Prevent Social Isolation”. This provided a fantastic platform for James to speak about the role that community businesses are playing, particularly in supporting the most vulnerable in their community. James cited many case studies such as Westbury Shop and their work with students with additional learning needs, as examples of how community-owned businesses were being actively inclusive in their operation. He also stated that if we truly want to see more of these kind of projects then communities need to be given a right to buy assets that matter to them.

Also on the panel was MP Danny Kruger, who has been so supportive of our Places of Worship campaign previously, alongside broadcaster Iain Dale and author Louise Perry. The diversity of views made for some great conversation, but there was common agreement around the value of community-led solutions to local needs. Aptly on the morning of the panel event the New Social Covenant Unit, which was set up by Danny Kruger, had published a new paper called Social Capitalism: How a community-powered economy drives growth which contains many observations and points that clearly align with the work of Plunkett members. It is great to see the impact of this sector being recognised.

Whilst James was speaking directly to an audience in his fringe event; Chris and I made the most of what the market place offered in terms of opportunities to network with other like-minded organisations. In particular it was great to catch up with our partners such as the Association of Convenience Stores, Post Office Ltd and the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. We share many common values with these organisations, not least a recognition of the importance of small businesses and community assets at the heart of rural areas.

As well as speaking with familiar contacts I had some really interesting conversations with Google and Meta too. My aim was to promote the Plunkett training hub and talk about opportunities to collaborate on future webinars. Let’s see where that leads!

Back in the fringe events, we also had some great opportunities to promote our work in the discussions that follow on from the panel sessions. The Power to Change and UK Onward event was particularly useful as we talked about incentivising community-ownership projects and securing long-term support for the sector. I was pleased to meet with Henry Dimbleby at an event he was speaking at, and shared our Community Food Strategy and ambitions with hope of a follow up chat. Chris and I also spoke with contacts from UK Youth about the I Will work Plunkett is progressing, thanks for funding from Dulverton Trust.

Having been our first contribution at the party conferences for a number of year’s Plunkett has much to digest following the last 2 weeks’ of engagements. We’ve definitely spoken to a lot of people and of course it’s now following up the conversations that is our immediate priority!

Finally, we’re incredibly grateful to Thakeham and the Centre for Social Justice for the platform they provided for us. We will continue to champion the work of Plunkett members and the benefits of community-ownership whenever we get the chance.

If you want to find out more about our policy, advocacy and external affairs work please visit this page on our website. Or alternatively get in touch with Chris via chris.cowcher@plunkett.co.uk.

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