Chris Cowcher, Head of Policy shares his experience of being in Liverpool earlier this week.

What a week it has been. Following on from the Government’s fiscal event last week and all that has followed since, we’ve found ourselves in party conference season. James Alcock (our CEO) and I have been in Liverpool, for Labour’s conference and I must say that it almost felt at odds with what was going on around us to find so many people in such good spirit.

Buoyed by the latest YouGov poll that puts Labour ahead by a clear margin, in terms of voting intention there was a genuine sense of looking forward and to times beyond the current crises facing us. However clearly addressing the cost of living, rising inflation and the climate emergency firmly remain a priority for all right now.

Our presence at the conference was a first for Plunkett for many years. We had two jobs to do whilst we there; raise the profile of our members, and make the case for rural community-ownership projects. Fortunately we had an ideal opportunity to achieve both with a captive audience, as James was invited to participate in a panel event on Monday afternoon.

Hosted by our partners, Thakeham the discussion which was chaired by the Centre for Social Justice focussed on “How Thriving Place-Based Communities Prevent Social Isolation”. The panel was made up of Labour MP Kim Leadbeater, Duncan Enright, Deputy Leader of West Oxfordshire District Council, Rob Boughton CEO of Thakeham and James. It was a great opportunity to share our recently launched strategy with a wider audience; including our mission to create innovative, inclusive and impactful spaces through community-owned businesses.

The inclusive nature of community-owned businesses means that they are actively addressing social isolation in their communities up and down the county. They make sure that those who are vulnerable and at risk of loneliness feel able to be part of the business’s operation and access key services locally. James shared real life examples of businesses supporting people with dementia, helping people to return to work after prolonged illness and being a place for collective grief in response to a local suicide. Those attending the event clearly understood that a community-owned businesses is often so much more than a service provider, they are the hub at the heart of a local area.

Over the next 5 years’, as we aim to support a 20% growth in the number of community-owned businesses we will take a proactive approach to create spaces in which people want to live, visit and participate. More specifically and in relation to inclusivity our strategy reads “Becoming ‘inclusive’ means taking greater efforts to ensure our members take proactive measures to reach, work with & benefit a greater diversity of people”.

Our work to date with Thakeham has provided a fantastic opportunity to encourage community-owned approaches to business in a new setting. In partnership, Plunkett and Thakeham are proactively exploring the opportunity for a retail and café offering at the heart of a new housing development. Helping residents to feel included from the moment they move in to their home aims to foster a greater sense of ‘community’. This pioneering approach will help us to further a conversation which dispels the myth that community-ownership only works as a reactive measure, deployed in response to a business closure/loss of service. It is a project we are really excited to be involved with.

It wasn’t just the panel event that James participated in which offered an opportunity to raise the profile of our work and that of the wider sector. The Coop Party were incredibly receptive and supportive of our recently published Community Right to Buy position paper. We caught up with partners from across the sector, including Power to Change who have published a manifesto for change which we are very supportive of. I was also able to share our thoughts on addressing hidden needs in rural areas at a Fabian’s Society breakfast meeting, with Daniel Zeichner MP, Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister. All in all it was a useful event to be at and we’ve made a lot of useful contacts too.

We’re now preparing for the Conservative Party Conference, in Birmingham next week. Whilst the backdrop of a perfect storm of crises will be yet again be apparent James, Harriet (who’s joining us in Birmingham) and I will stick to our job – and represent the Plunkett membership and the impact of their work with the current party in power.

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 me via

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