James Alcock, Plunkett’s Chief Executive shares the Better Business research at the House of Lords.

The Better form of Business reports, providing an annual ‘state of the sector’ for the UK’s community-owned shops and pubs was launched earlier this week at the House of Lords, on Monday afternoon.

In a reception which was hosted by Baroness Natalie Bennett and sponsored by Hastoe Housing, there was an opportunity for Plunkett members, representatives of partner organisations, members of parliament and peers to hear the findings of this year’s research.

James Alcock Plunkett’s chief executive introduced the research and this blog provides an insight to what he said.


Anne Perkins (Board Member at Hastoe Housing Association), Baroness Natalie Bennett, James Alcock (Plunkett CEO), George Freeman (MP for Mid Norfolk), Alex Begg (Plunkett trustee and White Swan at Gressenhall)

I am really proud to be launching our latest Better form of Business reports for Community Shops and Community Pubs. I am also delighted that so many people could be here at the launch, welcome to the House of Lords.

There are too many findings from these comprehensive reports to present everything to you today, so I will share my own personal observations and highlights from the research.

Before I do, may I offer a brief introduction to Plunkett and origins of these reports for those of you who are just getting to know about our organisation and the community-owned business movement we are proud to represent.

Plunkett Foundation

Plunkett is a national charity which supports people, primarily in rural areas to come together to set up and run a wide range of businesses in community ownership.  From shops and pubs, through to woodlands, farms, cafes, bakeries and bookshops. We do this to help communities to safeguard the essential services they need, value and depend on, and also because we know once they exist in community ownership, they go on to address a wider range of problems and benefit those most vulnerable and disadvantaged in society.

Today, Plunkett is the only organisation which is solely dedicated to supporting rural community owned businesses UK wide and we represent the largest membership of businesses which are genuinely owned and controlled by local communities. Having supported over 800 community businesses to open, this represents 10% of the UK co-operative sector.

“The Betters”

The Better form of Business reports contain an annual review of the geographic growth, financial performance, characteristics and impact of these businesses. They are purely focused on community shops and pubs, as the two most dominant models of community ownership in rural areas at present.

The reports were initiated 11 years ago in an attempt to create an internal database of businesses we had supported, and has evolved to become very robust, credible and much valued research. The reports also still maintain a practical purpose as a resource for new community businesses starting out and existing ones looking to benchmark their activities and in support of their annual business planning.

I’m going to sum up this year’s reports by considering 4 key messages from the research:

In 2021, 12 new shops and 15 new community pubs opened taking the sector totals to over 400 shops and 150 pubs now trading UK-wide.

The growth rates of 3% (shops) and 11% (pubs) are comparable to pre-pandemic levels.

There were no recorded closures in 2021, an incredible feat and maintains a phenomenal 96% survival rate for these business types.

All of this was achieved against a backdrop of pandemic, increase cost of goods and services, energy costs, and volunteer fatigue.

Community-owned shops and pubs are actively playing a key role in rural and national prosperity. They address the hidden needs in their community.

Community businesses safeguard a broad range of services and try to be “More than…” a shop or pub. For example a pub, as well as traditional food and drink sales may also be offering a Post Office, Café, Shop. Many are using their green spaces for public good, for community projects such as allotments or community gardens. There are examples of pubs hosting work hubs, training and job support services. Many offer discounted meals for children and host food banks. Some have even established affordable housing on their land. In total, 37% pubs added to their services in 2021, clearly showing a commitment to social impact and community benefit at the heart of their operations.

The research shows that they employ over 2000 people, and in many instances are the only employer in rural areas. The majority are paying at least real living wage and there are so many examples of the employment opportunities benefiting those who are otherwise exclude from the labour market.

The efforts of 8500 volunteers is something the network should be incredibly proud of. It was particularly heartening to see that 86% of community pubs also offer training, employment and volunteering opportunities specifically for young people.

The businesses are also contributing to the local economy too. 100% shops use local suppliers, which benefits 12,000 local businesses in the supplier relationship

Through being open and offering services in a local area the businesses are having a positive environmental impact through reducing the need to travel. Many go further still and stock eco products, such as refills. A growing number also utilise renewable energy and increasingly so are also offering charge points of electric vehicles.

Above all these businesses bring a diverse range of people together and offer support to the most vulnerable in their community. They actively reduce loneliness, have a track record of supporting residents with long-term or debilitating illnesses and offer a place for support in response to local tragedy. There are sadly examples of community businesses responding to local suicides, offering a place to be together and supporting one another through tragedy.

Clearly, as the research shows these are growing sectors. More communities than ever before are looking at community-ownership as an opportunity to run assets, businesses and services in their community. This has led to more communities than ever becoming a Plunkett member in the past year.

We represent our member’s interests in our work, and it is fantastic to see so many have taken up the opportunity to join us here today. We have an active membership panel that help to co-design and co-produce our policy positions, programmes, supplier directory etc. Our recent attendance at the Conservative and Labour party conferences provided platform to promote the impact of the network we represent.

Plunkett also engages with and contributes to national campaigns which we believe will benefit our members, such as the ‘We’re Right Here’ campaign for a Community Power Act which includes a Community Right to Buy.

Finally, it has been fantastic to see members joining the Plunkett Foundation Board of Trustees, such as Alex Begg who is here today representing the White Swan in Gressenhall, Norfolk and contributing his community business experience to the event.

This network is only going to get bigger and stronger and have an even greater impact in future. Plunkett received nearly 500 new enquiries last year, there is no shortage of interested communities looking at this form of business.

There is funding available at this time, such as the UK Community Ownership Fund. We are proud to say that 1/3rd of all beneficiaries have to date benefitted from Plunkett support.

We also know that programmes, such as More than a Pub can be transformational for the sector. MTAP more than doubled number of new community pubs and Plunkett will continue to seek to create new programmes like this in future.

There is a need for business support to maintain the pipeline. For example chances of a community pub reaching trading increased from 1 in 10, to 1 in 3 when groups accessed MTAP business support. We will continue to make the case, with our partners that for the Community Ownership Fund to be truly transformative the support alongside the grants needs to be put in place.

Communities need to be supported through legislation to bring assets in to local control. This is why Plunkett is calling for improved and consistent community rights across the UK, including community right to buy in all four nations.

Dormant assets funding should be used to support Community Wealth Funds and the proposed Community Enterprise Growth Fund. And Plunkett will continue to advocate on behalf of our members to promote a rural reach.

My last observation is that every business in the UK is facing unprecedented trading difficulties – but through sheer determination communities are joining together to safeguard pubs, shops and other businesses to ensure that they continue to serve everyone in their community, especially those most in need. We’re incredibly proud to support communities from the initial spark of an idea to trading and then helping them trade in areas others couldn’t and support them and their rural communities, to thrive in the long term.

Our new strategy puts in place plans to support a 20% growth in the number of community businesses trading over the next 5 years. Plunkett Foundation will support them to become even more innovative, impactful and inclusive enterprises.

Thanks go to:

  • Power to Change for funding research
  • Hastoe Housing for sponsoring the reception at the House of Lords
  • Baroness Natalie Bennet for sponsoring the occasion, and also for her historic support for Plunkett
  • Gina Edwards, Research Manager and Joe Hesketh, Data Manager for conducting the research
  • Plunkett adviser Tim Allen for his data analysis support
  • The network of community businesses that contributed to the research
  • Plunkett members Hannah Nadim, from the Fox and Goose at Hebden Bridge and Karen Evans, from Cletwr Community Shop for preparing the forewords to the reports
  • Our Community Business Panel for their oversight and for inputting into research

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!