The colossal challenge of the past few weeks has meant a very testing time for community businesses everywhere – yet there has been an overriding surge of community spirit. As we all continue to adapt to the new and still changing reality it is rewarding to see the many positive stories of such spirit coming to the fore this week.

James Alcock

We have seen pubs that were forced to close continuing to serve their community by opening shops or providing hot meal deliveries to those in need. I have heard of community businesses providing telephone helplines to support people and protect against loneliness and isolation. Shops have been expanding their volunteer numbers to rapidly increase the services they offer – such as prescription deliveries – despite losing many older volunteers due to self-isolation. Farms and woodlands have been offering outreach services – keeping in contact with the community they serve.

Now is the time to keep on sharing those stories with us at Plunkett, and more widely. Let’s continue to work together to let people know the power of community business and help us all to learn from each other.

Supply issue
We have seen the ongoing challenge to community shops in accessing adequate supplies from wholesalers – meaning some shops have had to make the very difficult decision to close their doors. Together with community businesses we have been raising this matter with central government, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), the Cabinet Office, the Federation of Wholesale Distributors and national wholesales directly .

Bestway Wholesale have told us in a statement that they are lobbying to ensure “consistent supply to rural community shops which is balanced fairly with supply to other business types”.

We continue to urge you to raise this matter with you local MP, and you can use our template letter to do so.

What support do you need?
This week we have been providing help and support to community businesses covering a variety of areas, including:

Cash flow – We are hearing increasingly about the short and medium term cash flow concerns of community business, and continue to support businesses in this moment to plan their own activities accordingly. We’re also working with others from across the sector to obtain appropriate financial support to assist in this crisis.

Navigating the support available – As part of our efforts to share the latest updates from Government about the support available for business, we have also sought clarifications relating to the Job Retention Scheme, the status of TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment) staff and unpicking the positives and negatives of furloughing staff.

Understanding health and safety – Requests for advice have come in on applying social distancing guidance when training the new generation volunteers who have stepped up to support community businesses’ efforts – and also how to keep them engaged and involved longer term.

Access to a range of finance products – There have also been a variety of requests over finance products which Plunkett have been able to provide guidance on.
Plunkett is here to support and advise community businesses on these and many more issues. Contact the team by emailing info@plunkett.co.uk.

New Emergency Fund
This week there was positive funding news for rural community businesses as the Prince’s Countryside Fund launched an emergency fund for farming and rural community support groups. The charity is inviting applications from groups who are providing assistance to counter the effects of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. Groups can apply for grant funding of up to £2,500. More information here.

Your experiences
I would like to renew my calls for community businesses to share their experiences with us and the wider network to see what is working and what is not. This enables Plunkett to continue representing you at a national level with suppliers, funders and policy makers. For example, have you introduced a new service? How is COVID-19 changing the way your business works? What support are you seeking to help your business diversify at this time?

With this evidence from you, we can be more effective at representing your needs.

Please do keep in touch by emailing info@plunkett.co.uk or calling us on 01993 810730.

James Alcock

Chief Executive, Plunkett Foundation