Power to the people — community-owned businesses a proving to be a nationwide success

Pubs, cafés and shops that are run for the community, by the community, are becoming increasingly popular.

Community-owned businesses are on the up, says the Plunkett Foundation — a national charity that helps these types of initiatives. Of particular note are community pubs, which increased by 10% in 2022, against a backdrop of widespread closures; some 8,000 pubs, amounting to 15%, closed between 2012 and 2022. ‘So far, we’ve helped to establish some 750 community-owned businesses and are currently working with a further 300 in the process of setting up,’ explains Andrew Dubock of the Plunkett Foundation.

‘More than half of these are shops, almost a quarter are pubs and one in 10 are land, farming and woodland. About 7% fit into the category of “other”, including bookshops, distilleries and hardware shops. To date, more than 180,000 people have invested in their local businesses (supported by Plunkett), raising a collective £50 million in community shares.’

In Cleeve Prior, Worcestershire, villagers are fundraising for a community share scheme to save their 500-year-old pub The Kings Arms; they need £500,000 to buy the freehold and carry out repairs. ‘The pub [which closed during the pandemic] acts as a hub for our community and without it we are just a collection of houses,’ laments resident Sarah Gallucci.

‘We had to persevere and keep going. It’s amazing what communities can do when they stick together’

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The shop and café at the heart of St Mary Bourne, Hampshire, is one recent success story; it became a community benefit society in 2022, invited locals to purchase shares and within six weeks had raised the £250,000 needed to rebuild a tiny, 20-year-old village shop into a larger shop and café. ‘What this did was really pressure test whether the community wanted it,’ explains Lara Madge, manager of The Boundary Community Shop & Café, as it’s now known.

‘The response was amazing and we didn’t expect that — it blew my mind, actually. Each share was only £25, so some people bought one, some bought 10, others bought 100. We wanted to make sure that we brought everyone along with us.’ Open since November 2022, it stocks local produce and crafts alongside a sustainable refill section; locals praise the sourdough and smoothies. As with the reopened Invermoriston village shop on the shores of Loch Ness, profits are invested back into the business and community.

Over in the Forest of Dean, patrons of The Rising Sun, Woodcroft, have won the Campaign for Real Ale’s Pub Saving Award 2023. ‘We had to persevere and keep going,’ explains Michelle Hayes. After permission for residential conversion was denied in 2011, 240 shareholders raised £350,000 to purchase and reopen it in 2022. ‘It’s amazing what communities can do when they stick together.’