May’s Café Conversation was held on 17.5.17 at Methodist Hall, Manchester.
15 people took part in a highly engaged, enthusiastic, structured discussion as part of Steady State Manchester (SSM) working on its journey on how to practically envision a shift to a real viable economy in Greater Manchester.
The session collectively addressed such questions as what is a community business, what makes a community business successful, how do we define success. As well as, if we want to achieve a viable economy what are the barriers to scaling up community business, and how can we overcome them?
Amongst the participants there were people from across Greater Manchester (Wigan, Bolton, Salford and Manchester and beyond), currently working for and with a range of community businesses – those represented included: Broughton Trust, Great Rock Coop, Greenslate Farm, Ethical Consumer, Persona and Treestation.
Image credit: Greenslate Farm, Wigan
To open the event, we introduced an open definition of community business, paraphrased from Power to Change:
‘There are many types of community business. They can be shops, farms, pubs or call centres, among many other types of business. What they all have in common is that they are accountable to their community and that the profits they generate deliver positive local impact. They are locally rooted, trade for the benefit of the local community, accountable to the local community and have broad community impact’. (www.powertochange.org.uk)
The following blog reports on highlights from the discussion and maybe of benefit to other individuals, businesses and organisations working in, or researching community business:
A range of community businesses (mainly in GM) were identified as being successful:
Greenslate Community Farm, Styal Community Shop, Persona, Unicorn Cooperative Grocery, Kindling Trust, Glebelands Growers, Stockport Hydro, Treestation, Sunshine House Community Hub, Hulme Garden Centre, Hillary Step, Ethical Consumer, Work for Change, Broughton Trust.
Additionally, a range of reasons why they were successful as community businesses were identified (in no particular order):
We introduced Steady State Manchester’s (SSM’s) vision for achieving a more viable economy, entitled Viable Economy (VE).
The ‘Viable Economy’ seamlessly interlinks the economic, social, political, cultural and ecological spheres to create a framework for a more viable economy.
It addresses the perilous state we are in ecologically, socially and economically. Its proposes a path to a resilient, more localised, stable economy that delivers what we all need: a frugal abundance or true prosperity. The document is based on the values of stewardship, justice, conviviality, solidarity, co-operation, equality and respect.
VE recommends a focus on the ‘foundational economy’, described as food production, food processing, transport infrastructure, health, education, welfare, social care, energy, utilities such as sewerage etc (from CRESC).
A range of barriers to scaling up the number of community businesses were discussed in each group:
- Lack of know-how
- Raising capital for premises
- Regulations/red tape
- Lack of contacts
- Lack of time and energy
- Confidence, self esteem
- Lack of support
- Over supply or demand outstrips supply
We addressed what practical measures we could take to overcome these barriers – coming with ideas such as:
- A network of mutual community businesses, to support new companies
- Building alliances
- Specific advisory services
- Financial incentives and loans
- Crowd sourcing
- Training, workshops or online
- Use timebanking
- Community share issues
- More market research to find niche
- Set examples, good local models
- Sharing services, models
- Create avenues for sharing beyond websites
And finally addressed who might take a lead on overcoming these barriers included:
- Us (those in the room)
- The Cooperative
- Cooperatives UK
- Triodos Bank
- Trade associations
- Community associations
- Schools and parents
- Grant providers
- The mayor
Several of us, wanted to keep in touch and possibly share more about community business in the future. If anyone is undertaking any further activities to support community business and its development in GM, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.