From Hannah C, SSE Communications Manager
Community cafes, swimming pools, pubs, breweries, bakeries, hubs, launderettes and even woodlands. The 9000+ community businesses are transforming our neighbourhoods and have been critical in the Covid-19 crisis. Since the pandemic, they’ve shown huge resilience and entrepreneurialism in adapting their services and businesses models to meet the new normal.
Since 2017, the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) and Power to Change (PTC) have partnered on the Community Business Trade Up Programme. It’s a five year, £6.5 million programme that’s helped nearly 300 community businesses grow their impact and resilience by supporting them to diversify and increase income from trading. The challenge was to help create a more sustainable community business sector that is less grant dependent.
But with the pandemic affecting the trading opportunities of community businesses, the partnership has been put to the test.
What makes this partnership successful and what’s been the impact so far? Crucially, how have the partners adapted to the programme in response to the pandemic?
Creating impact – pre Covid-19
Community Business Trade Up has been transformative for nearly 300 community businesses so far. Typically community businesses on the programme increased their income from trading by over £22,000, year on year. The successful partnership has incentivised community businesses to generate an additional £13 million of income from trading, employ 500 people, support 1,400 volunteers and reach 400,000 beneficiaries.
Community Business Trade Up participants get a fully-funded nine-month learning programme (12 learning days), a Match Trading® grant of up to £10,000, and the support of a peer network of other community business leaders.
Two organisations are better than one
Our unique learning approach, innovation in grant funding and Power to Change’s community business expertise and networks blended perfectly to create this successful charity partnership.
SSE’s network of regional teams provided the learning facilitation, programme recruitment, application process and assessment, project management and ongoing support to participants. Our unique learning approach is based on sharing lived experience, Action Learning and peer-to-peer networks. It draws on 20 years’ experience of developing social entrepreneurs, trading charities and social impact organisations.
Power to Change contributed a range of resources from financial planning to support with renewal after Covid-19. Inspirational leaders from PTC’s community business network contributed to the learning programme.
Responding to Covid-19
The impact of the pandemic and social distancing has been unprecedented, and has hit community businesses hard, since around 57% of their income is from trading – selling products and services. Half of this income is from venue-based activities such as cafes, shops, pubs and hiring out meeting space. While many saw their income drop off a cliff, others have seen a surge in demand for their services. Community businesses have also adapted quickly, providing crucial delivery services, setting up as food banks, and moving community activities like exercise classes, and mental health and well-being support, online.
Power to Change and SSE moved swiftly to adapt the programme to meet the new normal that community businesses found themselves in.
They worked together and adapted the programme in three ways:
Programme structure and content
Amber Sorrell, programme manager at SSE explains:
“We moved fast to deliver the learning programme online, using Zoom technology. Sessions were shorter but more frequent.
“We’re regularly consulting with our students on their changing needs and taking a co-design approach. We’re more flexible on the programme end dates and only developing the next few sessions ahead to ensure the learning content remains relevant.”
The Match Trading grant
Before Covid-19 hit, Community Business Trade Up participants received a Match Trading grant of up to £10,000 as part of the programme. Match Trading is an innovation in grant-funding that pound-for-pound matches an increase in income from trading.
Given the impact of the pandemic on trading, the team adapted the grant mechanism so that community businesses were not penalised for lower trading figures that were largely out of their control.
Amber continues: “We’ve taken a more flexible, empathetic approach in how we set financial baseline figures for community businesses on the programme. The £10,000 grant is now 50% traditional grant, 50% Match Trading grant. £4,000 of the grant will be available up front, £1000 upon submission of a business plan and £5,000 will be an incentivised Match Trading grant.
Along with these changes to the programme for community businesses starting the programme in April, the teams moved fast to provide extra support for the 80 community business leaders who were coming to the end of their programme.
Jenny Sansom, programme manager at Power to Change explains:
“We’re offering additional learning and peer support (learning days, Action Learning Sets and webinars) to the 80 community businesses who were due to finish the programme, up until December 2020. These community business leaders needed our continued support to respond and adapt to the challenges of the pandemic. It was vital that the momentum they’d gained from the programme wasn’t lost.
“It’s a testament to the strength and commitment of our partnership with SSE that we were able to respond quickly and effectively to provide this support and make these vital programme changes. Our aim is to continue the close relationship, adapting our current programmes and support to the changing circumstances community businesses find themselves in.