Peter Couchman is the Chief Executive of the Plunkett Foundation.

The Plunkett Foundation is the organisation which promotes and supports co-operative and social enterprises in rural communities both in the UK and internationally. It provides support, networks and knowledge which offers practical solutions for rural communities that helps to create thriving places where people live and work now and in the future.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Lessons from Fordhall Farm

One of the highlights of my first week was attending the AGM of the Fordhall Farm Community Initiative. Fordhall Farm is a rare example of combining three aspects of rural social enterprise in one place.

The first aspect is HOW the farm was saved. The story of how the farm, on which Arthur Hollins helped pioneer the modern organic movement, was saved by his son and daughter through enlisting the support of thousands of people to create the Fordhall Farm Community Initiative has been well documented. The story is best read in Ben and Charlotte Hollins book, The Fight for Fordhall Farm.

Inspiring as this is, what is now becoming clearer is the second aspect, namely WHAT it is that they were fighting to save. Fordhall was always about more than saving one farm. I thought that this best shown in the recent BBC documentary on The Farm of the Future. In that, Charlotte waxed lyrical not on the structure of the Farm’s ownership, but how its pasture had been developed to support a very different way of farming. Their plan for the future is focused on making the vision visible to a wide range of people.

Then there is the third aspect, which few have achieved and which Fordhall is becoming a master of.  That is using the HOW to achieve the WHAT. Put simply, it is using its ownership structure to generate a level of engagement that others can only dream of. How many other farms can boast of volunteer days sold out months in advance, demand outstripping supply for its products, open days heavily supported and a dedicated band of people helping with administration for the love of the farm?

I think that all rural social enterprises could do with spending some time thinking how they could develop those three aspects for their enterprise as powerfully as Fordhall has done.

Monday, 20 April 2009

First Day

Twenty minutes into my new role as Chief Executive of the Plunkett Foundation and I think I might have made a mistake. Sweat is pouring off me, my head is reeling and my legs want to give way. Thankfully, this is due to me deciding that my first act should be to join our running team in a five mile race round Blenheim Palace.

It took considerably less time for me to be sure that Plunkett is the place to be. This is an organisation whose time has come. The solution that it offers for rural communities to take ownership of the services they need most could have been made for the time we live in. With seven community owned village shops opening in just five weeks, there is a real sense of the tide turning. It is our role to make sure that as many rural commuities as possible know about what can be done, believe that they can do it themselves and are then supported to make those dreams real.

The Plunkett team put in a fine performance in the race with two of us running a faster time than Conservative leader David Cameron. I'm sure that our performance over the coming weeks and months will be equally impressive.

The Plunkett Plodders at the start of the Ox5 run