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, 20 July 2009

Join the dots for social enterprise solutions

One of the exciting frustrations of my work is having to live in two worlds. The first world is with the enterprises we support; a world brimming full of people with amazing ideas and with the energy to make them real. Then there is my second world, the policy world, where all too often people just don't seem to get it.

The contrast between the two worlds was very obvious this week with the publication of "Working Together for Older People in Rural Areas" by the Social Exclusion Task Force. Here was a report full of excellent analysis of the challenges faced by the growing population of older people in rural areas. The argument was compelling and the need to change obvious. But when it came to solutions, where were the social enterprises? It was the same tired approach that Government alone can solve problems.

Rural social enterprises know that this is not the only solution. They offer a way for older people to remain active in their communities long after the days of paid employment  are over. The average village shop has a team of 70 volunteers helping to keep the shop, and the village, alive. Each of those volunteers is interacting with their community in a way that increases their health opportunities. Other enterprises will produce health outcomes, such as access to services which the mainstream has abandoned.

The SETF report is one of many that fail to show social enterprise as a valuable alternative to the options of public or mainstream business solutions. Some of the fault for this lies within the sector where we have presented ourselves as a problem on a long list of problems, rather than as a solution which can be more effective in some areas than the alternatives. As community after community is finding out, it is a solution which policy formers ignore at their peril and their cost.


  1. Very much agree. A similar - though not identical - charge might be levelled at the Conservative Party's recent policy statement on rural areas. A very welcome recognition of the social value of services such as shops and post offices in rural areas; and some equally welcome thoughts on supporting businesses in rural areas. But the document doesn't acknowledge the potential of social enterprise solutions in joining up those twin goals.

  2. I work (OK volunteer) for a charitable society based in 2 of the UK's rural most deprived areas. As the largest tourist attraction in the area, our workforce is almost entirely drawn from the ranks of the retired, semi-retired & soon to be retired. While we have great working relationships with our 2 County Council landlords, the RDA's don't recognise us and won't return our calls - "because we don't creat jobs"!?
    Pronlem is that too many are concerned with issues, where most work down on the coalface, at grass roots level involves poeple.