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.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Looking ahead

It has been quite a year and huge thanks are due to everyone who has played a part in taking rural social enterprise forward this year. The tradition is to look ahead to the coming year, so here are my five wishes for our work next year.

1) Yet more community-owned shop openings
This year has seen a record 33 stores opening. The pipeline looks great for 2010. I hope that we have turned a corner so that this is simply the natural way that rural communities save their retail services.

2) The shops become a sector
One of the highlights this year has been the development of the Community Shops Network, which enables the shops to share ideas with each other. My hope is that this leads to a real sense of belonging to a shops movement with a wide range of initiatives spinning off the network.

3) Rural social enterprise gets the support it deserves
However successful the shops have been, there is no room for complacency. The reality that too many great ideas in rural communities never get to become sustainable enterprises because of the barriers they face. I hope that our Right to Try campaign helps to create the support those communities deserve.

4) The rise of Community Food Enterprise is recognised
As discussed in previous blogs, the local food sector is changing dramatically. More and more communities are playing a role in ensuring that they have access to great local food. As the number grows, these are starting to form local food systems. With food rising up the political agenda, I hope that 2010 is the year in which people realise that they can no longer see the food sector as just farming and food companies, but that communities have a vital role to play as well.

5) Rural co-operation begins to be recognised as a vital part of international development
The great news this week was the U.N.'s decision to make 2012 the International Year of Co-operatives. Plunkett is beginning its work of ensuring that the role of rural co-operation is recognised with this. Rural co-operation is more than just food; it is every form of human need. I hope that 2010 will see use starting to build towards the great opportunity that 2012 will offer.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our Plunkett Perspective readers.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Right to Try Conference

Plunkett has opened bookings for its Right to Try conference in London on January 27th. The concept is a simple one. Rural communities should have the right to try and use community ownership to solve the problems they face. All too often they come across barriers erected without thought or bad intention but which lead to them struggling to succeed.

Property and planning is an obvious area, but it is by no means the only one. Inappropriate business support, access to finance, regulation and many others also stand in the way.

The conference will help to define these barriers, to see how common they are between different enterprises and how they can be removed.

Jim Paice MP, shadow farming and rural affairs minister, will be exploring how the Conservative Party Community Right to Buy could support rural communities. Alun Michael MP, always a great supporter of rural social enterprise, will look at the issue from a Labour and a local government perspective.

Unlocking the power of communities to tackle issues has the potential to impact on many parts of rural life. We hope the conference will make a major contribution to achieving this.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Local food - all together now

It's been a week of policy meetings, ranging from political parties to churches. One thing that has stood out for me is how the food agenda has shifted. Not just the rise of food security as an issue, but also in the contribution that we can make.

It's clear to me that the local food movement is in a very different place to where it was just a few years ago. The main focus then was on celebrating individual growers and suppliers, the brave souls who had pioneered the importance of local and who created food of outstanding quality and diversity. They are still there and as inspiring as ever. But the debate has moved on.

The building block has shifted to that of community. How do communities come together to create local food systems to give access to all. This will be a rising issue over the next few weeks and months. The answer isn't clear yet.
Is it a plan?
Is it a co-ordinating committee?
Is it a set of services for suppliers?
Is it an investment vehicle?
Is it an enterprise which exists to support other enterprises?
I'm sure that we will start to see the early pioneers emerging and Making Local Food Work looks forward to working with many of them to build the next stage of the revival of local food.