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.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

A new co-operative value?

It was a great pleasure to welcome Iain Macdonald, Director-General of the International Co-operative Alliance to Oxfordshire last week. Iain's co-operative path has been criss-crossing with mine for more decades than we both care to remember.

One of the passions we share is the frustration that so many of our British colleagues seem to believe that the founding of the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844 in Britain means that the British have no need to learn co-operation from other countries. Nothing could be further from the truth and Plunkett has been making that point for 91 years. The reality is that no one country has got it right. We can all learn from each other. In my recent talk in Sheffield I cited Quebec, California, Spain and Jamaica as four places that Sheffield could learn from (I also think that many places could learn from Sheffield).

Perhaps we should start a campaign to introduce a new co-operative value, humility, so that this movement, so rich in ideas around the world, can learn at long last to learn from each other.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Hurry please it's time (for co-operative pubs)

One of my excuses as to why blog posts have been thin on the ground lately became visible last week when Pubs Minister John Healey announced that he was asked the Plunkett Foundation to lead a £3.3m programme to create 50 new community-owned pubs.

This is great news for community-ownership and for communities faced with pub closure. We seen how community-ownership of village shops has gone from strange idea to the way rural communities choose to tackle shop closure. About 10% of village shops that would have closed now end up being run by their community as viable businesses. We hope to create a similar movement for pubs.

What we also love about the programme is that it was only made possible by linking together a range of co-operative organisations, such as Co-operatives UK, Co-operative & Community Finance and the co-operative development bodies.

CAMRA, the campaign for real ale, has been quick to recognise what a tremendous opportunity this is for its members and its CEO Mike Brenner has said "we are delighted to be involved in this support programme to make community ownership of these essential local services a reality for many." The support that we've had from the Office of the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office has been superb and it has said that the programme "will act as inspiration to a range of communities, and increase awareness of social enterprise, and mutual approaches to self help within communities."

We are also looking forward to working alongside the other two strands supported by John Healey, business advice to publicans by Businesslink and support for pub diversification by Pub is the Hub.

These are exciting times. Details of the scheme are still being finalised, but you can get all the latest information and find out how register if you have a potential pub here. Who knows, very soon your local could be under new ownership - yours.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Ahead of their time

I had the great pleasure of visiting Berrynarbor Community Shop in Devon recently. What struck me was how forward thinking they had been when they were formed in 2004. Three aspects stood out for me.

Firstly, their use of community shares as a major funding source was several years ahead of its time.

Secondly, the deal they struck between the owner of the old shop owner and the council is still ahead of its time. This gave them four years to show that a community shop works and plan a larger store or to have proved that the idea didn't work, then either way to vacate the shop which was then allowed to be converted to housing. Right to Try at its best.

Thirdly, they were great community marketers. Whenever someone moves into the village, they receive a welcome pack, urging them to invest and volunteer in the shop. This has meant that the level of investment has continued to rise.

Berrynarbor is certainly one to watch.