Thinking of starting a community business?

Show notes (summary)

Many village halls host cafes, shops, markets, post offices and all kinds of other community businesses. Some have even taken over their local pubs! So this got us thinking… Just how easy is it to start a community business? And what support is out there to help village halls, or anyone else for that matter, get one up and running? Our latest guest Hannah Barrett, Senior Project Manager with the Plunkett Foundation has the answers and all kinds of support. So if you’re interested in starting a new community business, listen in today.

Transcript: Season 2 / Episode 4

Johnny Thomson 00:01
Many village halls host shops, markets, post offices and all kinds of other community businesses. If you’re interested in doing the same, or perhaps starting up another one, keep listening. Hello everyone and welcome to The Village Halls Podcast sponsored by Allied Westminster, the UK’s largest specialist provider of village hall insurance and the home of VillageGuard. Now, we’ve already dedicated a few episodes to community businesses linked to village halls on our show. Remember Hermione and her village hall shop on the Isle of Skye and how she kept everyone fed during lockdown. And just recently we spoke to Finbar Murphy from Cookham Dean in Berkshire about their fantastic Metre Market idea that’s helping their hall financially. Well, this got us thinking, just how easy is it to start a community business? And what support is out there to help village halls, or anyone else for that matter, get one up and running? So we’ve turned to a guest who has the answers to those questions and more, Hannah Barrett, who is senior project manager with the wonderful Plunkett Foundation. Hi, Hannah, and welcome.

Hannah Barrett 01:12
Hello, good evening. Thank you so much for inviting me on to the podcast.

Johnny Thomson 01:16
An absolute pleasure. And thanks for coming on the show. Now, before we start talking about community businesses and how they often connect with village halls, tell me a bit about the Plunkett Foundation Hannah.

Hannah Barrett 01:28
The Plunkett Foundation is a UK wide charity that supports communities to come together and to establish and run community owned businesses. And that can be any type of business model. So it could be a pub, it could be a shop, a cafe, a bakery, a bookshop, whatever the community themselves need, Plunkett can provide that free business support, events, training, sometimes some grant funding, to help communities to really understand what they need to do and then how to make that a successful trading business.

Johnny Thomson 02:02
Brilliant. And what about you, Hannah as well? What’s your role at Plunkett? And perhaps more importantly, why do you do what you do?

Hannah Barrett 02:11
So my role is Senior Project Manager and I’m part of the community business team. And we’re kind of the forward facing customer-facing part of Plunkett. So we’re there to answer the helpline inquiries, whether that’s over the phone, or via email, but also to make sure that groups get that bespoke business package that they need. That’s an advisor who would come out and talk to the group one on one, understand what their needs are, and help them to build the right business for them in their community. So I work with them directly with community groups, but also with funders as well. They’re always looking for funders. So we’re approaching new people all the time. And so I’m liaising with funders as well to try and bring in more money to the charity.

Johnny Thomson 02:55
Fantastic. So tell me a little bit more about community businesses. Why are the increasingly important, in rural communities in particular, and do the work?

Hannah Barrett 03:09
Absolutely, they do work, and they’re hugely valuable for rural communities. So obviously, a lot of communities are losing their services are losing their centre points. And without those centre points, those natural meeting spaces, you get isolation and loneliness. You get a lack of jobs and opportunities and education, because there’s no local shop, there’s no local pub for the kind of young teenagers to go and get their first job in. There’s no place for people who are perhaps living by themselves to go out and have a coffee and bump into their neighbours. So they’re really important centres for communities. And often people talk to us and say, you know, you’ve put the heart back into where we live. I haven’t seen Betty for 10 years, and I bumped into her the other day, and I used to know at school. Those fantastic stories about people meeting each other and see each other make it so valuable, as well as the fact you know, you can pop down the road and get your extra milk, your toilet roll, those essentials that are stopping a car journey, reducing emissions, reducing the impact of climate change. So they’re really important having these local services for people. And are they successful? Absolutely. Because the people that run them make them successful, because they are community developed. They’re the ideas of the community, and they run them for the community. And the long term success rate for community businesses are 94%, so when they’re up and running they fly. And that, compared to the average of small medium business nationally, which is 46%. I believe, that’s fantastic. You know, the rates when they’re open, they stay open.

Johnny Thomson 04:54
Wow, that’s brilliant. And I guess that just connects to that whole thing you’re talking about about there being a need for that, because there’s a need that I guess is probably the secret of their success, yeah?

Hannah Barrett 05:05
Absolutely. So they’ll identify through a community consultation, which will be in the forms of surveys, meetings, online meetings, poster campaigns, they’ll try and get people involved from all households, get the local schoolchildren involved. Do those consultations identify what the need is, and that might be a cafe, or it might be a bookshop. And it might be saving the pub, but actually not just saving the pub for beer and some food. The local children want a place to learn, or have a drama class in. Or parents want a space to have a parent’s club. So it’s about thinking about what the asset is, and changing it and adapting it to the needs of the community now.

Johnny Thomson 05:51
Yes, you’ve created a nice connection there, because you’ve mentioned a couple of things there, which kind of link very nicely to village halls. And of course, I’ve already mentioned a couple of community businesses at the beginning of the show that we featured. There does seem to often be a close link between village halls and community businesses doesn’t there?

Hannah Barrett 06:11
Absolutely there is. All over the UK, there are wonderful examples, you mentioned two at the start, of communities that have perhaps utilised a village hall car park and put in a porta-cabin, which is what they did in Down Ampney In Cirencester. But actually, they raised enough money over time and now they’ve completely created a new village hall, and shop and cafe and post office. So they did really well at collaborating. But there’s also like, Southrop in Gloucestershire, celebrating their 40th birthday this year. And they run a pop up village shop within the village hall. So you can have really different models of kind of a static caravan, sorry static porta-cabin, or caravan or shipping container, really whatever kind of a facility there is. Communities are really resourceful and can create these fantastic spaces, yeah, as you say, collaborating with their village hall.

Johnny Thomson 07:09
Do you think that pandemic’s created even more opportunities here to develop community businesses? There’s a there’s a lot of talk around this word ‘localisation’ where people increasingly want local suppliers rather than those big multinationals.

Hannah Barrett 07:25
Absolutely. So throughout the pandemic, we really saw community step up and embrace community businesses. So actually, a huge number of the community shops did really really well, because people, as you say, wanted that local supply. They really valued they could pick up x from the local farm, meat from the local butcher, within their community facility. We saw, I think it was Ermington, set up in six to eight weeks their community shop that is connected to the hall. We saw Minety in North Wiltshire do a similar activity. They set up really, really quickly because there was demand and there was, crucially a lack of supply, because people couldn’t get what they needed. So villagers stepped up and provided that service through community business. Yeah, absolutely. You’re right. We are seeing more hospitality businesses struggle during the pandemic. And I think we do really appreciate being able to pop to the pub now that the pubs are back open. But that does also mean that there are a lot of hospitality businesses that are now up for sale, which gives communities an opportunity to take them under their own wing through what they want with those assets. Or perhaps if they are gone completely, to turn to their village hall committee, look at the space within their village and say, could we create our own service here?

Johnny Thomson 08:54
Yeah, the good old pub that you’ve mentioned there really is another really important community business. And I guess it’s sometimes easy to see pubs and village halls as kind of competing for the attention of the locals. But in reality, it’s not like that, is it?

Hannah Barrett 09:10
No, because community businesses really want to support an affluent, excited, busy community, they work in collaboration. So there’s some really lovely examples. For example, there’s a pub that will host kind of like pre-theatre dinners for the village hall because the village hall is putting on a theatre performance or a cinema at night. So they will kind of work in harmony there. There’s also another village hall that is providing the food, sorry, is providing the space for parties and the pub is providing the food for parties, though there’s ways of connecting and overlapping yet and supporting each other.

Johnny Thomson 09:54
So Hannah how does the good foundation fit in with all of this. You mentioned a little bit of about how you support businesses and so on at the outset there. What kind of support do you offer community businesses along the way?

Hannah Barrett 10:09
So, Plunkett can provide an abundance of free support for communities. So whether that’s one person with an idea, who wants to find out more information, feel free to get in touch, give our helpline a call. To a group of people who need support to do their consultation. We’re happy to talk through that. And then we provide really in depth support so that some things like legal structures, business planning and financial forecasting, through to how do you actually run this thing when it’s up and running? And how do we manage the volunteers? So we provide free online and in person events and training. And also we have to say it’s a fantastic collaborative network. So we have fantastic Facebook pages, where there’s just peer to peer support, because people want to see another village thrive. So they’re happy to share, well, we did this have you tried this? Why don’t you try these people? And there’s a lovely, yeah, as I said, kind of collaborative nature within the sector.

Johnny Thomson 11:09
Yeah, so a real kind of helping hand all the way, all the way from start, right the way through to, to being one of the one of those 94% successful local community businesses.

Hannah Barrett 11:22
Absolutely, that’s what we’re here for. And we also advocate for the sector. So we do a lot of kind of policy work. And we have a membership scheme as well, so when people do get up and trading, they can access a lot of kind of discounted services and support from Plunkett in addition to that, that we provide separately.

Johnny Thomson 11:40
Fantastic. So you have a website, as you mentioned, and you’ve got various other ways in which people can find out more, social media and all of that kind of stuff. So as always, I’ll just make sure that there are plenty of links to those resources on our website with this episode.

Hannah Barrett 11:55
Fantastic. I think the final thing I should say is that occasionally we do have grant funding available. And I know that often gets people excited. So in the East of England, at the moment, we have grant funding for groups looking to explore community business. And also if anyone is looking to set up a community business, perhaps not just in their village hall, but perhaps their church, if you’re looking at any other assets within the community, we do have a programme specifically for that as well.

Johnny Thomson 12:23
And I guess it doesn’t matter if you already I mean, you mentioned a hall earlier on that has several community businesses all kind of attached to it, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got one or two already, they can still come to you and seek support and seek out grant funding.

Hannah Barrett 12:35
Absolutely. We’ve just helped Trawden, who have got a, they’ve already got a shop and library and community hub, and we’ve just helped them to set up their community pub. So there are villages out there with an absolute abundance of community businesses all running within their locality.

Johnny Thomson 12:57
Brilliant. Well, thank you so much Hannah. Some great information and ideas there for anyone thinking about starting a community business. And just another thing, of course, village halls out there may want to tap into?

Hannah Barrett 13:13
Absolutely, it’s just another opportunity for village halls to support their community in another way. You know Plunkett is here, we’ve supported over 700 communities in the last 25 years to create their community business. So, we’ve got a good track record and we’d absolutely love to hear from any village hall across the UK, who would like to expand their services.

Johnny Thomson 13:37
Wonderful. And well done, well done Plunkett with all of that. And thanks again, Hannah.

Hannah Barrett 13:43
Thank you so much.

Johnny Thomson 13:44
Lovely to meet you.

Hannah Barrett 13:45
Lovely to meet you, too. Thank you so much for having me on your podcast.

Johnny Thomson 13:49
Absolute pleasure. And, and that’s all folks for this episode. Many thanks to our headline sponsor and specialist insurance provider Allied Westminster for making our podcast possible, and whose services you can discover more about it And to online booking system provider Hallmaster, who also sponsor our podcast and can be found at You’ve been listening to The Village Halls Podcast, a unique listening community for Britain’s village church and community halls and anyone interested in the vital community services they provide. We’ll be back soon, so if you haven’t already, please visit to subscribe, sign up for updates, link through to our social media pages and to find out more. Until the next time, goodbye for now.