On Wednesday we awoke to news that Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States.
Much as we saw in the Brexit vote, those in America who feel they no longer benefit from the country’s prosperity, and are being left behind by the pace of change, expressed their fear and frustration by kicking out the establishment in favour of a maverick.
There will be much hand wringing in the days to come as to how this happened and who is to blame. But anguish needs quickly to make way for solutions. Some of the changes that can help restore people’s sense of control over their future lie in the realm of big politics; others are far more local. This is where community businesses come in.
According to a report published by Power to Change earlier this week, there are now 7,085 community businesses in England, covering everything from transport to libraries, housing to energy. They generate £1bn in income each year, employ 360,000 people, and engage nearly 200,000 volunteers.
Community businesses have a simple model. They respond to the needs of local people, are accountable to them, and ultimately benefit the people and places where they are rooted. For many communities, starting a community business has been a way to take back control of their area, protecting important local assets and regenerating the high street as government and private businesses withdraw. Thus disaffection can take a positive turn.
It is thanks to this local connection that community businesses have had the resilience to outperform small businesses and charities over such a difficult 12 months for the British economy. The community business market in England grew by 5 per cent over the past year (with sports and leisure groups growing the fastest). This compares to 1 per cent growth among small businesses and 2 per cent among charities.
Through local connections, community businesses are better able to respond to changing needs on their doorstep, and can benefit from partnerships with other local organisations. When the going gets really tough, they can draw on the goodwill of local people as volunteers, customers and community shareholders.
Looking forward, confidence is greater among community businesses than among small businesses in general. There are also signs of significant potential for further growth, including in housing, health, libraries and community hubs. A proportion of this growth will be driven by the transfer of assets such as libraries and town halls from local authorities, who can no longer afford to maintain them and will look to communities to preserve them by finding new ways to generate income from the asset.
Community businesses have a long history, but they have never been more relevant. Significant swathes of the population are signalling their dissatisfaction, and politicians in developed economies will be searching for new ways of working. The strength of the community business market offers an important solution.