When we set up the Saga Covid Support Fund, we asked for your say on what kind of charities to help. You told us community support was important, so we decided to partner with Plunkett Foundation, which helps create and sustain community-owned businesses.

What does the Plunkett Foundation do for local business communities?

Established in 1919, the charity has been helping rural communities to form community businesses for more than a decade. It now supports more than 800 UK groups across 400 communities. Its aim is to keep the heart of rural towns and villages alive by opening and maintaining local shops, pubs, social hubs, food businesses, markets, woodland and farming enterprises.

Local groups support most vulnerable in lockdown

During the pandemic, it was these kind of small-scale community groups and local businesses that rallied to help the most vulnerable. The network of community businesses went above and beyond to ensure their vulnerable residents were supported and reassured. They helped with delivering essential groceries, hot meals and prescriptions. They reached out to people who had to isolate and shield to offer online social events and welfare calls to boost people’s wellbeing.

Dunshalt Community Shop in Fife, Scotland is one of the community groups that has thrived thanks to Plunkett. The shop and café opened just a few weeks before the first lockdown restrictions were imposed. But, instead of having an adverse effect, the committee, staff and volunteers found they were busier than ever with all age groups playing a part.

Eleanor Porter, volunteer Chair of the Dunshalt Community Shop, recalls:

“First we closed the café, just hours before the national lockdown. We closed the doors of the shop and moved to free home delivery service for Dunshalt and surrounding villages. Volunteer drivers and village teenagers delivered on foot.

“With local suppliers we were able to supply food in the community when supermarkets were struggling to keep their shelves stocked. We also did a prescription pick-up service and provided free packed-lunches for struggling families through a voucher-scheme.

“When lockdown eased, we re-opened the shop serving takeaway food. It has been doing a great trade ever since. I love that it proves social enterprise works. Profit does not have to make the world go around.”

By maintaining vital services when they were most needed, the community shop has attracted a dedicated following and has become a valued and much-loved local resource.

“The community shop means everything to our village,” says Eleanor. “Less travel, great local produce, the essentials within a five-minute walk and it’s good for the morale of the village of course. We were so grateful to have the shop during lockdown. Due to our home deliveries, and being there when people needed us the most, we now have an abundance of loyal customers – people from near and far that visit our shop.”

Taking action to support start-up community business

Post lockdown, Plunkett has seen a huge increase in interest from community groups wanting to set up a community business. Given the wealth of benefits they bring – from volunteer opportunities and regular social events, to reducing loneliness and improving health and wellbeing – this increase in community-owned business is something to celebrate.

Saga’s donation will help Plunkett cope with the increasing demand for its services by maintaining a community business helpline. Saga’s contribution will also help to provide specialist advice on more complex business issues such as launching a community share offer, managing membership and volunteers, setting up a committee, running an AGM or contracting staff.

For free advice on setting up a community business, call the Plunkett helpline on 0845 5571469, Monday to Friday 9am-5pm or email info@plunkett.co.uk

Become a community business volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to feel connected to your community and make new friends. You can learn new skills or find uses for your talents outside your usual activity. The network of community businesses offers lots of opportunities to volunteer. You can match your individual skills to businesses whether you’re a whizz with numbers or find it easy to chat to people. There’s plenty of scope indoors and out, from lending a hand with decorating to joining a gardening workforce. It’s up to you how much time you give, you can help with one-off tasks or do several hours a week. Volunteering is good for you as well the people you help. You are making a difference to the communities you are helping to grow and in the lives of every person you connect with.

Click on the community business map to see who you can help nearby and get involved.

We’ll be posting regular updates about our work with Plunkett Foundation on the customer hub, so please stay in touch for more details.

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