Plunkett Foundation Helping Rural Communities

17:47 Friday 26th August 2011
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY BURROWS: If your local pub shuts, could you and a few mates get together and reopen it? Well that’s exactly what’s happened in Cumbria today, where 300 people have each stumped up £250. Earlier on I spoke to Peter Couchman. He’s the Chief Executive of the Plunkett Foundation. That’s an organisation which promotes the development of community-owned pubs and shops. (TAPE)
PETER COUCHMAN: It will vary depending on what you’re trying to save. So the arrangements for a shop will be different for a pub. The pub in Cumbria is a good example of a community in danger of losing its pub. People come together, raise the money to save the pub, and then actually collectively own the pub. So therefore its a co-operative owned by the village. They actually shape what they want their pub to be like. And when they’ve done that they actually hire a tenant to run the pub in that way for them.
ANDY BURROWS: Oh it sounds so simple.
ANDY BURROWS: Are there many barriers though?
PETER COUCHMAN: There are. The first one is actually just the confidence to do that. It’s actually go out and visit other places that have achieved that before, get advice on the best ways of trying to raise the money, the legal models etcetera for it. And obviously to be very clear what it is this community wants this pub to be. Why should it survive when so many aren’t? So there are challenges along the way. But as we’re seeing more and more, people can actually take those on and thrive.
ANDY BURROWS: Is it about making a profit?
PETER COUCHMAN: It’s about making a profit from the point of view that these are enterprises. If you don’t make a profit, then when you’ve got to invest in the future, you’ve got nothing to do (it with). So every single one of these are about making a reasonable profit, so you can actually keep that business going, not just for your generation, but for the ones afterwards as well. So most of them, once they’ve got the door open, are very resilient businesses. In terms of the shops for instance, we’ve only lost ten in the last twenty years, and there’s 265 running today.
ANDY BURROWS: There’s no better time surely then to do this kind of venture, is there? This is all part of the Prime Minister’s Big Society.
PETER COUCHMAN: Well exactly. People are realising that if they want these services in their community, the Government, or local government, isn’t going to come in and run them for them. Big business isn’t going to come and run them for them. They’re on their own. This is the only way. So it certainly matches what the Prime Minister’s calling for. Obviously each community isn’t deciding based on that. They’re deciding on what they want their community to be and how they want it to be in the future.
ANDY BURROWS: But some would argue, I suppose, that the reason why these places have closed in the first place is because of market forces, and there simply isn’t the demand for them.
PETER COUCHMAN: Well if there isn’t the demand in the community, then clearly the community’s going to fail to get it going. What actually happens though is the community gets the chance to rethink why should this work. And basically if you’re looking at say a shop, there’s only two things they can do differently. One is to actually say, if we shape the kind of shop we want, then we’re going to support it more. Or they can also say, can we reduce our costs by actually using some of our time to keep that running. So it puts it entirely in the community’s hands; do we really want a shop here, or do we want to be a village without a shop or a pub.
ANDY BURROWS: So seeing as how the Government’s probably so behind this kind of thing, there must be loads of grants out there and things like that.
PETER COUCHMAN: To be honest, no there isn’t. Most of the funds that flow into supporting this tend to come through foundations and local government. There is very little national government money. Lots of encouragement, and what we do find the Government is good at doing, is actually being willing to say, if barriers are getting in the way, how do we get those to come down. It’s very telling, that Cumbria pub came in their Eden vanguard, were looking at how does the Big Society work in a rural area, and so had a lot of support around. If anything gets in the way in terms of red tape, we’ll do our best to take it out of the way. So we think that’s the bit they have to do even better in the future, getting out of the way of their communities trying to do this.
ANDY BURROWS: And just finally, talking about pubs and shops, what else could this spread to?
PETER COUCHMAN: As much as your imagination can do. There’s no reason you can’t choose to do something no-one else has done before. We’re seeing that in the BBC’s Village SOS programme, a whole series of different communities, all of them choosing to do something quite different. We would say, if you’ve got a whacky idea that no-one else has tried before, come and talk to us. We’re really happy to see if we can find a way of making that work with you.
ANDY BURROWS: He was a really interesting man. That was Peter Couchman. He’s the Chief Executive of the Plunkett Foundation, which is that organisation which promotes the development of community owned pubs and shops. If you want to know more details about what’s happened in Cumbria today, their local pub, it’s in the town of Crosby Ravensworth, if anybody knows it. The pub shut in September last year, but it’s now set to reopen after three hundred of the local people stumped up a minimum of £250 each to buy the pub. So it will be interesting to find out of they make a success of it, because I’m sure lots of people round here will be interested to do that kind of thing. We all think we can run a pub, don’t we, from time to time?