COMMUNITY businesses setting up inside churches are being offered a share of a £200,000 pot to get started.
The money comes from Allchurches Trust, which owns the Ecclesiastical Group, and the grants will be administered by the Plunkett Foundation, a national charity that specialises in supporting rural community enterprises.
Groups can bid now for grants up to £5000, to assist with consultations, planning, and architects’ fees. Allocations are expected early next year.
The Foundation’s chief executive, James Alcock, said: “There are already many examples of successful community-owned businesses operating out of spaces within places of worship, but there is tremendous potential for more of this to be done. This funding from Allchurches Trust will make all the difference, and will open the door for many community businesses and places of worship to work together and bring vital services and social benefits.”
The charity will offer expert advice and support for new community businesses to get established in places of worship. It believes that, besides helping communities to develop new services where there is a proven need, community businesses also help to address issues such as isolation, loneliness, well-being, work, and training.
Plunkett is also heading a wider campaign, Places of Worship, promoting the potential of religious buildings to host community businesses. It is an alliance of organisations including the Church of England, the Churches Conservation Trust, the Allchurches Trust, Action with Communities in Rural England, the Architectural Heritage Fund, the Arthur Rank Centre, the Methodist Church, the National Churches Trust, and the Historic Building Alliance.
Tim Carroll, who chairs the Allchurches Trust, which gave £17.8 million to churches, charities, and communities last year, said: “Supporting local businesses through the provision of premises is a win/win: placing the church even more firmly at the heart of the community and encouraging sustainability — both for the place of worship and the people it serves.”
The community shop in the Derbyshire Peak District village of Grindleford has traded successfully, since 2014, in the vestry of St Helen’s (Features, 20 November 2015). The last village shop had closed four years previously, but a working group of villagers considering a community enterprise had problems finding a base, until the PCC at St Helen’s realised that a community shop might bring more people into church and help the parish generally.
Today, the shop offers 215 products, including cakes freshly baked by local people. In 2015, it was awarded the Bishop of Derby’s Best New Project award.
The verger of St Helen’s, Adrienne Kay, said: “It has put the church on the map; it has made the building the hub of the community.”
The community enterprise at St Leonard’s, in Yarpole, Herefordshire, includes a shop, post office, and café (Features, 12 February 2010). It was the first full-time community shop to operate inside a church. It began life in a shipping container in the pub car park, partly funded by the sale of 306 shares to villagers at £10 each.
It switched to the church in 2009, after the parish plan showed that the Grade II* listed St Leonard’s was under-used. It has since won accolades including the Post Office Award for the UK’s Best Village Shop, and the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.
Andrew Praill, who chairs the shop management committee, said: “It is absolutely crucial to the functioning of the village. It is the principal hub of the community. The value of the shop has been exemplified this year with the Covid epidemic: our turnover went up 75 per cent, mainly because the community would rather shop with us than go elsewhere.”
The enterprise is run six days a week by volunteers. It has a full-time postmistress, and stocks a range of convenience-store goods as well as bread from an artisan baker, plants, cakes, and locally made craft products. It generates an annual surplus of about £2500, which is reinvested in the village.
“Our mission statement is that it supports social engagement across the whole parish,” Mr Praill said. “Any surplus is used to support community projects. We ask people to put forward ideas, and they are voted on at the annual meeting. It goes on anything and everything, [such as] footpaths, gates, the parish hall, the First World War 100th anniversary.”