Renaisi was commissioned to identify and describe the types of community businesses supported by Power to Change, their impact and how the model of community business drives that impact.

Power to Change’s Community Business Fund awards grants of between £50,000 and £300,000 to community businesses for business development projects to make them more sustainable.

Our evaluation was developmental, designed to respond to the evolving needs and interests of both the Community Business Fund and Power to Change, and to provide timely insight to inform the ongoing development of the Fund.

What we did

We used a mixed methods approach. Quantitative analysis of grantee application and monitoring forms, and publicly available datasets was supplemented with qualitative interviews and fieldwork.

We interviewed employees, directors and trustees about the impact of the grant from Power to Change, what it had enabled them to achieve, the challenges they’d overcome and what further support they needed.

We also visited a sample of the community businesses to talk to the customers, service users and volunteers to understand what the community business means to them, how it has impacted their community, and whether they had observed any changes in their locality thanks to the business.

The data gathered through quantitative analysis gave us questions to investigate during our visits, and the fieldwork brought to life the data we had gathered to give us a richer understanding of the impact of the Fund.

What we learnt about community businesses

We learnt that there is no ‘typical’ or average community business model. For Power to Change, this presents a challenge: to offer a high-volume fund that provides large grants to over a hundred different businesses with varied investment needs.

The importance of place to a community business

We worked to describe and analyse the cohort of organisations supported by the Fund in a way that respects their variety, but also enabled us to say something meaningful about their collective role in the social economy. We identified some key place-based factors:

  • A significant majority of Community Business Fund grantees are based in urban areas, with nearly half based in an urban major conurbation.
  • A high proportion of grantees operate in highly deprived areas.
  • On average, Community Business Fund grantees operate in areas with higher than average rates of unemployment, some with unemployment rates that are significantly higher than the England average.
  • Three local authorities – Tower Hamlets, Liverpool and Bristol – are home to nearly a quarter of Community Business Fund grantees. These areas have higher than average levels of deprivation, migration and unemployment, which are all factors associated with the emergence of community businesses.

The impact of community businesses

We learnt that it is impossible to generalise about the impact community businesses have on people and communities as they are so diverse but it is possible to identify six main drivers to creating impact. These drivers are:

  • A community space where people can come together and connect.
  • Creating jobs for local people who might otherwise struggle in the employment market.
  • Promoting wellbeing through volunteering opportunities.
  • Improving the local area to make it a better place for everyone to live.
  • Sense of ownership, pride and empowerment through opportunities to influence and shape the business.
  • Impact of activities or services by offering services that improve people’s lives.

What next?

Power to Change passionately believes in the power of community businesses to improve the lives of people and the places in which they work. Our evaluation has started to unpick how they do this in different ways, and how best to support them to do so, but many questions remain for the next phase of the evaluation, which we will explore in partnership with MyCake and Close Up Research.