Annabel Litchfield shares learning from the evaluation of three Power to Change programmes, Bright Ideas, Trade Up, and the Community Business Fund (CBF) through the coronavirus crisis and lockdown.

Renaisi has adapted the evaluation of three Power to Change programmes to understand what can be learnt from community business responses to COVID-19. In a series of blogs for Power to Change Annabel shared insights on the role of sectors, peer support, partnership working and the use of assets.

The role of sectors

Each sector of business has been affected differently; some have had to shut down entirely, while others have been busier than ever – even if in a different format to before lockdown. We learned that it is crucial to consider each sector independently. Funders should look to provide sector-specific community business support.

Peer support

That sector-specific support could involve facilitating conversations between community businesses in the same sector to encourage peer learning. Each of the three programmes we evaluate contain an element of peer support – Trade Up in particular brings together community businesses to communicate and learn together in a structured learning scheme.

Our earlier evaluation found that this peer support is highly valued and since the COVID-19 crisis, we have found that it is even more important as community businesses, and their leaders, navigate through this unprecedented situation. Our findings suggest that Power to Change grantees would welcome more peer learning both within and across programmes.

Delivery partners

The Bright Ideas and Trade Up programmes both have delivery partners. Our evaluation found that partners helped inform Power to Change’s response to the crisis, providing expert knowledge and strengthening their relationship with the funder.

It would be interesting to explore a different type of partnership in future, one that creates more opportunity for Power to Change and delivery partners to work together as equals. That change could create the opportunity to adjust the spread of responsibility to make even more of the partnerships that already exist.

Asset use and resilience

We found two main approaches from community businesses with assets and facilities:

  • Some closed their premises and paused services completely to protect their funds and ensure they were able to reopen in the future
  • Some stopped usual services but loaned their facilities to the community

This latter option has seen examples of community support including a bike loan service for NHS staff and a community hub giving their space to a local food bank. Our evaluation found that although loaning assets to the community has the potential to strengthen the community network by forging and maintaining relationships, it may result in financial losses as many weren’t charging for the release of their assets to the community.

Community business success is not only about financial resilience. It’s associated with a range of factors including good governance, strong leadership, and a supportive and engaged community. There is a risk that funders prioritise helping organisations with healthier finances to limit the risk to their own funds. This could lead to the loss of organisations that are highly valued by local communities, that have been supporting their community at this time, and would be willing to do more, given the chance.

What next?

As lockdown restrictions ease, grantees are ready to start planning for the renewal phase. Now is the time for funders to consider what support they will need ensuring they consider all the community business success factors, not just financial resilience.

Annabel Litchfield