Fifty years of friendship and finance – meet James Alcock

As we move through our fiftieth year, we’re chatting to people who have been part of the ICOF story so far. Today we speak to James Alcock, Chief Executive of Plunkett Foundation, and one of our key partners.

“I first came across ICOF when I joined Plunkett, around 16 years ago. We were running the ‘Village Core’ project together which was funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and supported start-up community owned village shops. Plunkett was providing the awareness raising, business support and grant application process, and CCF provided the loan capital matched by community shares – possibly one of the first initiatives that championed the role of community shares.

I have to say it is one of the most successful and impactful programmes that we’ve ever run, on account of it growing the community shop sector from 30 to over 230 in just six years! This initiative has had a longer term impact of mobilising a national movement with now over 750 rural community owned businesses of all types including shops, pubs, woodlands and farms. The long term survival rate of community owned shops – 96% – means that the impact these businesses have locally continue and evolve year after year, supporting multiple generations of each rural community where they are based. That’s an incredible impact and legacy for a programme to have!

We also partnered with CCF on More Than a Pub (MTAP) which was funded by Power to Change and Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (now DLUCH) which has replicated the success of Village Core but for community owned pubs. We are continuing to work together on the successor of MTAP by recycling the loan finance and ensuring there is continued support for start-up and existing community pubs. It’s a great partnerships of skills, resources and relationships and one we look to find continued opportunities to build on. Even when we are not working formally together on projects, we look to collaborate with CCF through events, communications and networks and we do so because of the shared values and the knowledge and commitment they have as an organisation to support rural community businesses. We are continually cross-referring community businesses to each other as they are looking to set up, grow, diversify or strengthen the impact that they have.

I believe the community business model and cooperation more widely has never been a more relevant business model for communities responding to the crises in which they currently face. My hope is that Plunkett and CCF will continue working together and find ever more innovative programmes to offer communities to accelerate the growth of community businesses. We are experiencing huge increases in the number of enquiries from organisations coming to us seeking to set up and save local services, but not nearly enough are reaching trading stage – I would love for us to be working closer together to marry up our support services and ensure that a greater number do succeed.

Happy anniversary CCF – we look forward to working with you for many more to come!”