What makes a community business leader?

Planning for 2018 has caused me to reflect the work we have done and the people we have met in 2017. My overriding feeling is that I am extremely lucky and proud. It has been a privilege to have met so many incredible people, involved in running an extraordinary range of community businesses over the last year.

From the powerful ladies at Squash in Liverpool (pictured), who are regenerating a whole street through food, love and growing things and who invited me to spend the evening with them on International Women’s Day before I had even met them, to the wonderful people acting as the driving force for new facilities at a bowling club in our own town of Watchet. Mike and Marilyn and the rest of the team, who have retired from busy jobs, could now be resting on their laurels and taking it easy but instead are working amazingly hard to build a future for their club and the wider community.

And I can’t not mention, Sam and Rob at Horfield Common (pictured) who have such amazing energy that I can barely keep up. They are juggling other jobs and demands with creating a perfect oasis of community togetherness in the middle of the common and who have wonderful plans to create so much more in 2018.

And wow, after a very long drive all the way to Grangetown in Middlesbrough, we were blown away by Lynn and her daughter, who for two decades have given everything to their community and are now on the verge of reopening a derelict building for the benefit of their community.

Finally, just before Christmas, I made a trip to an old school in Norfolk where I expected to be underwhelmed by the project but was in fact totally bowled over by what the small team at the Charles Burrell Centre (pictured) had achieved in three short years - again with relentless enthusiasm, boundless energy and serious hard work.

So what makes these people so special and unique? You’ve probably got a sense of how inspiring, energetic and enthusiastic they are. But they are also great entrepreneurs who in another time (and perhaps even in a previous life, or indeed concurrently) would have been running family rather than community businesses. But it’s also something more. These are all people who willingly give up their time for the benefit of their community. They often don’t get paid, or certainly not during the start-up phase. They often face a barrage of insulting questions about their motivation, which people working in other jobs that benefit their community, such as nurses, teachers and council officers, certainly do not face. They take risks. They often put in their own money to make things happen. They and their families make huge sacrifices.

For me, these people are our everyday heroes. They are the people who will rebuild our communities and bring people together again – a task that is ever more urgent if this country is to rebuild a positive future.

I count myself extremely lucky to have worked with all these people and many more just like them who I have not been able to mention (including, of course, my very own Onions), to support them, champion them, cry with them and now to be friends with them. And I’m excited by the prospect of spending more time with them and meeting many more of the community business leaders who will be our future in 2018.

Happy New Year!

Photo credits from top:

The board members of Squash Nutrition

Board members of The Ardagh Project, Friends of Horfield Common

The team at the Charles Burrell Centre in Norfolk

Onion Collective offer Community Business Support in areas from visioning, to fundraising to impact measurement to governance. More details of our support services can be found here:

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