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Creating thriving networks for community businesses

Isabella Coin

Networks are valuable tools for community businesses, including land-based social enterprises. Through our work on Power To Change’s new Peer Networks programme, we now have the opportunity to develop innovative models to help networks thrive and become more sustainable.

We’re excited to announce we have started working on a new programme aimed at supporting strong networks for community businesses, funded by Power to Change,

Together with The Social Change Agency, we are convening a Community of Practice (CoP) made up of 13 leading peer network practitioners, including:
Community Food Growers Network
The Company of Community Organisers
Co-Operatives UK
Eden Project
Impact Hub Brixton
Octopus Community Network Ltd
Plunkett Foundation
Project Dirt
Regen SW
Social Enterprise Acumen CIC
Supporters Direct
Upper Norwood Library Trust

The CoP will periodically come together to share learning and experiences, and come up with innovative models of developing networks.

Making the most of networks

Though powerful, network-building is hard work and requires strategy. Over the next 18 months, the CoP will be testing out different models, tools and resources which we’ll then disseminate to the wider community business sector.

Though powerful, network-building is hard work and requires strategy.

We’ll be exploring seven key themes in network-building:

  1. Roles and responsibilities of people: what are the different activities people need to carry out to build networks?
  2. Value creation and exchange: what is the value of being part of a network, how do network members create and add value and how can it be passed on?
  3. Power, leadership and decision-making: is leadership in a network different from leadership in an organisation or group?
  4. Typologies and structures: what are the different types of networks and which structures are most adequate to support them?
  5. Identity and purpose: how can a network’s purpose closely match its members’ interests?
  6. Infrastructure and resources: what resources need to be in place to ensure a network can thrive, grow and be more sustainable?
  7. Measuring impact: why does it matter to measure network impact, and how can we do this?


Networks for a better land system

According to Power to Change, a community business is “a business led by local people that brings benefits to local areas”. We think this definition fits well with land-based social enterprises and other forms of common good land use, where benefits are shared and communities are in control.


Strong networks help tackle many barriers people face when using land for the common good.

Our recent policy research identified a lack of coherent networks for coordinating land-based social enterprise support and advocacy. Strong, sustainable networks are key tools to tackling many of the barriers people face when they use land for the common good. We hope to apply learning from the Peer Networks programme to the land-based sector in the following ways:

  1. Supporting peer to peer networking between land-based social enterprises to share knowledge, information and expertise. Talking to people who are going through similar experiences can help enterprises develop innovative ways of managing land or tackling policy issues.
  2. Encouraging networking between different land-based stakeholders. Creating strong relationships and dialogue between diverse actors in the land-based sector can create positive impact and opportunities. For example, landowners could learn about ways to manage their land sustainably, or land-based social enterprises could access wider markets.
  3. Creating a wider movement for common good land use. Creating a land-focused network could create resource- and skill-sharing opportunities for food, housing and environmental movements. Learning from our Peer Networks programme will help us understand how networks such as Land for What can thrive and create change.

Check out our latest network resources on the Power to Change website, and stay tuned for our thoughts on supporting land-based networks. Please get in touch if you are interested in discussing networks with us more in depth.

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