This research used 5 full case studies and 2 shorter ones to consider whether community owned businesses can help sustain rural places of worship. Social enterprises, (more recently called community businesses/co-operatives), are trading organisations with social and community objectives. Any surplus funds they generate is used to fulfill social purposes. Examples are community owned shops or pubs or broadband and energy schemes.
The research was commissioned by the Heritage Lottery Funding in 2012 supported by a steering group comprising: Plunkett Foundation; Cathedral and Church Buildings Division of the Church of England; Germinate: The Arthur Rank Centre; Newcastle University. A report was published March 2017. Headlines from the research are:
- Social enterprise had a positive impact on the long term sustainability of the place of worship. This was through increasing use, additional income generation and the involvement of more people.
- The needs of the wider community must be the starting point for considering the potential of a social enterprise. Solutions that are solutions for community needs and problems are more likely to be successful than those which are merely solutions for the problems of a place of worship.
- The benefits and wider impacts of a social enterprise extend beyond meeting the initial service need or resource provision.
- High quality advice, support and promotion are needed to ensure good practice is shared and built on.
- There are three challenges to address in the use of social enterprise in places of worship:
(a) The social enterprise should meet the community’s needs and not be developed
solely as a solution to problems of a place of worship;
(b) Recognising and addressing the tensions that may arise in using a spiritual
place for secular purposes;
(c) The process for working through the planning system and listed building
consent, including denominational systems.