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By National Federation of Builders
By National Federation of Builders

Why the community-owned business model works for rural settlements

A family walks across the village green at Woodgate

Plunkett UK

3 min read Partner content

Isolation and loneliness. A lack of employment opportunities. Fewer services and poor connectivity. Right now, rural areas are experiencing a housing crisis1 and the challenges are growing for residents of all ages, cultures, backgrounds and family set ups2. Addressing this, leading south of England housebuilder and community creator, Thakeham, and national charity, Plunkett UK, are working together to pioneer a transformative new approach: embedding community-owned businesses at the heart of new housing developments.

Thakeham and Plunkett UK are calling for an open, constructive conversation, not just on how to tackle these issues, but how to ensure rural communities can thrive. They recognise that breaking the cycle of dormancy and decline caused by business closures, lack of investment and opportunity, as well as the withdrawal of key services, requires more homes, including vital affordable homes. But it also means access to facilities like shops, community centres, schools and other local facilities that foster a sense of place and of belonging for all.

Giving community a stronger voice

Collaborating to set up a local shop, run by the community, for the community, at Thakeham’s Woodgate development in West Sussex, Thakeham and Plunkett have produced a paper setting out why, and how, new developments should motivate local people to participate in their community.

Plunkett has been promoting and supporting community-owned businesses, achieving long-term success rates of 92 per cent, for over a century. The model works, because these enterprises, from shops and cafes to pubs, are owned and run by local communities, providing a powerful model for cultivating a sense of pride in their community, of connectedness, and of a common aim.

To survive, however, such businesses must reflect the needs of local people. Involving and listening to residents throughout the planning process is the optimal way of finding out what assets are appropriate and where.

As well as having a say in where development could be appropriately sited via Neighbourhood Plans, residents can also feel empowered to run services, assets and other local businesses, all with their community’s involvement and support.

Thakeham and Plunkett are urging for Local Plans, compiled by local authorities, to include policies which encourage the delivery of community-owned assets and social enterprises promoting inclusivity, sustainability, and integration among new and existing residents alike.

Taking an ‘infrastructure first’ approach to future-proofing rural areas

Above all, communities need more than just homes. The proposal to use the community-owned business model, alongside new development, is a cohesive way of unlocking the next generation of rural housing. This policy ambition sits alongside a genuine desire to see developers adopt an ‘infrastructure first’ approach, rather than it being an afterthought.

Infrastructure, in this context meaning the creation of community buildings, amenities and green spaces, comes with its own financial implications, but delivering fit-for-purpose facilities in a timely manner is also a critical consideration and something that Thakeham has long championed and implemented with very positive results.

Exploring what ‘good’ development really looks like, the barriers that are preventing this vision, and what needs to change to ensure a better future for people living rurally.

Read the full paper on Building sustainable, thriving, and inclusive rural communities where everyone is welcome here. 

This article was orginally published in The House magazine's housing supplement Focus On Housing in March 2024. You can read the full supplement here.

1.  The housebuilding crisis | Centre for Cities (

2. Tackling Loneliness annual report February 2022: the third year - GOV.UK (


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Connecting Communities

Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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