Norfolk communities take control of vital services

More and more Norfolk villagers are choosing to go it alone to save vital local services, according to a rural communities charity.

Norfolk Rural Community Council, based in Dereham, is increasingly being contacted by communities in need of advice about running their local pub, village, shop or bus service.

At a regional conference next month, help will be on hand for people considering taking over a local amenity.

Peter Smith, development officer, said over a period of six or seven years he was involved with a total of three villages who had decided to run their shop as a community enterprise.

But in recent months, interest has surged.

He said: 'I now find myself working with four communities who are all at once looking at the possibility of doing a community shop.

'It's coming out of a necessity. Communities are saying 'no one else is going to do this, so we're going to have to do it ourselves.'

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Mr Smith said rural communities were known for their ability to work together and overcome problems and, with more and more local services disappearing, that was being increasingly called upon.

He said: 'If they come under threat, they will hold hands and say 'we will fight this'. The communities have to say 'hang on a minute, if we let this go and that go, what's left?''

As well as community shops, the Norfolk RCC has seen a similar trend with community pubs. In the last 18 months, the development manager has been talking to two more villages who do not want to lose their locals, while community bus services are also beginning to appear.

Mike Perry, spokesman for national charity the Plunkett Foundation which supports rural community enterprises, said the rising number of community enterprises across the country was a sign of 'the Big Society in action'.

The government philosophy, which has often used the idea of community-owned pubs as an illustration of the idea, aims to get people more involved in their community and take on the responsibility for key services.

Mr Perry said he hoped new legislation set to be brought in as part of the Localism Bill would make it easier for villagers.

He said: 'These are exciting times but we have got to see how this legislation will improve the situation for communities wanting to buy their shop or pub, because it can be really hard.'

At a conference next month, which has been organised by Norfolk RCC, Co-operatives East, Rural Action East and Suffolk Acre, groups who are already looking to start a community enterprise will be offered key advice about how to get started.

The event aims to showcase some existing community enterprises – including the community shop at Great Ryburgh, near Fakenham – to show how it can be done.

Presentations will also be given by the Plunkett Foundation and The Solar Co-op.

The Community Enterprise Now conference will take place on June 30 at Great Barton Village Hall, near Bury St Edmunds.

Attendance is free but places must be booked by downloading an application form from www.cooperatives-east.coop or www.ruralactioneast.org.uk.

For more information contact Peter Smith at Norfolk RCC on 01362 696555, Pam Walker at Rural Action East on 01473 345341 or Barry Henson at Suffolk Acre on 01473 345300.

victoria.leggett@archant.co.uk

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