Businesses can be community hubs, says RSA report

Increasingly the “social bumping places”** where we might come across other local residents in our communities are stores and supermarkets … and the RSA believes that this could be turned to greater advantage for both shops and shoppers.

In a recent report called Community Footprint: Shared Value for Business and Communities, the RSA suggests that businesses “should act as ‘community hubs’, helping promote social interaction amongst their customers and developing local action plans to create happier, more resilient communities”.

When I was in the RSA recently, talking to Ben Dellot about social network analysis and local Changemakers, I also spoke to Emma Norris, who is associate director of the Connected Communities project.

Emma explained how they had worked with B&Q to research the relationship between their store in Sutton and local customers. They found 42 percent of customers had some interaction with other customers in the store and that 23 percent of customers asked other customers for DIY advice.

The report found that 70 percent of customers say they will remain loyal to a brand that demonstrates social value even in a recession, and suggests businesses should:

  • Identify a member of staff who will be leading on community work – if possible a local person whose role should include building local partnerships with third sector organisation and social landlords.
  • Give permission for staff to spend a certain amount of time (e.g. two hours) every week on community-relevant activities
  • Design and create a central community orientated in-store space that can be used for training and skills events, customer information sharing and innovation.

Emma said:

Businesses who are willing to be pioneering and give something back to customers and the community in concrete, tangible ways will feel the benefits. People will spend more in their stores and customers will stay loyal in hard times. What  more can businesses hope for than that?

The term Community Footprint refers to ways in which the project was able to measure the impact of a store in its community – both positive and negative. That means it should be possible to demonstrate quantifiable benefits … not just urge community engagement as a good thing. Social responsibility and ethical business can have a street-level focus.

Emma said that the approach could be extended to clusters of shops, encouraging networking and collective benefits for shops in High Streets and other areas. The RSA has a large membership of Fellows, who are increasing active in RSA projects. Emma said RSA staff would be particularly interested in talking to Fellows who might want to take up the Community Footprint approach in their area.

** For more about social bumping places, see this report of a workshop in Manchester on Asset Based Community Development.



  • March 13, 2012 - 9:28 am | Permalink

    I think this is really interesting. It surely makes good business sense for companies to have deeper links with their communities. We are seeing companies like Tesco rolling out free wifi in their stores, which they are obviously doing for commercial reasons, but surely it could be used to build links with communities too. Stores that have in-house cafes should think about introducing free wifi to give people another reason to spend time there; and stores that don’t have cafes should think about establishing one to give people reasons to linger.

  • david wilcox
    March 13, 2012 - 10:12 am | Permalink

    Thanks John – maybe business hubs can also help bridge the continuing social-digital divide.
    In this discussion about community organising, building, and the role of social media, Mark Parker says:

    “It’s not just to leave the minority out of the network by focusing mainly on digital means. We must find ways of using the online experience to drive real face-to-face networks”.

    Maybe big stores could create social spaces that blend online and face to face – together with your ideas for community notice boards? The notice boards could be part paper-based, part digital curators.
    Here’s how they use big screens in stores and streets in Holland.

  • Comments are closed.