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Community hubs: research

Closing date: 11 January 2019


Local Trust and Power to Change are collaborating to commission research and production of tools and guidance on community hubs that will guide proposed and existing organisations and community groups to plan, implement, manage and develop their hubs to support local community needs and opportunities.

Local Trust is an independent charitable trust that runs the Big Local programme. Big Local is a 15-year Big Lottery funded initiative to support 150 communities in England. Each Big Local area has been awarded £1m to spend over 10-15 years. The work in areas is led by local volunteers, and areas set their own priorities. The Big Local programme is administered by Local Trust, which also provides training, networking, research and support to areas.

Power to Change is an independent charitable trust that supports and develops community businesses in England. Power to Change provides money, advice and support to help local people come together to take control.

The community hubs commission comprises two related pieces of work:

  • a research commission; and
  • a tools and guidance commission.

This invitation to tender (ITT) is for the research commission only. The tender for the production of tools and guidance is available here, and you are encouraged to read it for context for this commission as this work will inform and shape the tools and guidance. Applicants are welcome to apply for either or both tenders and must complete separate application forms for each.

Purpose of research

Background on community hubs

A community hub is a building (or buildings, or part of a buildings) that has a community-led governance structure. It is multi-purpose, open and accessible to the local community and provides services that the local community need. It’s estimated that there are 1,650 community hubs in England. 85 of 150 Big Local areas use a building or hub for their activities (just over half); seven areas have bought a building with Big Local money.

Yet there is little information on how these facilities achieve viability and sustainability. There is a gap in knowledge of variations by size of organisation, geography, asset base and the scale and scope of different income streams. There is also a lack of guidance on how to manage a successful community hub with a focus on achieving financial sustainability.

Recent research has found four factors associated with the success of community businesses: financial self-sustainability, community and volunteer engagement, staff and volunteer skillsets, and partnerships and networks. Looking specifically at community hubs, one of the key enablers of financial sustainability is the diversification of income streams. Theoretical social enterprise models may not reflect the ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ nature of community hub income streams, which depend on a combination of open market income, contracts, grants and gifts (including of volunteer labour). The majority of community hubs are likely to be operating more than one business model: e.g. renting out some office space at commercial rent; hosting a grant funded activity for a local beneficiary group; running a community café to generate income and also offer local employment opportunities to people who have been out of work.

Relevant literature on business models

Traditional private sector business models aren’t always tailored or appropriate for this group and operate on the assumption of profit maximisation without taking into account the (sometimes contrasting) priority of social purpose.But it is important for all groups running community hubs to develop their understanding of their business model in order for them to achieve long-term financial sustainability.

Margiono et al highlight three potential business models for social ventures: a for-profit business model, which has high potential for profit generation but only moderate social impact; the hybrid business model, which has less potential for profit maximisation and higher social impact; and the philanthropy led business model, which has low profit motivation and the highest social impact; this model targets the poorest beneficiaries with no ability to pay.

Charities Aid Foundation outlines three models of social enterprise activity: those which engage in profit-making activity that has no direct social impact and transfer that activity to another which does have direct social impact; those which engage in activity that does have direct social impact, but manage a trade-off between producing financial return and social impact; and, more rarely, those models engage in a trading activity that has direct social impact in which social impact increases or decreases in lock-step and in parallel with financial returns.

Research questions

The question that this research will seek to answer is: ‘How can community hubs be financially viable?’ To answer this, we would require a mixture of financial and descriptive analysis to answer the following sub questions.

Financial analysis to answer:

  • What types of business models are community hubs in England using?
  • How these business models are being combined in community hubs and what is the impact on their financial viability?
  • What are the approaches that appear to best support financial viability and resilience and in what contexts?
  • What barriers to viability have community hubs encountered? How have these been overcome?
  • How do successful social enterprises balance the inherent tension between viability and social aims?
  • How do community hubs move towards achieving long-term sustainability?

Context, description and rich data will be obtained through answering the following questions:

The organisations commissioning are interested in conclusions on long-term survival, viability, sustainability, community and service delivery and, if appropriate, growth.


The research question should be answered through a mixture of financial analysis and other primary research. We welcome suggestions on the appropriate methods to answer this research question and do not wish to be prescriptive about a particular approach. However, as well as financial analyses, case studies should be used to illustrate the different models and conclusions.

Access to financial data

Although it is possible to undertake a level of financial analysis through publicly available accounts of community hubs (available through Companies House or the Charity Commission) organisations would be expected to work collaboratively with community hubs. Seeking consent to undertake the financial analysis is ethically rigorous and will also benefit the quality of the research. Financial data on community hubs is also accessible through several funders, including Power to Change, Key Fund, Charity Bank, Community Foundations and Locality. We will be able to assist in making introductions to relevant contacts.

Relationship with the tools and guidance commission

The research commission will form the basis of the tools and guidance commission (see tender for tools and guidance for details). The tools and guidance commission has two main elements: general guidance on setting up and maintaining viable community hubs; and financial planning tools to help community groups and organisations achieve this end. The guidance and tools developed will be based on:

  • the findings from the research commission
  • supplementary research examining existing tools and guidance and their take up, to ensure that what is produced builds on and complements these and is produced and promoted in such a way that maximises its use; and
  • consultation with experts including communities developing community hubs

Budget and timeline

The budget for the research, inclusive of VAT and all expenses, is up to £30,000. The timeline for this piece of work is four months, from 1 February to 31 May 2019.

The project will be managed by the research team at Local Trust. An advisory panel will oversee the direction of the research commission and the commission for the production of tools and guidance.

Commissioning process

Please include the following information within your proposal, clearly setting out the following using the numbering below:

  1. An overview of you and/or your organisation: charity, company or other reference or registration number; summary annual income and expenditure for the 2018-2019 financial year; projected income for 2019-2020; membership of trade bodies, kite marks or awards relevant to this contract.
  2. Your understanding of what is needed
  3. A detailed description of how you would approach the work and deliver the research, including proposed outputs of the work
  4. A draft proposal for how you would disseminate the research
  5. A timeline for the work, indicating when you would plan to deliver different activities. This should include key milestones in the project and deliverables against each of these.
  6. A detailed budget including all costs, expenses and VAT, specifying all day rates, the number of days proposed and cost of particular activities
  7. Details of the staffing you propose for the work. A description of your organisation/s relevant experience delivering similar work and a description of the team’s skills which outlines how you meet the skills requirements, including CVs.
  8. A description of your knowledge and experience of the volunteering and community sector.
  9. Details of how you will project manage the commission and quality assure your work.
  10. The contact details of two previous clients with direct knowledge or experience of your work relevant to the work we require. Please specify how the referees know your work and if they can be contacted by us straightaway.
  11. A statement on how you would ensure compliance with GDPR regulations
  12. Copies of your research ethics policy and/or code of conduct
  13. Any other relevant information that will assist us in our decision.
  14. Your contact details, including email address and phone number.

Submitting a proposal

Please send your proposal as a PDF document (plus CVs) to: Lisa-Marie Giquel at

Proposals to be submitted by: Friday 11 January 2019 at 10.00am. (UK time)

Subject: Please include TENDER: COMMUNITY HUBS RESEARCH as the subject line

Following this process, we intend to shortlist a small number of potential contractors to invite for interview between 21 -22 January 2019.

Any questions relating to this invitation to tender should be emailed to with subject line QUERY: COMMUNITY HUBS RESEARCH.

Assessing your proposal

Contracts will be awarded based on the most responsive service provider whose offer is assessed to be the most advantageous in terms of cost, methodology and relevant experience.

We will assess your proposal using the following criteria:

  • Skills, resources and experience to carry out all elements of the work
  • The extent to which the proposal delivers what is needed
  • Evidence of understanding of appropriate ways to work with community groups and volunteers
  • Understanding of issues relating to obtaining data and data management, particularly in relation to research.
  • Value for money (we are not bound to accept the cheapest proposal).
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