Today we might define a community business as a business designed to make a long term positive difference for a community, controlled and run by local people for local people. Like any other business it seeks to generate surpluses and build up assets, but these are applied for the benefit of the community rather than for private gain. No one gets rich from a community business, but, if successful, everyone gains.
But is any of this really new? Of course not. In some sense all community businesses are pioneers, distinctive in their own way. But the truth is for generation after generation, stretching back hundreds of years people have harnessed the entrepreneurial instinct as a force for public good, not just for private benefit.
The story of community business demonstrates enthusiastic support from unlikely places, from radicals and conservatives, from the very poorest in society and from the very richest. It helps us to realise that the strength and endurance of the community business movement in not simply about breadth and scale in the here and now, but that we also have depth and scale in the past. And looking backwards into the history of community business turns out to be a way to help us look forwards with greater confidence and hopefulness for the community business movement in the future.