cornerstone noun /ˈkɔː.nə.stəʊn/
something that is extremely important because everything else depends on it

What is Cornerstone?

Cornerstone is a support network for community businesses based around the idea that the best people to own and run local businesses are the community themselves. Not only are community businesses more responsive to local needs, their dividends and rent remain in the local economy rather than being lost to the head offices of multinational corporations.

But community enterprises are at a disadvantage when it comes to competing with big corporations. They can lack operational experience, and the economies of scale needed to purchase at competitive prices and access specialist services such as training and compliance. Cornerstone provides a buying group, mentoring, back-office services and a loyalty scheme, allowing community businesses to concentrate on giving the best possible service to their customers.

Although any community business is welcome to join our buying group, much greater advantages are gained by a closer partnership through our unique franchise model which incorporates a network of community benefit trusts, community interest companies and employee ownership trusts.


This legal framework has evolved as a way for community businesses to benefit from the experience of Cornerstone Inns, a small pub group based in the Weaver Valley of Cheshire that was described at the Pub Company Summit 2016 as one of the ‘best operators in the country you’ve never heard of’. Further endorsement has come in the form of twice winning a Publican Award (the UK pub industry “Oscars”) for Best Community Pub Operator and also being nominated for Best Pub Employer.

Those accolades reflect our attempts to find solutions to the problems faced by many pubs - harassed managers that are too busy with paperwork to spend time with customers, disinterested and poorly-trained staff, greedy corporate landlords and customers with no say in what they feel is “their” local.

Imagine if those managers were hosts instead, free to concentrate on customer service because a central office was handling most of the paperwork. Imagine staff that went the extra mile because it benefited the company that they were part-owners of, and who could work more hours across a town in different venues that all had the same tills and similar products. Imagine the employee-owned operating company paying a fair, turnover-based rent to a community-owned company that owned the building and which distributed the rent in part as dividends and in part to support local culture such as music festivals. Imagine the customer-shareholders getting a say in how the pub is run - whether it shows football, and whether beer prices should go up to pay for it - and yes, we’ve had customers voting to put up the price of a pint to pay for Sky!

We’ve shown that this model can work in very different types of pubs, from traditional locals in a mining town to a former Northwest Entertainment Pub of the Year, from a cask ale pub in the Good Beer Guide to a late-night music venue - in fact that diversity means there are different peak times allowing staff to work more hours, and the loyalty scheme is reinforced by customers earning points whether having a quiet meal in a pub or out dancing into the small hours (virus permitting!). We would love to talk to people outside hospitality about how this model might work in other sectors, as we believe it has the flexibility to work across a range of industries, from cleaning and nurseries to more capital-intensive businesses like renewable energy and affordable housing. See the model page for more detail.

The Cornerstone model is of particular interest to business owners wanting to sell, as no Capital Gains Tax is payable on a sale to an employee ownership trust.