"Social enterprise is about changing the world through business, they exist and trade not to maximise private profit, but to further their social and environmental aims. In short, social enterprise is about business where everyone profits"
– Social Enterprise UK
In recent years, traditional non-profits organisations have become more entrepreneurial and interested in generating earned revenue to supplement charitable contributions, the growth of social enterprise across the Marches is a reflection of the changes happening across the UK and highlights the social impact as well as financial contributions these businesses are making.
The State of Social Enterprise for 2015 reported that across the UK Social Enterprises are sustainable with over half still in business after 5 years and, three times the proportion of SME start-ups, twice as many jobs have been created over the past 12 months compared to SME’s with a high number of those jobs going to a person who is disadvantaged in the labour market.
They are at the forefront of economic recovery, the proportion of social enterprise that grew their turnover over the past 12 months is 52% compared to SMEs (40%). Most social enterprises earn their income from trade. The number that export or licence is increasing as they look at new markets and new opportunities.
Across the Marches we have a healthy Social Enterprise Economy with growing provider networks like Partners for Social Enterprise which brings together social enterprises across Shropshire, Herefordshire and Telford & Wrekin. Members include The Furniture Scheme, Willowdene Farm, Fordhall Farm, Halo Leisure, and Marches Energy Agency.
Successful enterprises like the Phoenix Project at the Riverside Shopping Centre, a large redundant retail premises in the heart of Shrewsbury Town Centre. The centre was becoming an eyesore with 22 of the 24 retail units standing empty.
Today it is a thriving community of local organisations; combining a mix of local charities, social enterprises and start -up businesses. It is now over 95% occupied and employs more than 85 individuals from the local community. Every single unit in the centre has at some time or another been occupied or used and footfall has increased in the area.
It is home to a number of enterprises trading as retail businesses, cafÃ©s, art gallery and upcycled furniture retailers.
The Social Impact of the Riverside Shopping project following a report from the London School of Economics estimates that it is worth £4.6 Million per annum to the local economy.
In an age of public sector austerity social enterprise provides a solution because it combines a sustainable business model with a clear social purpose. The Marches Local Enterprise Partnership sees social enterprise as a important part of its employment and job creation plans: for sustained employment which is growing, locally-rooted and by nature employs more of those furthest from the labour market.
Sonia Roberts is a member of the Marches LEP Board and is its Social Enterprise and Third Sector Champion. She is also Charity Manager at Landau, an organisation focused on providing those with learning disabilities or long-term health issues, the long-term unemployed and young people, with the skills and support they need to find sustainable employment.