Big Issue Invest reflects on two years of Impact Loans England

Just the other day I was talking to someone about the social finance sector and they said, ‘Don’t you think it has changed almost out of all recognition over the past couple of years or so?’

Somewhat sceptical that it had, I asked them how. They said, ‘There aren’t just more providers, there are more products, and these are more varied — there’s more “blended finance” mixing grant, loan and support, and there seems a greater willingness to lend to smaller, younger social ventures.’

I was thinking about this and wondering to what degree it was true — and then my attention was drawn to this post by Big Issue Invest’s deputy chief exec Daniel Wilson-Dodd, reflecting on two years’ learning from his organisation’s Impact Loans England programme.

He focuses on eight key messages — and some of them will make you sit up and take notice. For example: social funders should be open to as wide a range of applicants as possible; those seeking finance experience social and cultural barriers; borrowers are customers.

The thing that struck me is that almost all of the messages are about why social funders should act and think differently — and how they can do this.

I found this fascinating because it suggests that the social finance sector is changing — and for the better. And this is a good thing, because it is a market that has been liberally supported in its development by public, philanthropic and government funding. And yet it hasn’t always seemed that this free money to help “develop the marketplace” has resulted in an inclusive approach to or a sympathetic understanding of the social sector these providers seek to do business with.

But one thing doesn’t seem to be changing — or at least, isn’t changing very quickly. The growth and proliferation of finance providers and products seems to be racing ahead of the social sector’s awareness and understanding of social finance — how it works, what it can do and what its providers want. The Good Finance website alone lists sixty-one social finance providers. It’s no wonder that the social sector’s awareness and understanding of social finance is generally poor — who on earth has got the time to navigate this rapidly expanding marketplace?

Perhaps it is no coincidence that this generally poor awareness of social finance coincides with probably the greatest contraction we have seen in recent years in the provision of specialist business support and advice for social enterprises and social ventures?

I can’t help but think that social finance ‘education’ should be fully integrated into the delivery of specialist business support for the social sector — and of course that more of this should be available and free-at-the-point-of-delivery.

Surely this, more than any other single measure, would help expand the constituency of enterprises able to make an informed assessment of whether repayable social finance is for them and can help offer a route to growth and expansion — to helping more people, to delivering greater impact, to creating more social value.

Impact Loans England — Two Years On: Daniel Wilson-Dodd

Big Issue Invest

Impact Loans England

Birmingham Social Enterprise City — major survey planned to help build the social enterprise evidence-base for Birmingham

As part of the sector’s Birmingham Social Enterprise City initiative we will shortly launch a baseline survey to establish key facts about the sector’s social and economic contribution, its social value and impact, its size and scale, and its employment levels.

This will be an ambitious survey and producing high quality data will depend on achieving a high response rate. We have spent a long time fine-tuning the design of the survey so that it is as easy to complete as possible — and we hope that social enterprises will be patient and enthusiastic and complete it in huge numbers.

Many surveys achieve very little but we know, based on previous surveys we have been involved with, that key data about the social enterprise sector does matter to local policy-makers, to funders and to commissioners. For instance, a strong evidence-base makes a critical difference to the resources that can be attracted to help support the sector.

So watch this space. In due course, a link to the survey will be posted here on the BSSEC blog as well as being sent out to all known social enterprises and trading third sector organisations in Birmingham. You’ll be able to support this effort — and the sector — by completing the questionnaire. More news soon.

Read all posts tagged Birmingham Social Enterprise City

Coverage of the Birmingham Social Enterprise City official launch event

A thank you message from Sarah Crawley

The launch event in pictures — iSE, great photos by Cuthbert Design

Coverage of how Unity Trust Bank hosted the launch in its brand new Brindleyplace headquarters 

More about Birmingham Social Enterprise City on the SEUK website

Don’t forget — applications for UnLtd’s Thrive accelerator programme close on the 14th February. Don’t miss out

Thrive is UnLtd’s new social accelerator that helps ambitious social ventures to scale-up their activities. It offers successful social ventures six months of intensive support with the opportunity to secure investment of up to £50,000 for their social venture.

The current programme is Thrive A2E (Access to Employment), an accelerator for ambitious social ventures with innovative ideas to support training and employment for those distant from the labour market. UnLtd is looking to support up to 22 social ventures in 2019 and the programme will run from June to December 2019. 

But applications close on the 14th February 2019 — so if you have your heart set on being part of this flagship programme, you need to get cracking and apply now.

Find out more about Thrive A2E.



Could your social enterprise benefit from a fully funded extra pair of hands?

The University of Birmingham is looking for social enterprises to take part in its 2019 Impact Internships programme (formerly Enterprising Internships).

The University of Birmingham has received donations from alumni to offer social enterprises in the West Midlands the chance to benefit from the support of a talented student in the summer of 2019.

If you have a short term project to complete or research that you lack the time or capacity for, then a fully funded intern could be the answer — Impact Internships

If you have a short term project or piece of research that you would like to complete but struggle to find the time or capacity for, then an internship could be the answer.

The student will be paid directly by the University and projects will last one month (20 days). Projects can take place from June 2019 onwards.

You can register your interest here.

This PDF has more information about the scheme as does this page of the university’s website.

If you have any other questions about the programme please send mail to Helen Hobson, Internships Officer, University of Birmingham. 

Please note that expressions of Interest must be submitted by Friday 15 February 2019.

ART Business Loans announces major community share offer

BSSEC member ART Business Loans has just announced the launch of a major community share offer aimed at raising £500,000 from individuals and organisations that can be lent to businesses, social enterprises and third sector organisations in the West Midlands, enabling them to protect or create local jobs.

The share offer is being made in partnership with Ethex, a leader in ‘positive investment’ — putting investors’ money directly into businesses whose social mission and impact the investors support.

ART’s chief executive, Dr Steve Walker, who was recognised in 2018 as Responsible Finance Leader of the Year, says the money raised will be used to support business, enterprise and innovation by offering loans to viable businesses that cannot access any or all of the finance they need from the banks. “Having access to appropriate finance will enable those businesses to invest in people, premises and equipment, and support growth or diversification. Our current loan portfolio is over £5m and we are seeking additional capital through this community share offer to enable us to lend even more to West Midlands businesses in the year ahead.”

Shares in ART are eligible for Community Investment Tax Relief (CITR) which offers individuals and companies tax relief at 5% per annum of the sum invested over five years off their UK income tax or corporation tax. At the end of that time the shares may either be withdrawn or reinvested in ART. But as well as CITR the scheme also offers lenders additional security via an Enterprise Finance Guarantee (EFG) from the British Business Bank. Using both CITR and EFG in conjunction represents a first for the social finance sector, Steve Walker says.

“In addition to receiving this financial return, investors will be putting their money to work for the benefit of the local economy,” says Steve. “Research shows that there are many small to medium sized enterprises in the West Midlands which remain unable to access appropriate finance to support their business plans, despite new alternative sources to the banks entering the market over the past ten years. Many of these new sources have similar lending criteria to the banks or are charging very high interest rates. We are all about providing responsible finance and bring our expertise to bear in making lending decisions.”

The share offer will be open from 7th January to 24th March 2019 and can be taken up by either individuals or organisations. The minimum investment is £500 and the maximum £100,000.

Anyone interested in the investment opportunity can register to buy shares and read the full share offer document HERE. Investors should be aware that their capital will be at risk.

→ You can find out more about how CITR works HERE.

iSE’s start-up programme FUSE is back for 2019

iSE is seeking its next cohort of social change-makers, do-ers, entrepreneurs and innovators to join FUSE, its acclaimed start-up programme. Could it be you?

FUSE offers six months of free business support and includes workshops, coaching and mentoring. For more information send mail to Mariam Yate.


Community Energy Birmingham launches new ethical share offer

Community Energy Birmingham (CEB) has some exciting news. It is looking to grow its existing portfolio of renewable energy generation on community energy buildings in Birmingham, and has recently launched a new share offer.

CEB — which is a community renewables co-operative registered as a Society for Community Benefit — already operates six solar PV systems in Birmingham on community buildings where the organisations receive the benefit of clean and reduced cost electricity. It has now identified a new community project in time to benefit from the final stages of the government’s Feed in Tariff payment before the closure of the scheme on 31 March 2019. This will be CEB’s largest solar roof to date, with a peak capacity of 50 kW. The total investment opportunity is around £44,000 and CEB reports that 40% of this amount has already been raised.

CEB’s investors are drawn from local people of Birmingham. As an investor you would receive 4% interest on your shares, knowing your money is being invested ethically. The minimum investment is £250 and an installment plan is available.

Full details, including the Share Offer document, are available here.

If you are interested in investing in this share offer but would like someone to talk you through the process you can send mail to CEB.


JTH announces Christmas tree recycling scheme

JTH volunteers are ready and waiting to recycle your Christmas tree

John Taylor Hospice has a brilliant plan that will take the hassle out of your new year Christmas tree disposal – it has just announced a Christmas tree collection and recycling scheme which will be good for the environment and good for its fundraising.

For a suggested donation of £8, hospice volunteers will collect real Christmas trees between 11 and 13 January in the B23, B24, B72, B73 and B76 areas of Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield.

The scheme, which is being run in partnership with facilities management company Mitie and public services provider Amey, will raise vital funds to support the work of the hospice.

You can find out more — and book — here.

Other similar schemes are also available covering other parts of the city:

→ St Mary’s Hospice is also offering a collection and recycling service covering a range of postcode areas: more here.

→ Birmingham City Council provides a free recycling service for all residents able to deliver their trees to any of the following four country parks: Lickey Hills Country Park; Cotteridge Park; Sutton Park; or Woodgate Valley Country Park. 

→ Birmingham Mail has a piece here on other ‘treecycling’ schemes. 


Birmingham social enterprise city — a thank you & news…

Following the marvellous official launch event for Birmingham Social Enterprise City (which is covered HERE on this blog and HERE over on the iSE website) Sarah Crawley writes with a special thank you…

Hi Everyone,

It’s almost Christmas and as we draw breath and plan for 2019 I want to thank you for attending the launch of Birmingham as a social enterprise city on the 15th November and share with you some of the plans the steering group has for 2019 to support our continued growth as a valued sector in the city.

Sarah Crawley speaking at launch

The steering group is a voluntary open group of organisations and agencies that meet bi-monthly to progress agreed work packages. These have been mutually developed and cover the key themes of access to markets, professional development and leadership, data (economic and social), young people and social enterprise awareness. The work has been formulated based on researched need and is by no means exclusive.

Most of the planned work will be piloted in 2019 with a view to rolling it out in subsequent years and it includes work with schools to provide a programme of activity to raise awareness of social enterprise and the opportunities it creates to address social issues that concern young people, programmes for leadership in the sector that include experiential and workshop based approaches and an internship programme working with Birmingham University to create career paths for young people coming into the social enterprise world. Resources have already been identified and these programmes are likely to be very low cost or free. Contact us if you are interested in any of these opportunities.

Mapping is a major issue for us as a sector and Alun Severn will be commencing a new sector mapping exercise in January and we have an ambition to be the city of a thousand social enterprises so we would really value your help in completing the short questionnaire we will be sending out.

Access to markets is very important to all of us no matter what kind of social enterprise we run. There are meetings currently being held to explore opportunities with Hs2 and the Commonwealth games amongst other things. Watch this space and we will push out any opportunities as they emerge.

City Drive is the sector’s most important promotional event of the year where we get the opportunity to raise awareness of our businesses and our work to everyone! The dates are set for 2019 and we will commence on Monday the 8th April and this year and continue until Saturday 13th April.

Please do get in contact with your proposals for events and we will include them in the programme. We already have 11 events registered. This is your opportunity to get noticed in Birmingham!

Please contact email me, Sarah Crawley, or Rebecca Giannelli to talk City Drive!

With best wishes for Christmas and the New Year,


See all posts tagged Birmingham Social Enterprise City

 Birmingham Social Enterprise City launch event in pictures

See all posts tagged City Drive

John Taylor Hospice — ‘third shop will be our largest so far’

John Taylor Hospice Head of Retail Andrew Ray at the Castle Bromwich shop opening in December

We recently covered the opening of John Taylor Hospice’s second retail outlet. JTH has now announced that its third shop to open this year will be in Castle Bromwich and will open in December.

The organisation is is looking for people willing to give a few hours each week to help make the new shop a success. 

Volunteers will be given the opportunity to gain National Vocational Qualifications in retail and customer care and will have the chance to gain experience in customer service, stock rotation, window dressing and other skills.

John Taylor Hospice Head of Retail Andrew Ray says: “Our store in Castle Bromwich is the third we have opened this year and it’s our biggest. Housed in two retail units at a prime shopping centre, we expect it to be very successful. People who volunteer will be joining a lovely team who are all helping the hospice make every moment matter for hundreds of local families.”

John Taylor Hospice provides specialist care for people living with a terminal illness and their families. Proceeds from the shops help to ensure that care into the future.

If you’d like to find out more about volunteering in the Castle Bromwich shop please contact John Taylor Hospice’s Volunteer Resource Co-ordinator Paddy Breen on 0121 728 6738 or send mail.

Alternatively you can find out more HERE on the JTH website and download job descriptions and application forms.


Social enterprise in Orlando, Florida

Simon Veasey, iSE’s director of business development, has just returned from a holiday in Orlando, Florida. But it wasn’t all Mickey Mouse and Disney — he also made time to visit some of the city’s social enterprises. He has been kind enough to write the guest blog below for us.


Simon writes:

I just got back from leave in Orlando, where I met some interesting social enterprises.

Orlando is a modern, pristinely clean city, with a tropical climate that makes it the go-to holiday and retirement destination for millions across the world every year. But what many people don’t know is that away from Disney and Universal, Orlando is also a thriving hub for social enterprise — #whoknew!

I was intrigued to find out more.

I hooked up with Ben Hoyer and Kyle Steele, two of Orlando’s leading social entrepreneurs at Down Town Credo, a social enterprise coffee shop, co-working space and barbecue in the heart of Orlando’s attractive business quarter.

Down Town Credo nestles naturally in amongst the high rise and perfectly manicured landscaping. Indeed, there is little that signals its social intentions until you pick a coffee or a sandwich from their varied menu and realise that each item only has a “suggested” price. You can pay what you like or what you can afford — and any additional payment goes back to supporting Down Town Credo’s providers and international coffee growers. It’s a concept that seems to work well judging by positive online reviewers.

Sitting down with Ben and Kyle I naively ask about “social issues” in Orlando. To the visitor there doesn’t appear to be any at all! The reality is very different, as the pair explained. Orlando is in the top ten human trafficking locations in the world, the thriving tourism economy is driven on low wages and the popularity of the area has raised property prices to a level that are unaffordable for many of the workers in the industry. Over 1,000 individuals a day move into central Florida and many of these people are competing for a dwindling supply of affordable accommodation. Working poverty is very high.

‘Doing’ social enterprise in the US is certainly different. For instance, America doesn’t have a specific social enterprise legal structure. The only broadly appropriate legal form is that of “Benefit Corporations” which has no real legal standing.

Rally is Orlando’s social enterprise incubator and brings together budding social entrepreneurs and commercial organisations with a social conscious in a package very similar to iSE’s FUSE programme back here in Birmingham. However, the Rally model provides participants with the opportunity to pitch for a $25,000 grant while the commercial organisations are introduced to investors.

Ben holds a growing list of high net worth individuals who have a desire to invest both time and money in start-up organisations that have a social mission. Mentors approach the incubator to “give something back” by supporting the start-ups and donate or invest as required which helps to fund the training and development programmes. It is a very different culture to this side of the Atlantic.

The lack of an asset lock encourages investment by individuals and corporations especially when those donations and investments are backed up by significant tax benefits — but both Ben and Kyle concede that without the safeguards of a legal structure it can be harder to differentiate between a social enterprise and a corporate and I was left with the impression that they would welcome a stronger legal definition as this would strengthen their marketing message to customers.

All in all a fascinating couple of hours seeing an area of Orlando I wouldn’t normally visit on vacation, and enjoying good coffee with like-minded individuals.

If your family holiday takes you to Orlando, make a bit of a detour and visit Down Town Credo. You’ll be impressed.

Simon Veasey, iSE

Down Town Credo, Orlando, Florida (photo: Simon Veasey)


Down Town Credo, Orlando, Florida (photo: Simon Veasey)


Down Town Credo, Orlando, Florida (photo: Simon Veasey)


Down Town Credo, Orlando, Florida (photo: Simon Veasey)

Special feature: Birmingham social enterprise city — official launch was a night to remember

At the official launch of Birmingham Social Enterprise City. L-to-R: Claire Dove, VCSE Crown Representative; Margaret Willis, chief executive Unity Trust Bank; Karolina Medwecka-Piasecka Birmingham City Council; Peter Holbrook, chief executive SEUK; Sarah Crawley, chief executive iSE [photos:]

In a social media age superlatives have become a devalued currency and so I won’t employ them here. But I think it can safely be said that last night’s official launch event to mark Birmingham’s recognition as a social enterprise city was a genuine milestone for the sector. I don’t think the sector has ever seen such an ambitious event — nor one that better illustrates how seriously social enterprise is regarded in Birmingham.

For starters, it was graciously hosted by Unity Trust Bank, which offered its brand new Brindley Place headquarters as the host venue within days of having taken up residence there. Since its establishment thirty-five years ago as a bank for the trade union movement, UTB has grown into a significant ethical bank, and the bank of choice for many social sector organisations. Its unstinting support for our social enterprise city initiative takes partnership and collaboration with the social enterprise sector to new levels, however.

Taking place on Social Enterprise Day, and timed to fall within Global Entrepreneurship Week, the keynote speakers at the launch included Margaret Willis the chief executive officer of Unity Trust Bank, Claire Dove, the government’s VCSE Crown Representative, Peter Holbrook CBE, chief executive of SEUK, and Sarah Crawley, chief executive of iSE and chair of the Birmingham Social Enterprise City steering group — and the unstoppable prime mover behind the social enterprise city initiative.

The event showcased the social value that social enterprises can create and many of the businesses exhibiting had prepared social value infographics to show this. You can view these yourself by downloading the zip file containing all of the infographics (please note that this is a file of 21 PDFs but they’re small and it downloads quickly).

Around 150 guests, including staff from fifty or sixty social enterprises, thronged Unity Trust’s elegant new space. Opening the event, Sarah emphasised that this wasn’t something for the few — it was for everyone who has been part of creating the decades-long  movement of social enterprises that Birmingham is now renowned for. 

Claire Dove said that being designated a social enterprise place was a great privilege, but that this also brought with it great responsibilities and she was delighted to see Birmingham rising to this challenge. She noted that Birmingham was the first social enterprise city she was aware in which the achievement of social value is given such a prominent place.

Peter Holbrook said that despite the political turbulence of the present time social enterprises were demonstrating their resilience by diversifying, finding new markets and new sources of revenue, and are now in the forefront of finding new and more inclusive economic models around the world. “Anyone who has an interest in creating shared economic growth and inclusive prosperity,” he said, “should be looking to the social enterprise movement.” 

Margaret Willis said it was an absolute privilege to be welcoming friends, partners, colleagues and customers to Unity Trust Bank’s new headquarters. “This,” she said, “is an illustration of our founding principles and the complete commitment we have as an ethical bank to working together with all of those who share a determination to create social change.” She too noted that in these uncertain and politically divided times the appetite for social change has never been greater. (It should also be said that Margaret was very funny — not something one often says about bankers, as I think she would acknowledge. Perhaps I am slow but her remark about bankers was new to me: “They say that a tragedy is a boat-load of bankers sinking; they say that a catastrophe is when it turns out that they can all swim.”)

Events like these are great for confirming a sense of belonging, of community, of being part of a shared endeavour. But in closing the proceedings Sarah emphasised that it is the things we do between meetings and outside events such as these that really matter.

“You don’t need to be told what you can do to support Birmingham Social Enterprise City,” she said. “It’s as much your idea as it is anyone’s and we can all play our part. Here’s some ideas. One of the biggest obstacles we face is that even now the public profile and understanding of social enterprise is not what it should be. So help raise awareness and understanding — promote the social enterprise message. That’s something everyone can do. Think about your social impact and how you can make this better known and better appreciated. Look at the infographics some of the enterprises here tonight have produced. We can help each other to improve our impact messages and social value reporting. And think about how you can buy differently — how you can buy for good by sourcing everything you can from social enterprises. Obviously, if they are Birmingham social enterprises, all the better, but let’s work together to help the sector grow — wherever it may be.”

See more about Birmingham Social Enterprise City on the iSE website.

Read all posts tagged Birmingham Social Enterprise City.

→ Find out more about SEUK’s social enterprise places initiative.

Birmingham social enterprise city — action plan.

Read the social value infographics prepared by 21 of the social enterprises that attended (zip file of PDFs).

A specimen social value infographic

John Taylor Hospice opens second shop

JTH opens second shop in Wylde Green

Back in May of this year we covered the opening of the first John Taylor Hospice shop, located at 121 High Street, Erdington B23 6SA.

This first experiment with retailing has proven so successful for the organisation that it has already opened its second shop at 370 Birmingham Road, Wylde Green, Sutton Coldfield B72 1YH.

The ribbon was cut on Friday the 9th November by John Taylor’s Lead Nurse Jody Thompson following short speeches from hospice CEO Penny Venables and Wylde Green Councillor Alex Yip.

These are tough times for retailers, and nowhere more so than on local high streets. Even some of the social enterprises that have moved into retailing over the past four or five years as a means of diversifying their income have found trading conditions too difficult and have closed outlets. But clearly, some still see opportunities in retailing, and JTH already plans on opening a third outlet before Christmas, at Castle Bromwich Shopping Centre in Timberley Lane. Check the JTH website for news.

Read the full story on the JTH blog.

Find out more about becoming a JTH retail volunteer.

New wellbeing portal launched to support Birmingham citizens

Birmingham residents who are looking for local activities, support and services that encourage wellbeing and an active and healthy lifestyle can now search a new online directory called Route2Wellbeing that describes over 1,500 local, community-based services and activities. This new initiative is already “making a big difference” to Birmingham citizens.

The Route2Wellbeing Birmingham portal is the ultimate guide to services, activities and support provided by the city’s voluntary and community sector. From diet and exercise to personal help with bereavement, debt advice or immigration; from support for carers to employability or mediation services — all of these things play a part in our physical and mental wellbeing.

Route2Wellbeing Birmingham has been developed by Birmingham Voluntary Service Council (BVSC) and Sandwell Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) with funding from Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group. Designed from scratch for ease of use, the portal enables enquirers to search by service type, location, or even distance from their homes.

So whatever wellbeing services you’re looking for, simply visit Route2Wellbeing, set your location and click on a category to discover what’s available in your area.

Mark Broadfield, an early user of the R2W website

An early user of the portal, Mark Broadfield, 53 [pictured], was looking to get fitter and more connected with people in his local area. “I had wanted to get more active and meet new people for a while,” he says, “and so I went to the library to browse the internet and to see if I could find anything going on near me. I came across the Route2Wellbeing Birmingham portal and it was really useful! I signed up to a class not too far away from where I live and I really enjoy it. It’s made a big difference to me.”

Read more on the BVSC website.

Birmingham social enterprise city — official launch event announced

The official launch event for Birmingham Social Enterprise City has been planned to coincide with national social enterprise day, Thursday 15th November 2018, and you are invited to join us for an evening of celebration.

The launch event is taking place with the kind support of Unity Trust Bank and UIA USE-IT, a place-based programme tackling entrenched social challenges in Birmingham.

Join us as we showcase the innovative social enterprises we have across Birmingham, understand the social value created by the city, meet leading social entrepreneurs who often appear on global platforms for good — all within Global Entrepreneurship Week.

The SE City Birmingham Steering Group is delighted to welcome the following speakers to the launch event: 

» Claire Dove (Crown Representative for the VCSE Sector)

» Peter Holbrook CBE (Chief Executive Officer, SEUK); and 

» Margaret Willis (Chief Executive Officer, Unity Trust Bank).

How you can get involved

SOCIAL ENTERPRISES — Showcase your social value, talk about your purpose for delivering social and environmental good and network with entrepreneurs and key business leaders.

BUSINESSES — Develop greater understanding of the benefits of being a socially responsible organisation through your procurement activity, supply chain and adding value to your customer base.

PUBLIC SECTOR — Meet innovators and service providers that can meet contract needs for social value and social impact who are realising individual life opportunities and transforming local communities.

Send email to Rebecca Giannelli to register and book your place at this evening event on Thursday 15th November 2018, 6.00pm to 8.00pm.

Read more on the iSE blog.

Read all posts tagged Birmingham social enterprise city.

With thanks to Unity Trust Bank which is kindly providing the venue for the evening

Robert Owen, social and co-operative entrepreneur

Phil Beardmore writes today’s guest blog

We promised more about co-operatives — and today’s informative guest blog comes from Phil Beardmore, the secretary of Co-operatives West Midlands, a sustainability consultant and social entrepreneur.

Today he writes about the great co-operative and socialist pioneer, Robert Owen.

Robert Owen, social and cooperative entrepreneur by Phil Beardmore

Like me, you may have recollections of learning about Robert Owen in history at school, and his attempts to build a utopian community at New Lanark in Scotland. I didn’t really know much more than that until I recently visited New Lanark, now a world heritage site that brings to life the role of Robert Owen as a pioneer of social enterprise and cooperation, mostly through the words of children who lived in the village.

Robert Owen was a wealthy individual from Wales who in 1786, along with David Dale, set up a model village on the banks of the Clyde with a mill, housing, shop, and a school. It was progressive in many ways – shorter working hours, better working conditions, schooling, health care, housing quality – compared to the condition of the working class elsewhere at the time.

Robert Owen was a social entrepreneur, not merely a philanthropist — New Lanark was a business with a social purpose, not a charity. The business traded for a profit, and used the profit for social purposes such as providing decent housing, health care and a shop that sold food and essential items at prices that working people could afford.

If you get the chance to visit New Lanark you will hear how Robert Owen was viewed as quite remote by his workers — they regarded him as having strange ideas which they didn’t understand, but they felt that he was “on their side”.

Robert Owen (1845) by John Cranch

There was no involvement of the workers either in terms of economic or democratic ownership of the enterprise. In this sense New Lanark was not a cooperative in the sense that we later came to understand it, as defined by the Cooperative Values and Principles.

Unsurprisingly New Lanark was subject to a great amount of hostility from those who saw it as too radical. Owen decided to sell the business and move to the United States, where he saw more opportunities to achieve his goals. There, Owen met like-minded people, and he aimed to use the proceeds from selling New Lanark to set up a new model community in Indiana. The new community, provisionally entitled New Harmony, did not see the light of day, as Owen and his would-be collaborators could not agree on a number of issues.

Owen wrote extensively on his experiences and got involved with other movements, including early trade unionism. His reflections greatly influenced the Rochdale Pioneers – who created the first modern cooperative in Rochdale in 1844. What made Rochdale different from New Lanark was the implementation of what we now know as the second and third Cooperative Principles – Democratic Member Control and Member Economic Participation — which today characterise every cooperative in the world, making them a distinct form of social enterprise.

The Rochdale Pioneers, and generations of cooperative entrepreneurs since, have been greatly influenced by Robert Owen’s evolution. Both the New Lanark way of doing things, and the Rochdale way of doing things, are still relevant. As Birmingham proudly celebrates being recognised as a social enterprise city, we should be recognised as both a social enterprise and a cooperative city.

Phil Beardmore
Secretary, Cooperatives West Midlands

My trip to New Lanark was organised by Central England Cooperative — I am an elected member of one of its Membership and Community Councils.

Find out more about what co-operatives are doing in 2018 — take a look at Co-operatives UK, the national representative body for co-operative enterprise, Co-operatives West Midlands, the co-op representative body for the region, or The Hive website and online forum for co-operators.

Co-operative enterprise in Birmingham

Co-operatives — which are owned and controlled by their members — represent a particular sub-set within the broader social economy. Co-operatives operate in all  sectors of the economy but the co-op model is especially suited to any kind of mutual, membership-based enterprise where shared services or shared ownership offer important ways to ensure greater fairness and a better deal for members, employees and users alike. 

The national membership body for the sector Co-operatives UK, has just published excellent data for the sector in 2018, which shows that the co-op sector in the UK is alive and well, with 7,226 independent co-operative enterprises, and a combined turnover of £36.1 billion –- up more than £800m on 2017 levels. The sector is also a significant employer, with almost 235,000 people earning their livelihoods directly through co-operatives.

This should be welcome news to anyone who feels a commitment to co-operative values.

In Birmingham there are around 90 co-ops, most of which are fairly small. But this shouldn’t be taken as meaning that the number of co-operators in Birmingham is small — nothing could be further from the truth. Because co-operative enterprise in Birmingham includes three of the giant retail co-operative societies — Central England Co-operative, Midcounties Co-operative, and the Co-operative Group. While the the Co-operative Group is nationally the largest co-operative society, most of Central England Co-operative’s stores, members and workers are in Birmingham.

Birmingham also has the large Citysave Credit Union . Credit unions are essentially saving co-ops and a number of important Birmingham employers — including Birmingham City Council, the NHS, Aston University, Birmingham Settlement and Legal & General — trust Citysave to provide safe and protected savings and ethical, fair priced loans for their employees.

In total, there are over 49,000 co-op members in Birmingham and the city’s co-ops have a combined turnover of over £23m, and manage members’ funds worth almost £50m.

Co-operative success stories include renewable energy (Community Energy Birmingham, Power For Good, and Chase Community Solar); the growth of co-operative housing in both Redditch and Wales; and local worker co-ops such as LOAF and Birmingham Bike Foundry. Recent months have also seen The Phone Co-op, the only ethical and mutually owned telecoms provider, cement its twenty year growth by merging with Midcounties Co-operative.

Co-ops in the city are supporting the Birmingham Social Enterprise City initiative and we want to ensure that the co-op sector of the social economy has a better profile and is more widely understood as we move forward with Social Enterprise City plans. To this end we’ll be bringing you more co-op news, so stay tuned.

Find out more about co-operatives

If you want to find out more about what co-operatives are doing in 2018 take a look at Co-operatives UK, the national representative body for co-operative enterprise, Co-operatives West Midlands, the co-op representative body for the region, or The Hive website and online forum for co-operators.

UPDATE: The next Birmingham networker/meet-up hosted by Co-operatives UK is on the 6th November 2018 — click to register here.

ART Business Loans, pioneers of social finance in Birmingham, celebrate 21 years and announce new social investment campaign

L-to-R: Dr Nick Venning, Ed Mayo, Dr Steve Walker

ART Business Loans (ART) welcomed Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, as the keynote speaker at its 21st AGM this September.

Ed Mayo talked about the value of Community Development Finance to the economy and the importance of community economic development. “The process of working with local people makes a real difference,” he said. “We are seeing new values-based movements growing as the public sector steps back. This is relevant in terms of the economy and Brexit, because we’re going to have to encourage entrepreneurship and see real bootstrap development.” He continued: “It’s tough to be a non-bank in the lending market, but ART started with an idea about what it wanted to achieve, and the impact it wanted to make — and can now tell some inspiring stories about the difference it has made to thousands of businesses.”

Ed Mayo, along with community finance activist Pat Conaty, a co-founder of ART, helped research and write the influential community finance report Small is Bankable, published in 1998 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

ART’s chief executive Dr Steve Walker, said: “We are on track to lend £2.5m this year, but have the capacity to lend up to £4m. When we launched in 1997, we were supported by true social investors — whose only return was knowing the impact that their investment had had on the local economy. In addition, we are now also able to offer a financial return in the form of Community Investment Tax Relief and will be looking to raise at least £500,000 from individual and company investors in this financial year.”

ART’s Chair, Dr Nick Venning DL, announced: “Twenty-one years ago ART pioneered a model of raising money through social investment to be lent locally. We are now about to launch another pioneering campaign to raise money from investors looking to use their money to achieve a social as well as a financial return. This will be via the Ethex social investment platform.” 

Anyone interested in the investment opportunity can register to find out more on the ART website or by sending mail.

Young people in the West Midlands — get your voice heard on employment and education

A dozen organisations working together as the Inclusive Growth Partnership** are running 3 youth innovation workshops in Birmingham next week and currently in fully recruiting mode for young people.

The workshops are about…

What Works For Young People?

Who should attend:

  • 16- 24 year olds
  • Recently employed or looking for a job. 
  • Thinking about what a career might look like for you or your generation?


The organisers want your opinions, views and stories on what employment and education opportunities are out there.

Join them for a relaxed and creative session exploring these topics with other young people in your area. This is a chance to influence what happens in your city, for you and for all young people. Participants will receive:

  • £10 voucher
  • Blurb for your CV
  • Get your travel paid free
  • Get a certificate of participation
  • Help drive change in your community
  • Free refreshments


The events are being held as follows — click the links for more information and to book:

Chelmsley Wood (26th September) 
→ Sparkhill (26th September) 
→ Washwood Heath (27th September) 
→ Dudley (28th September)

** Organised by: O2, Accenture, Movement to Work, Prince’s Trust, Big Lottery Fund, Cabinet Office, West Midlands Combined Authority, Youth Employment UK, DCMS, Beatfreeks, UnLtd

Fair by Design — why being poor costs more and how you can help tackle the ‘poverty premium’

Those who have less pay more — for energy, insurance, and finance. Being poor costs more. This is called the Poverty Premium. Fair by Design, the movement to tackle this poverty premium — the extra costs of being poor — is launching its campaigning arm today.

The campaign is based at The Barrow Cadbury Trust and is funded jointly by the Big Lottery Fund, Big Society Capital, Comic Relief, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Social Tech Trust and The Tudor Trust.

You can support the campaign by tweeting your choice of the sample tweets below and accompanying infographics:

@FairByDesign roadmap to end the extra costs of being poor launches today Read 3 things Businesses, Regulators and Government should do to end the #PovertyPremium

People on low incomes pay more for energy, insurance, and finance. New campaign @FairByDesign’s Roadmap explains how #PoorCostsMore and how its unjust and unfair,  #PovertyPremium

For more campaign information: 

Fair by Design          

#FairByDesign    #PoorCostsMore    #PovertyPremium       

Send mail to FbD     T: 0207 632 9060 and press enquiries: 07931 507 873

Download Being Poor Shouldn’t Cost More: A Roadmap for Tackling the Poverty Premium 

→ Download infographics: [1] Microwave rent-to-own costs; [2] £780 Poverty Premium; [3] Road signs; [4] Polling 25-34 year olds with families.