The changing face of social enterprise — Crafting4Good CIC

Today, as part of our continuing series of changing face of social enterprise stories we look at something very different — a very small, very young social enterprise with a brilliantly simple business idea that deserves to succeed.

The government estimates that the market for crafts goods is worth over £400m a year, and that this market has doubled in the past ten years. Making and selling craft items, then, is a substantial sector of the economy. And of course crafting is also immensely pleasurable, with well-documented benefits in terms of personal wellbeing, mood and self-satisfaction.

But I don’t believe we have yet seen a crafting business adopting the Community Interest Company structure and operating as a social enterprise. Until Crafting4Good CIC, that is.

Started by Adele Sweeney and incorporated only in March 2017, Crafting4Good, based in West Yorkshire, is a very small but growing social enterprise with a fascinating story — one that speaks volumes about what motivates people to start social enterprises. But this story is also a little bit different because it also illustrates the relief that some people experience when they eventually discover that trading in order to deliver social benefit is a path that many others have embarked on and that they are not alone.

“I worked for myself for ten years at home while a single parent battling depression, in the days before working from home on the internet was ‘a thing’,” Adele explains. “Creating a website and an online community paid the bills and got me through. A shop selling digital craft downloads grew out of it all and I was inspired by how our customers and members said we made a difference to them, with our convenient creative activities they could download, print and make when they wanted some creative me-time.”

But the decision to become a CIC came from a chance exchange with an accountant. “He said I needed to be more aggressive in getting more money out of our customers,” she says, “but this wasn’t how I worked and I told him it would need a ‘personality change’ if I was to do that. I was more interested in what the customer could get out of crafting than in maximising their ‘spend’.”

She went home feeling pretty fed up and disillusioned. “I thought I shouldn’t be in this game at all. And then I Googled charitable businesses — and discovered a thing called ‘social enterprise’ that I never knew existed, but was exactly where I felt I should be and what I’d essentially been doing. This was such a relief that I almost cried. I wrote about it here.”

I discovered a thing called ‘social enterprise’ that I never knew existed…it was such a relief that I almost cried — Adele Sweeney

But in many ways this was only the beginning. Adele was amongst the finalists applying for places on a School for Social Entrepreneurs programme but was unsuccessful. Eventually, after contacting local councillors she found her way to local support and information agencies and got some help in registering the CIC.

She describes Crafting4Good as follows: “Creativity is good for wellbeing, but sometimes those who could most do with a bit of creativity can’t afford to buy fancy craft supplies or are prevented due to their circumstances.  What we’re trying to do is enable ‘Robin Hood creativity’ — getting those who can afford to craft to help those who can’t.” The company does this by supplying crafts resources to individuals, community groups and charities, by working with voluntary and community sector partners to take creative activities into places where they don’t usually happen, and — when resources allow — by providing free craft materials that have been donated to the company.

The CIC sells printable craft products and templates from its online store and uses its surpluses to enable those who are more disadvantaged to get involved in crafting — people in homeless hostels, for example. It is also keen to work with others in the charity, social enterprise and voluntary sectors to enable creative activities in local communities.

The enterprise has to make some difficult decisions, however. “Recently,” Adele explains, “we were funded by a local community centre to have some office space for six months, to ‘get us started’. That first month in our new office revealed a lot. It made me realise that we have to focus more on trading, but it also helped us understand how we could usefully change our plans for outreach and community work. We’re not a charity that’s here to give stuff away and provide help for free because we can’t sustain that. But we do want to enable those in more disadvantaged groups to try craft and creative activities for themselves. We now think that the way forward for us is as a supplier of resources to others in the third sector. After all, many organisations and groups offer craft classes so why reinvent the wheel? We’ll supply ‘the parts’ instead.”

Adele believes that working like this will create lots of opportunities not just to generate sales but also to work in partnership with those who share Crafting4Good’s aims of making crafting and creativity more accessible and more inclusive.

How you can help

If you are interested in what Crafting4Good CIC is trying to do, there are several ways you can help:

» Help Crafting4Good raise its profile: “We need online contributors and volunteers such as blog writers on arts/crafts, mental health, recycling/green issues and how they can all relate to wellbeing and creativity,” Adele says.

» Volunteer social media and SEO skills: “We need people who are able to volunteer their marketing, social media, SEO and eCommerce skills to help us online. It’s far too much for one person and the couple of volunteers we have. It could be so much more!”

» Donate supplies: “Anyone with surplus craft supplies that can be used in a community setting — we would love to receive your donations! We have one company who sends us their end of line stock — this clears their shelves and means they don’t have clearance lines hanging around. If we could get more companies doing this it would be great.”

» Sympathetic suppliers: “We’re also looking for sympathetic suppliers of eco-friendly crafts goods who will supply us on a small order/sale-or-return basis.”

» Corporate sponsors/donors/partners: “We’re also looking for more corporate donors and partners to work alongside — there are loads of opportunities for businesses and organisations to get involved and be seen to be delivering community benefit.”

» Funding: “And of course, funding, to help us get bigger premises to start our mini creative distribution centre would be awesome!” Adele says.

Send mail to Adele Sweeney

→ Crafting4Good

Read all our changing face of social enterprise stories










Big Issue Invest announces dedicated investment for social enterprises & community businesses in the Midlands

Power Up Midlands is the third iteration of Big Issue Invest’s early stage investment programme. Up to 15 social enterprises and community businesses across the Midlands will be able to access funding and support.

Power Up Midlands is aimed at early-stage social and/or community enterprises in the geographical area of the Midlands. The offer is open to all legal structures and consists of up to £50,000 debt financing accruing at 5% per year.

The loan has a capital holiday period of one year with loan lengths expected to be four years. Big Issue Invest’s corporate partners — Barclays and Experian — will support applicants with mentoring and business support, including financial modelling and other ad hoc business services and functions.

The support element of the programme will consist of a two month period with bi-weekly meet-ups to develop the investment proposition in partnership with the business mentors. Investment decisions will be conducted at the end of this process.

The programme is for those that have a patient capital requirement as they develop their product and service offering. Big Issue Invest is also keen to identify social businesses looking to lock in their community structures and would be happy to support them with this through its partnership with Power to Change.

For more information and to apply — Power Up Midlands




Social Enterprise World Forum 2018 Edinburgh — discounts available for WM contingent but time is running out

As we previously note in this post, the Social Enterprise World Forum returns to the UK after 10 years of travelling the world, one continent at a time.

Edinburgh is the 2018 host city and the event takes place between September 12th-15th.

Sarah Crawley, who has become something of a regular attendee at SEWF (read her past posts), has negotiated a 10% discount for West Mids social enterprises — but bookings have to be confirmed by the end of this week.

The iSE team will be heading up to Edinburgh to make best advantage of the 3 day conference, insights and networking, and you are invited to join them in one of the following ways:

» Attend the conference and enjoy a limited number of discounted tickets available to iSE – you must apply by 1pm Thursday 5th July 2018.

» Bring your Made in Birmingham social enterprise products and services, and trade from the stand.

» Provide a sample range of goods to display on the Made in Birmingham stand.

This is a limited offer and demand will be high, so you will need to send mail to Sarah Crawley by no later than 1pm on THURSDAY 5th July if you wish to participate in one of the above ways.

Sarah says, “Please confirm only if you are able to commit to the dates and the necessary capacity to be part of this unique marketplace event.”

→ Read full post on the iSE blog.

Here’s some FAQs about SEWF, including costs.


Commonwealth orchestral fusion — Orchestre Philharmonia Mundi de Montreal joins The People’s Orchestra on stage

The People’s Orchestra is one of the UK’s leading community orchestras, delivering a unique mixed arts and multi-media project that reinvents amateur orchestra performance — while focusing on music and the shared creation of music as a means for personal and community change.

At its next Summer concert, The People’s Orchestra will be joined for the first time in its history by an overseas orchestra — the Orchestre Philharmonia Mundi de Montreal.

The Canadian orchestra shares similar values to The People’s Orchestra. Its motto is “for the pleasure of making music together” and like The People’s Orchestra it is run by its members.

Don’t miss this opportunity to see two community orchestras live on stage.


iSE announces FUSE social enterprise Summer Camp

iSE runs a number of different FUSE social enterprise start-up programmes throughout the year. The programmes are for people who want to develop a business that is financially sustainable but also (and importantly) delivers a strong and measurable social impact.

Its Summer Camp is for social entrepreneurs, innovators and change-makers near trade or at early-start stage that want to fast-track their social enterprise, grow networks, develop collaborative opportunities and develop sustainable businesses that create social impact.

What to expect: You’ll work intensively over a period of six weeks, supported through group pow-wow sessions which will be practical and focused around developing your social enterprise. Topics include the business model canvas, developing a robust social mission, building a community and networks, social media and marketing, understanding numbers, funding and alternative social finance, social impact and developing your pitch.

Closing date for applications: 30th June 2018. Interviews (in person or by Skype) week commencing 2nd July 2018. More information send mail to Mariam Yate.

Click here for further details and how to apply.

Shaping the future of adult skills and learning — the implications of Brexit and devolution for the West Midlands

The Workers’ Educational Association WM (WEA WM) is holding a conference on the 4th July 2018 on the topic “Shaping the future of adult skills and learning — the implications of Brexit and devolution for the West Midlands”.

It is keen to promote this conference opportunity as widely as possible to charities, social enterprises and third sector organisations in the West Midlands that are involved in employability programmes and vocational skills training for adults furthest away from the labour market.

The event is FREE and includes a light lunch.

It takes place Wed 4th July 2018 from 10:00am until 4:00pm at Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, 75 Harborne Rd, Birmingham B15 3DH.

Expert speakers include Jo Cain, Director of Education, WEA; John Hacking, Network for Europe; Dr Sue Pember, HOLEX; Mark Rowe, TUC.

This is an exceptional opportunity to get up to speed about a fast-changing environment, become more aware of the implications of Brexit and devolution on adult education and community learning, and explore ways in which practitioners can work more closely together on responding to these issues.

FULL DETAILS & REGISTRATION — registration by 1st July will be helpful for planning purposes.

The event is supported by GMB trade union.

Changes UK — warehouse furniture clearance this Saturday

This coming Saturday, 2nd June, from 10am-4pm, Changes UK is holding a furniture clearance. A furniture recycling project it was hosting has closed and everything must go!

Everything is FREE but donations are requested.

It’s going to be a fantastic day. There will be Changes UK volunteers on hand to make it fun and there will be music and even karaoke while you work!

There will be plenty of volunteers to help you find and collect the bits of furniture that you are interested in.

Please make your own delivery arrangements for getting any items you are interested transported home. This event is one day only, so you will need to collect anything you want on the day.

See you on Saturday 2nd June.

More information on Facebook.

John Taylor Hospice — great turn-out for opening of first shop

Back in January we wrote that John Taylor Hospice, the UK’s only social enterprise hospice, had unveiled its latest three-year strategic plan and that this included a commitment to open its first shop.

Now that shop — the first in the hospice’s 100-year history – has opened at 121 High Street, Erdington, and crowds of shoppers were waiting eagerly on its doorstep for the formal cutting of the ribbon by hospice patient Cat Mackrill and nurse consultant Sarah Bache on Friday 11th May.

Staff, supporters, volunteers, patients and families were joined by local dignitaries including Erdington MP Jack Dromey and Erdington councillor Robert Alden.

After cutting the turquoise ribbon, JTH patient Cat Mackrill, 46, said: “I live in Erdington and I love charity shops so to be asked to open the John Taylor Hospice charity shop is a real honour. The hospice has been such a great help to me. It’s a very special place and the staff, volunteers and other patients have become great friends.” She also thanked shoppers who had crowded outside waiting for the doors to open. “Every pound you spend is helping John Taylor Hospice make every moment matter for people like me,” Cat said.

JTH chief executive Penny Venables said: “We are absolutely delighted to be opening our first shop here on Erdington High Street. IIt was the obvious choice for a hospice which has been in Erdington since 1948. This shop may be our very first but it won’t be the last,” she explained. “It’s part of our strategy to open more shops in and around Birmingham so that we can ensure increased income for the hospice. By raising more money, we will be able to reach more local families who need our expert care at end of life.”  

Erdington MP Jack Dromey said: “John Taylor Hospice does such fantastic work and makes such a difference for local families. I’m really pleased that this shop will help it raise money towards that work.” To celebrate the opening, hospice volunteers were out and about in Erdington giving shoppers chocolates which were donated by the Unite branch at Cadbury.

More details about the JTH Shop Erdington HERE.

The changing face of social enterprise — creating social value through inter-trading

We wrote recently about Graduate Planet CIC in one of our ‘changing face of social enterprise‘ stories. It’s a new-start social enterprise recruitment consultancy which uses its surpluses to support environmental action. Its founder Kate Evans was one of the speakers at the recent event we held for new-start social enterprises and wrote about here.

It was clear at that event that Kate  had got off to a flying start with Graduate Planet — albeit not without some initial trepidation and uncertainty. Well, we can now update that story a little — and in doing so help illustrate how inter-trading between social enterprises can create social value that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Since mid-2017 Graduate Planet has been providing recruitment services for Belu Water, a social enterprise which sells ethical bottled mineral water and uses 100% of its profits to support WaterAid, the international development charity. WaterAid aims to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere, by 2030. Belu supplies the UK’s restaurant, catering and hotel industries with bottled mineral water and in-house filtration and bottling systems and since its launch in 2011 has donated over £2.2m to WaterAid projects. Belu is currently on course to being able to reinvest £1m a year in WaterAid projects.

Kate Evans, founder, Graduate Planet CIC

The revenue generated by acting for Belu Water has enabled Graduate Planet to reinvest in Heart of England Community Energy’s (HECE) 60,000-panel solar farm just outside Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire. This solar power farm generates power equivalent to supplying 4,500 homes for 25 years. HECE is the UK’s single largest community energy company and plans to donate up to £2.7m to improving the health and quality of life of older people and other vulnerable groups who are experiencing fuel poverty and poor living conditions.

Using Graduate Planet in its supply-chain has helped Belu Water source top candidates to fill its expanding work force; in turn, Graduate Planet has been able to use some of its surpluses to invest in solar energy; and in its turn Heart of England Community Energy will help older people and other vulnerable groups reduce their energy bills and improve the heating, insulation and fuel efficiency of their homes.

If you have ever wondered how inter-trading and collaboration in the social sector creates social value that is greater than the sum of its parts, then here you have a perfect example. 

If you have ever wondered how inter-trading and collaboration in the social sector creates social value that is greater than the sum of its parts, then here you have a perfect example

Read the full story over on the Graduate Planet blog. It makes for a fascinating — and illuminating — story. Congratulations, Kate.

Read our earlier story about Graduate Planet.

Read all our changing face of social enterprise stories.

Social mobility and poverty in the UK: How responsible business can respond — BITC event

You are warmly invited to Business in the Community’s next West Midlands event, which is being hosted by Coventry University.

The event is aimed at businesses, community groups, educational establishments and public-sector organisations to encourage an inclusive and wide-ranging debate.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation will open by sharing the reality of poverty and lack of social mobility in the UK. Speakers from BITC member businesses will explain why this issue is important to them and how they are helping to change outcomes for those that need it most.

As employers and partners to local schools, businesses are in a strong position to have an impact on people’s futures. What are the issues? How might businesses help tackle them? How can impact be measured?

The event takes place at Coventry University (Engineering & Computing Building, 1 Gulson Rd, Coventry CV1 2JH) from 13:30 to 16:30 on Tuesday 5th June 2018.

Read the PDF flyer.

Book a place here.

100s of guests and over 50 exhibitors celebrate recognition of Birmingham as a social enterprise city

UPDATED 14th June 2018: More coverage of this event and Birmingham’s Social Enterprise ~City achievement HERE.

Today, the final day of City Drive 2018, also marked Birmingham’s successful bid to be recognised as a Social Enterprise City and it saw the city’s social enterprise sector take over the Council House banqueting suite for the first ever social enterprise festival to be held there.

As Sarah Crawley explained in her speech, this wasn’t of course quite the first ever social enterprise festival to be held in Birmingham. That took place on a freezing day in December 2013 when the Digbeth Social Enterprise Quarter held its first Christmas Market.

That was a valiant effort — but it was dramatically overtaken by today’s event. I have been to a lot of things at the Banqueting Suite over the years, but I have never seen it so enthusiastically full. What a way to mark City Drive week and at the same time celebrate Brum’s official recognition as a social enterprise city.

The event was sponsored by Wates, which has long been committed to increasing the number of social enterprises in its supply-chain. The company is now on track to meet its pledge of spending £20m with social enterprises by 2020.

In addition to Sarah Crawley, speakers included Cllr Tony Kennedy, Birmingham City Council, Lisa Cunningham, Wates, Karl Belizaire, SEUK, and Tobias Gould, Changes UK. 

City Drive, now in its fifth year, has always been a labour of love but this year I think it can safely be said that never has so much been achieved with so little in the way of resources. City Drive is always a team effort, of course, and wouldn’t happen without iSE’s efforts and the many social enterprises and sector supporters that rally to the cause, but even allowing for that today was very special. To see every available space in the vast area of the Banqueting Suite occupied by social enterprises was something I won’t forget.

Congratulations to everyone who made this year’s City Drive and today’s Social Enterprise Festival something to really remember.

Exhibitors included:

Argonaut Community Enterprises; ART Business Loans; ashebo CIC; Aston Business School; The Balance Collective; Beanstalk; Better Pathways; YMCA Birmingham; Boatel UK; BVSCChange Kitchen; Changes UK; Citizen Coaching; Citizen Click; Clarity — The Soap Company; Co-operatives West Midlands; Co-Wheels Birmingham; Craftspace/Shelanu; Creative Alliance; Climate Action Network WM; Co-operative Futures; Devenish Girl; Feed My Creative; Forward Carers; Gear Up; Glue Collective; Handsworth Association of Schools; Health Exchange; iSE; Impact Football Club; Jericho Foundation; Kitchen School; Leaf Creative Arts; Legacy WM; Living-Well Consortium; Muath Trust; My Hope Housing CIC; Newman University; Our Roots CIC; Project Aspie; Resonance; Midlands School for Social Entrepreneurs; Sociability Care; The Arches Project; Unity Trust Bank; Upcycle Birmingham; Vegan Vybes; Wates; Welcome Change; Golden Sparkle; Unity Streets; Audrey Jackson [new start]; Shamala Aantonio [new start].

Photos courtesy iSE / © Ian Cuthbert /










The changing face of social enterprise — TRiM (Transforming Running into Mindfulness)

Today, as part of our continuing series of stories illustrating the changing face of social enterprise we look at something very different — a new health and wellbeing enterprise that aims to use running as a means of improving students’ mental health. 

A Birmingham-based social enterprise is launching a pioneering intervention to help students in the West Midlands improve their mental health and wellbeing. TRiM — short for Transforming Running into Mindfulness — combines running and mindfulness to help students who are struggling with stress and mental health difficulties to improve their wellbeing, resilience and fitness to study.
Mike Buckle founded TRiM just over a year ago. The idea came from his own personal experience — both from his student days and latterly as a mental health mentor for several universities.  
Mike says, ‘I struggled with stress at university myself and so I know how detrimental it can be. And having worked as a mental health mentor at several universities I have also seen at first-hand the large number of students who are struggling with psychological distress — and the stigma that still surrounds admitting to mental ill-health and how overstretched wellbeing services on campus are.’
He recognised that the increased stresses on students and the struggle many universities are having to meet rising demand for student wellbeing services called for some kind of alternative prevention and early intervention programmes — ideally integrated into students’ existing studies.
‘Over the years,’ Mike says, ‘I had built my own resilience to stress through the powerful combination of running and mindfulness and I began to see that something similar could be developed for more widespread use in higher education.’

Michael Buckle doing what makes him happiest: running

The TRiM approach, Mike felt, would help give students greater control over their own mental wellbeing and health. ‘Structured running and mindfulness interventions can have a transformative impact on the academic lives of young people,’ he says. ‘It’s a way of improving both mental health and cognitive outcomes — as well as motivating students to become more physically active.’

With support from the School for Social Entrepreneurs and the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Start Up Programme, Mike set about developing the business idea, the aim being to pioneer a unique running and mindfulness programme for students at as many universities as possible.

TRiM’s mission

TRiM’s mission is to ensure that young people who are experiencing emotional and mental health difficulties can access beneficial programmes of aerobic exercise, running and mindfulness on university campuses right across Birmingham and the West Midlands.
Mike says, ‘We want to empower students with the skills, knowledge and confidence to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyle behaviours that will help build resilience to academic stress; that will reduce the symptoms of psychological distress; that will improve physical and mental wellbeing; and that will enhance academic performance.’

I struggled with stress at university myself and I began to see that running and mindfulness could be developed into a low-cost preventative programme that could be used on any campus, anywhere — Mike Buckle

‘Our vision,’ Mike continues, ‘is to establish TRiM programmes across UK universities and to build a TRiM movement dedicated to creating more resilient and healthier student communities.’

Planning for the future

‘There’s still a lot of market research we need to do,’ Mike admits, ‘but the aim is to deliver our programmes to the HE sector — possibly under license as a kind of franchise, or by direct contract. We’re also investigating the position with clinical commissioning groups, hospital trusts and other health bodies.’

During 2018 TRiM will be launching pilot taster sessions and workshops on university campuses in Birmingham and the West Midlands, aimed at raising students’ awareness of the mind and body benefits of a combined approach to running and mindfulness. ‘But if that sounds dry,’ says Mike, ‘then let me assure people that it won’t be. Our aim is also to promote fun, an inclusive approach and social opportunities — physical exercise has great social relationship benefits too.’

TRiM’s website is up and running but Mike is seeking to raise additional resources to fund its fuller development. This will include 1-to-1 coaching, accredited wellbeing exercise modules, support for Skype sessions and possibly membership arrangements for accessing some online resources.
Assessing the social value and impact of the proposed services is also important and a pilot programme to measure the enterprise’s impact in Birmingham and the West Midlands is also under development.
Mike says, ‘We also see terrific potential for TRiM to work with third parties in the sports and physical activity sector and are in the process of collaborating with England Athletics to pilot a campaign to encourage young people in universities to use running as a tool for reducing exam stress and enhancing exam revision.’

How you can help

TRiM is keen to work in partnership with higher education institutions, health professionals, sports organisations, student groups, other social enterprises and third sector organisations and the private sector.  
Please SEND MAIL to Mike Buckle at TRiM if you are…
» A student who wants to try out TRiM workshops.
» A student who wants to volunteer or gain work experience working for a start-up social enterprise.
» A university, health provider or organisation who is interested in offering TRiM services and programmes to your service users.
» A company or corporate interested in sponsoring or advertising with TRiM.









Who starts new social enterprises and why? Three recent new-starts told us their extraordinary stories

For nine months or so now, as part of an Awards for All funded project, we have been documenting the changing face of social enterprise by covering the stories of newer, younger social enterprises that are new on the scene.

What’s it like to start a new social enterprise in the current harsh economic climate?  What qualities does it take? Who does it — and why?

On Monday evening (23rd April), as part of our contribution to City Drive 2018, we invited people to join us and hear first-hand new-start stores from three recently established social enterprises. We called this event New Start Stories — The Unvarnished Truth, and we held it at Evolve @ The Adam & Eve — itself a new-start social enterprise bringing new purpose to an old Victorian corner pub.

25 people joined us — which was a terrific turn-out — and we heard marvellous, real-life stories from three of the new-start social enterprises we have covered here.

Summerfield Community Gardening Project

Chris Vaughan, Hannah Wright and Ernie Holmes from the Summerfield Community Gardening Project, a community-based social enterprise that promotes wellbeing through gardening, recycling and environmental action, explained the ups and downs of the past couple of years and the key lessons they have learnt. Being able to adapt and be flexible is vital, Chris Vaughan says. The enterprise has already entered into a partnership with another third sector organisation to extend the land available to the project. Ernie Homes says division of labour and people skills are crucial. ‘We’re investigating ways to  ensure that our volunteers and service-users get more from the experience and are recognised — by themselves and by us — as central to what we do,’ he says.

But perhaps the key message was about marketing. Hannah Wright, the enterprise’s gardening guru, explained that the project produces plants, compost, planter baskets, home-grown garden wormeries and a range of garden produce, in addition to offering training workshops. ‘Sales of these goods and services are key to our long-term sustainability,’ she says. ‘People love the quality of what we produce and the whole experience of being at the community garden, but put simply, not enough people know about us. We need to focus far more on marketing and promotion and do more to create sales opportunities.’

Perhaps marketing is something you could help with? If so, contact the project through Chris Vaughan or its Facebook page — they’ll be delighted to hear from you.

ashebo CIC

A few years ago, Kemi Folarin, a youth, community and play worker with over twenty-five years’ experience was facing redundancy. She took the bold step of setting up her own community interest company, ashebo CIC and of using part of her redundancy money to purchase over three acres of pristine ancient woodland, classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), just twenty minutes from the centre of Birmingham. This — along, of course, with Kemi’s expertise and experience as a trainer and facilitator — is one of the key assets that ashebo has to trade with. We have covered her story in detail here.

Financial management (payroll, sessional payments, accounting) has been outsourced to BVSC, Kemi explained. ‘I learnt very early on that you have to play to your strengths and recognise your weaknesses. So I made sure that all aspects of financial management were dealt with by professionals. It isn’t expensive and it frees me up to focus on the things I’m good at and what needs to be done to keep ashebo going — and growing.’ 

The woodlands are central to ashebo’s offer but Kemi has had to learn the hard way about the special provisions and restrictions that go along with being an owner of a site of special scientific interest. One unexpected benefit of the evening was that one audience member, whose father had been a farmer, knew a great deal about SSSIs and was able to make some excellent suggestions about what could be done and how. It looked as if a keen new volunteer was emerging before our eyes!

Kemi said that while at times it is scary — ‘This isn’t just  fun: I’ve got a mortgage that has to be paid every month and that focuses the mind, believe me’ — her life is now altogether improved. ‘Three years ago I was staring redundancy in the face. A job I had loved doing for twenty-five years was about to disappear. Now, I’ve got a social enterprise that brings together all the things I care about most — benefitting families and children, protecting the environment and enabling those who typically feel themselves excluded from the countryside to enjoy the peace and sense of improved wellbeing it offers.’

If you want to know more about ashebo CIC — what it does and how you might be able to get involved — then contact Kemi Folarin (details here) or through her Facebook page.

Graduate Planet

Founded only in early-2017 by long-time recruitment professional Kate Evans, Warwick-based Graduate Planet CIC is the first social enterprise recruitment agency in the UK with a clear environmental and social mission. We have told her story in detail here. Kate’s aim is to to match value-driven people with the most socially innovative employers — while also making an environmental return every year by pledging 100% of its annual trading profits to initiatives that help combat climate change and promote environmental awareness.

Kate said, ‘At first it was terrifying and very lonely. But one of the things I have been amazed by is how generous people in the social enterprise sector are with their time and their expertise. I’ve had some truly marvellous help.’

Having her new CIC covered by BSSEC was a big morale-booster for her, she says, as was the grant she received from UnLtd to help with marketing and promotion. She has also found SEUK membership great for networking opportunities and welcomes SEUK’s new free membership offer for social enterprises whose turnover is below £100K a year. ‘I’ve gained a lot by targeting corporates that are part of SEUK’s ‘Buy Social’ corporate challenge,’ she says, ‘and within minutes of attending a Birmingham Business Charter for Social Responsibility ‘meet the buyer’ event I gained an important new client. You have to use what’s on offer and understand the opportunities these services may help create.’

She learnt very quickly that she needed to be decisive, adapt quickly and stay flexible. ‘In the very early stages, after talking to some really well-informed people I realised that my main marketing messages were completely wrong. I changed my website overnight and made some important changes in how the business would work. I think you have to see things quickly, analyse the situation and take action.’

Kate says that in the early stages she was lucky to scrape together two or three days’ work a week. ‘Now,’ she says, ‘I typically work seven days a week. Of course, I need to sort out a better work-life balance than that, but even so, when you reach that point where new clients come looking for you rather than the other way round — well, there’s nothing quite like it.’

Identifying a few other points of key learning, Kate added: ‘always get customer testimonials — they’re worth their weight in gold’; ‘don’t try and do everything — for example, outsource your social media to a young person or a student who needs a bit of money and will almost certainly be more social media savvy than you are’; and most importantly, ‘don’t be afraid to ask: the sector is full of generous people’.

To find our more about what Graduate Planet CIC can do for you you can contact Kate by email or through the website.

* * *

We had an excellent evening — relaxed, enjoyable, informal — and would like to thank everyone who helped make the event such a success: Sarah Crawley, who raced back from a Social Enterprise Place meeting in Manchester to facilitate the event for us; Elizabeth Forrester from iSE who handled all the bookings; Simon Veasey from iSE who provided support and photographs; and especially Chris Vaughan, Hannah Wright and Ernie Homes from Summerfield Community Gardening Project; Kemi Folarin from ashebo CIC; and Kate Evans from Graduate Planet CIC, all of whom kindly agreed to share their personal experiences. Thank you.












Retail Therapy Event at John Lewis, Birmingham – City Drive week

 Retail Therapy Event, with Martin Hogg, Citizen Coaching CIC

Tuesday 24th April 2pm-4.30pm

Part of City Drive Week

Join Martin, for a ‘warts and all’ roundtable discussion to explore retail challenges, successes and what what’s working in social enterprise retail. We’ll cover online, retail and wholesale.

If you have a social enterprise product, or a social enterprise business to consumer service this event will certainly get you thinking about; new ideas, the mistakes to avoid and opportunities to work with others.


Please Contact Martin Hogg to reserve a place martin @ or 0121 314 7075.

Event includes Tea and scones and takes place at the John Lewis Community Space, Grand Central Birmingham (Top Floor of the store next to the TV and electronics department)





UnLtd’s Impact Investment Fund — drop-in event Birmingham

Are you an early stage social venture working in the employment sector? Do you need investment and practical support to scale your venture? Then UnLtd wants to hear from you.

UnLtd’s Impact Investment Fund will shortly hold three drop-in sessions — relaxed and informal opportunities to hear more about the fund.

You’ll have a chance to hear more from a member of the Ventures Team, ask questions, and network with other social ventures in your field. There will also be some nice refreshments!

The UnLtd Impact Fund is a practical finance package for ambitious early-stage social ventures within the employability sector. Social ventures can access investment of between £50,000 – £150,000.

Investment is in the form of a blended loan and grant financing package, alongside intensive post-investment support from a Venture Support Manager. The unsecured business loan element has a 9.5% interest rate and is repayable over a maximum of five years.

Drop ins take place in 3 locations over the coming months:

» Bradford – 22nd May
» London – 31st May
» Birmingham – 7th June

Book for the Birmingham event.

Success! Birmingham’s social enterprise city application approved

In this post we drew attention to the closing day of City Drive 2018 when there will be a grand social enterprise festival at the banqueting suite of the Council House [details below].

Well, we have just had news confirming that there really will be something worth celebrating at this first ever Birmingham social enterprise festival. iSE’s Sarah Crawley has just made the following announcement:

Sarah Crawley, who has been leading Birmingham’s SE city bid effort

Sarah says: It is with enormous pride that I am able to inform you that following our application to Social Enterprise UK, the panel has met and the chair has informed me today that our application for Birmingham to become a social enterprise city has been agreed.

As you can imagine I am delighted. This is something very special for the social enterprise sector in Birmingham and recognises the energy and commitment of the work of the past five years since social enterprise place status was achieved for Digbeth. Digbeth will continue to be a social enterprise place.

It is with enormous pride that we can announce that Birmingham’s application to become a social enterprise city has been agreed — Sarah Crawley

The feedback from the panel was that it was a well thought out application, with a good action plan and they look forward to welcoming us into the national network as a social enterprise city.

There will be a soft launch at the end of City Drive, at the Social Enterprise Festival at the Council House, and I am delighted to announce that this has been sponsored by Wates. The formal launch will be in September, hosted by Unity Bank.

Please can I ask that you encourage your own networks to attend the SE Festival on the 27th April. It’s clearly important that this event is a great success and that we have both a large number of SEs represented and a good audience to celebrate with!

Please can I take this opportunity of thanking everyone for your support and look forward to working with you all over the next few years.


We congratulate Sarah and everyone who has contributed to the effort so far. BSSEC will be supporting the SE City initiative in every way we can and at every opportunity.

You can book your place at the SE Festival on Friday 27th April by CLICKING HERE.


Unity Trust Bank’s record growth attracts £11m of new investment

Birmingham-based Unity Trust Bank has just announced record growth resulting in the bank attracting £11m of new investment.

Unity is a commercial bank for firms with a social benefit and today announced its 2017 annual results: profits and new lending were up by over 20%.

The bank lent nearly £100m to firms and projects that will deliver community, economic or environmental benefits.

Margaret Willis, the bank’s CEO said: “Since becoming independent in December 2015, Unity has pursued its goal to lend responsibly to firms and organisations that share our mission to benefit society. At Unity, this progress means more than just profit; the better we perform, the greater societal benefit we can have. It’s very pleasing to see the appeal of ‘banking with values’. We are grateful for the support of our shareholders and the faith placed in us by our customers.”

Since the year-end, the Unity has attracted over £11m of new investment from existing shareholders as well as from a new investor — the Sustainability, Finance, Real Economies fund (SFRE). SFRE is an investment fund initiated by the Global Alliance for Banking on Values. This investment facilitates Unity’s future growth plans and has enabled the bank to buy-back The Co-operative Bank‘s remaining shares meaning it is no longer a shareholder in Unity.

Alan Hughes, Unity’s Chairman, said: “We are ambitious and energised by the encouragement of our existing shareholders – Big Society Capital and the Trade Union movement, who have participated in this capital raise and delighted to welcome SFRE as a new investor who shares so closely Unity’s vision and ‘double bottom-line’ philosophy. We’re confident Margaret and her team can continue Unity’s growth, tapping into the strong desire for a bank with integrity and a social conscience.”

Unity Trust Bank is a long-standing BSSEC member and we congratulate the bank and its staff on this achievement.

Read the full story.
Read Unity’s 2017 Annual Report & Accounts and Social Impact Report.

City Drive 2018 — full programme released, including invitation to SE Festival

The folk at iSE have been pulling out all the stops again and the full programme for City Drive 2018 is now available, kicking off on Monday 23rd April.

Also of note, invitations for the City Drive’s flagship Social Enterprise Festival have also been released — see below. This is the first time to my knowledge that anything quite this ambitious has been arranged — and at the Banqueting Suite at the Council House, no less. The festival also marks Birmingham’s bid to become officially recognised as a social enterprise city. This is a historic event and one you won’t want to miss.

To book your place or to become an exhibitor send mail to Sarah Crawley.

Download SE Festival flyer/invitation.

Download full City Drive 2018 programme.



And here’s what Sarah Crawley had to say recently in launching Brum’s fifth City Drive:



Resonance celebrates launch of West Mids impact fund — central Birmingham event, you are invited

Resonance, a relatively small social investment company, may be a new name to many readers but in just a matter of months it has become a significant new player in what it calls social impact funding in the West Midlands.

Using an already proven model that takes advantage of social investment tax relief (SITR), Resonance chose the West Midlands to as the site for its second impact fund. The fund opened for business in February. The West Midlands was chosen specifically because of its potential and its large existing base of social enterprises and social mission organisations.

The aim of the fund is to support local social enterprises that are tackling poverty and disadvantage in the region.

Our mission is to connect capital and social enterprise  — Resonance

To celebrate the launch of the fund and promote its achievements to date, Resonance is holding a briefing session in central Birmingham on Thursday 19th April 2018 from 5.30pm-8.00pm at the studio, 7 Cannon Street, Birmingham B2 5EP. The event will bring together a range of investors, social enterprises and others from the sector across the region to mark this key milestone for social investment in the West Midlands.


Watch a short video about Resonance HERE.

For more information about Resonance you can contact Grace England, Investment Manager, or send her mail

There’s still time to feature in our coverage of newer, younger social enterprises

As part of our Big Lottery ‘Awards for All’ project we’re still on the hunt for interesting news stories from newer, younger social enterprises that will help illustrate new, changing and emerging trends in the sector. 

We’ve been posting these stories on the blog under the overall title of ‘The changing face of social enterprise’ and you can read all the stories we’ve covered so far.

If you’re doing something new and interesting, we want to hear about it. Tell us something about yourself and your social enterprise and we’ll see how best your story can be featuredsend mail or ring Alun Severn on 0121 233 0278. We’ll work with you to develop the story and feature it here on the BSSEC blog.The kind of things we’ll need to know about you are:

» What you do and why you do it.

» The community benefit / social value you deliver or intend to deliver (with specific examples if possible).

» A bit of background — how long you have been operating, why you began, any notable successes or milestones.

» What you want / need from people who read the story — e.g. do you need volunteers, contributors, funders, donors, referrals, partners?

Background to the project — PDF.

→ Every one of the stories we’ve covered has something instructive to say about how the sector is developing and changing. In this post we reflect on some of the things we have learnt from covering these stories so far.