The changing face of social enterprise — ashebo CIC: linking up play, equality, training & ancient woodlands

ashebo CIC, incorporated in 2013, offers another example of how the Community Interest Company form is enabling those with an interest in trading for social purpose adopt a recognised social enterprise legal structure.  Just a decade or so back these entrepreneurs and many like them would probably have been simply self-employed or sole traders. The CIC legal form has without a doubt opened up new avenues for those whose activities have a social purpose.

ashebo CIC was founded by Kemi Folarin, a youth, community and play worker with over twenty-five years’ experience. It provides projects, programmes, training and consultancy services that are all linked by a common theme — that of improving the lives of children, young people and families, whether through play, creative opportunities, outdoor activity, community events, mobile play, or training in a range of professional disciplines associated with children and young people. 

Kemi Folarin, director of ashebo CIC

From bespoke programmes of children’s play and development activities, to training and capacity-building for community organisations, to outdoor nature and environmental activities, to community engagement and consultation services, ashebo CIC is developing into a unique ‘offer’ that touches on a wide range of children’s, young people’s and family services.

Recently — and for the second year running — the enterprise delivered a free four-week ‘play works’ training course for adults wanting to improve their understanding of the role of children’s play, reflecting its commitment to enabling community organisations, parents and others involved in play to make it more rewarding for all concerned.

But what gives this small CIC such great potential is its access to a three-acre plot of pristine ancient woodlands just twenty minutes from Birmingham city centre. The site was purchased by Kemi Folarin because as well as wanting to sustain and manage these ancient woods, she also saw that they would enable the CIC to offer tailored programmes in health and wellbeing, forest schools, bio-diversity, climate change awareness, understanding eco-systems and environmental play and woodland crafts. The woodlands are classified by Natural England as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The woodlands is the side of ashebo CIC that Kemi now most wants to develop. “Some of the inner city children we take to the woodlands,” Kemi says, “have never seen anything like this. The only green they have seen — if they are lucky — is a local park. We take women there and to adjoining meadow-land for yoga and relaxation classes.  The woodland has huge potential for community use and involvement.”

But this is where the CIC most needs help. There are significant opportunities — through English Heritage, Natural England and other funders — to raise resources to help sustain and manage the woodland, for habitat and wildlife conservation, for learning and keeping alive the old forestry skills of natural hedge-rowing and coppicing. “But we need to develop a Woodlands Management Plan,” says Kemi, “and we need people with woodlands skills and expertise who can help develop appropriate funding bids. Right now, we also need volunteers with chainsaw skills and equipment to help clear deadwood.”

If you can help ashebo CIC in any of these areas, the enterprise would love to hear from you. From little acorns, as they say… 

ashebo CIC

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Birmingham UK. Freelance research, evaluation and policy consultant specialising in social enterprise and the third sector. I maintain the BSSEC blog and website

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