The changing face of social enterprise — Ballot Street Spice

Children at Ballot St Spice (photo: Victoria Park Academy)

It is rare to see social enterprise featuring in the school curriculum and rarer still within primary schools. But this is exactly what is being done at Victoria Park Primary Academy in West Smethwick.

Victoria Park Primary Academy is part of the groundbreaking Victoria Academies Trust, a six-school primary only multi-academy trust established on 1st January 2014. The trust has seen its DfE-approved sponsor school (Victoria Park Academy) transformed from special measures to ‘outstanding’ in just 1,000 days.

In 2014, the primary academy began to explore the use of traditional culinary spice mixing as a means of bringing an exceptionally diverse community together — fifty-two languages are represented at the school. Blending spices, the school believes, creates opportunities for a thriving community. And this was the idea for the Victoria Spice Academy.

Social enterprise can be used in schools to teach enterprise skills, create richer learning opportunities, promote community engagement and illustrate how trading can have a social purpose

This grew into weekly workshops and bazaars at which pupils, staff, parents and the wider community get together to share their ‘spice stories’ and learn more about the heritage of spices and how they are used in different cultures, countries and families. It’s all part of seeking ways to connect a diverse community and further embed the school in its local neighbourhoods. These sessions have gradually been expanded to include topics for parents as much as pupils — advice sessions and guest speakers on employment or interview tips, for instance, as well as healthy eating.

But the school  believed the idea also had commercial potential and began to develop Ballot Street Spice as a social enterprise offering handmade spice blends. Its first blend was Mrs Mahal’s Massala and this has since been joined by two others, along with branded mugs, aprons and packaging. The enterprise is in the early stages of trading but now, with the help of a dedicated social enterprise lead, Mrs Shakeela Iqbal, the school plans to take the business to the next level, significantly increasing its trading activities. It hopes to incorporate Ballot Street Spice as a Community Interest Company later this year.

What is perhaps most interesting is the thought the school has given to embedding the social enterprise in the curriculum. For instance, pupils in all years are set an enterprise-related challenge. A recent Year 6 group invented a spice game; another group was set the challenge of encouraging customers to stay longer at the school and buy more (clue: start with a mug of Ballot Street Spice’s new  Spicy Hot Chocolate and work from there).

If you have been inspired by what you have read here about Ballot Street Spice there are numerous ways you can help it continue its development:

» If you’re a retailer looking to support school enterprise initiatives, consider buying spice mixes.

» Local restaurants — use Ballot Street Spice mixes and promote the fact that you do so.

» Local organisations of all kinds — consider asking Ballot Street Spices to attend your events, venues, conferences and meetings. “We can sell spice mixes and other products, give presentations, talk about the history and culture of spices — and we’ve got lots of children who love to give spice demonstrations and talk about Ballot Street Spice and what they are doing!” says Mrs Iqbal.

There are also skills and volunteering opportunities for parents and local residents.

Ballot Street Spices is a fascinating example of the way that social enterprise can be used in a school setting to teach enterprise skills, create richer learning opportunities, promote wider community engagement and explore the sometimes complex idea of how trading can have a social purpose.

Contact Ballot Street Spice: 0121 558 8701 (school switchboard); send mail to Mrs Shakeela Iqbal, Social Enterprise Lead, Victoria Park Primary Academy, Ballot Street, Smethwick, B66 3HH

Ballot Street Spice

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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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