BSSEC Talking Collaboration and Clusters

In our earlier posts, we have been examining the West Midlands Combined Authority’s Growing the Social Economy in the WMCA area: A Framework for Action, the document that underpins WMCA’s ten-year plan for doubling the size of the West Midlands social economy, from around £3.5bn to £7bn, over the coming decade.

WMCA Social Economy Taskforce

The WMCA Social Economy taskforce meets with Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, to launch a new strategy to benefit everyone across the West Midlands (Nov 2021)

We have emphasised that the framework is not about ‘being done to’. It is about the sector working with the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to ensure that all of the factors that enable growth in the sector are harnessed in partnership and working together as part of an ‘ecosystem approach’*.

The concept of business clusters has long been recognised as a factor in stimulating business growth amongst for-profit Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs), and the idea of social enterprise clusters has been proven elsewhere – notably in Digbeth, Birmingham, where access to cheaper ex-industrial premises and like-minded social entrepreneurs has resulted in the organic development of a cluster now numbering fifty to sixty social economy organisations.

With support from local social enterprise specialist iSE CIC, Digbeth has been recognised as a ‘social enterprise place’ by Social Enterprise UK and the Digbeth Social Enterprise Network has seen benefits in increased turnover, access to public sector contracts, numerous partnership and collaboration initiatives, and the sharing of skills, expertise, resources, and peer-to-peer learning. And, while social enterprises in Digbeth have by no means been immune to the catastrophic impact of COVID, there is evidence to indicate that many were better able to adapt and change to meet the needs of their clients, customers and local communities, and are also proving more resilient in their recovery.

As a first step, WMCA is proposing to help fund three social enterprise clusters – more to follow on this in a future post but read the Clusters Case Study here: WMCA Business Case-Social Economy Clusters 2022

But you don’t need to be told, ‘Yes, you can do it’… get cracking and do it yourselves!

It is possible that there will be further funding routes via WMCA in the future and in any case there are many other sources that could lend themselves to local, community-focused social enterprise clusters and networks.

Here are some steps you can take to begin the process of making your locality a social enterprise neighbourhood, cluster or ‘hub’:

  • Talk to local partners with a view to setting up a steering group or local social economy partnership. Identify ‘anchor organisations’ that are key local players in your area and get them on-board. Work towards developing your own local social economy growth plan. This doesn’t need to be complicated and initially may consist of just a handful of fairly modest aims to get things going and offer a starting point.
  • Look for collaboration opportunities Who can you work with to boost inter-trading between social enterprises and the wider voluntary and community sector? Are local social enterprises and VCS organisations seeing all of the local public procurement opportunities?
  • Look for local market opportunities Perhaps you already have a cluster of enterprises operating in related trade sectors (e.g. hospitality, arts/culture, care, tourism). Can steps be taken to build on this? Can new market opportunities be realised through partnership and collaboration?
  • Seek out service delivery consortia Typically groups of social enterprises and/or Voluntary Community Sector (VCS) organisations set up to act as ‘lead contractors’ for certain kinds of public sector contracts? If not, perhaps you could consider starting a localised or categorised consortia?
  • Identify sources of funding Sources such as National Lottery Awards for All mght help you begin to develop a ‘social enterprise neighbourhood’ or cluster.


*Should you be interested in attending on of our 2022 series of EcoSystems Roundtablesplease email Sallie Ryan.

→ Please see the following background article from WMCA: Launch of new strategy to help create a better place for everyone across the West Midlands.

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