On Thursday 3rd September iSE celebrated its tenth anniversary, hosting a dinner for over 80 guests at the Botanical Gardens. Welcoming guests, Sarah Crawley, iSE’s CEO explained: “iSE began life in 1998 as a European project providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. At the end of this project we saw the potential — and the need — for continuing this work in the longer-term and set about establishing iSE as a permanent provider.”
It has been a long journey. The organisation was was originally set up by Sarah and current director Tony Davis and was incorporated as a company in July 2000. It now employs 13 staff — including workers in Aquamacs, the social firm ‘franchise’ it established in 2006 — and in just the past few months has bought its own building at Avoca Court in Digbeth’s Irish quarter.
Guests listened to a fascinating question-and-answer session with a panel of special guests — Sally Reynolds, the chief executive of Social Firms UK; Cllr Paul Tilsley, deputy leader of Birmingham City Council and its champion for social enterprise; Mark Cook, a partner at Anthony Collins Solicitors; Steve Harding, chair of iSE’s Board; and Kevin Lynch, co-author of Mission, Inc.: The Practitioner’s Guide to Social Enterprise, who had flown over specially from the US to attend the International Social Enterprise Business Models Conference in Glasgow, present a master-class on social enterprise, and speak at iSE’s dinner.
Sarah also presented five ‘Social Enterprise Hero’ awards to mark what she said were “outstanding contributions to the sector”. Awards were made to:
- Alison Lawson, of AWM, for her championing of social enterprise within and beyond the RDA — many are unaware of the key role Alison played in helping to bring the national social enterprise conference Voice09 to the ICC in February this year;
- Mark Ellerby for his outstanding work in promoting the sector while also managing groundbreaking social firm Concept Conference Centre at RNIB’s Birmingham headquarters;
- Sharon Annakie, deputy CEO of Future Health & Social Care, one of the fastest-growing social enterprises in the country and Inner City 100 winners (“We should be proud that they are in Birmingham!” Sarah Crawley added);
- Richard Beard, CEO of The Jericho Foundation, for his achievements both at Jericho and his generous wider support for the sector.
And here I must declare an interest. The fifth award was to me – the first time anyone has awarded me anything! – to recognise the contribution BSSEC has made to keeping social enterprise on the agenda in Birmingham. I couldn’t have been prouder.
Those who know iSE will recognise it as one of the most entrepreneurial business support organisations around. Congratulations to Sarah and to all the staff and directors at iSE — here’s to the next ten years!