Gareth Hart, Director of PSEN, reflects on another week of social enterprise events and several ‘firsts’

“Well delivered, practical, really helpful, brought clarity to my thinking, directly relevant to my job. Great timing!” Festival attendee

Two weeks ago, we held annual Plymouth Social Enterprise City Festival. It was our eleventh event and for the first time it was held entirely online. Now that the dust has settled after a hectic week, I wanted to reflect on the event this year.

The week is part of Global Entrepreneurship Week and across the world this is a chance for social enterprises to raise the profile of their work but also to reflect on what kind of economy, society and businesses do we want.

We hosted twenty-two events covering issues from health and the economy; proving, sharing and writing about your impact; working with young people; making a difference to your community; working digitally; engaging with schools and much more! There was even a social enterprise tropical bingo night hosted by Nudge Community Builders – surely a WORLD FIRST!

We were as ever blown away by the time and energy PSEN’s members put in to helping us curate this celebration of all things social enterprise in the city. We are already looking forward to 2021’s festival. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do more face-to-face events, although digital delivery has certainly increased our reach and encouraged a different type of access. Also huge thanks to all our sponsors and supporters this year. Without you we couldn’t put this on.

The feedback from the festival has been very positive too. No-one said that the online format stopped them attending and 65% of people liked or even preferred the virtual delivery of events. 100% of attendees said that the festival was a good thing for Plymouth’s business community. Suggestions for the future included advertising more and earlier, sharing with students and graduates and seeking more national and international speakers. Quotes included:

“Shows the diversity and encourages a supportive network.”

“It is a great way to celebrate, highlight and illuminate Plymouth’s social enterprise scene”

“It was so powerful hearing about how other people are in similar positions to me and feel the same way.”

A bit of history

We held the first festival in 2010 – a small event in Plymouth University – where we elected the first members of PSEN. I’ve attended all of them. The Social Enterprise City festival has its origins in work undertaken in 2009/10 to look at whether there was a need for a social enterprise network in Plymouth. This research suggested there was a need for such a network. One of the early activities was to celebrate what was already going on in the sector as, at that time, there was very low awareness of social enterprise in the city. Over the years the event has grown from half a day to a day to week to two weeks and gone back to a week.

In 2012, I wrote a piece for the Guardian on why we were running the festival. I recently re-read this and found a lot of what I said then – as we were emerging from the 2008/9 financial crash – resonates now.

I said: “A key aim for us is to push social enterprise into the spotlight and make it central to the way the city does business. I think we need to make sure that social enterprise is understood by a wider range of people and captures the general public’s imagination. We want it to be the model of choice when setting up a business. There is more awareness than ever of the need for new economic concepts, fresh ideas and a fundamental shift in the way we do business. This is high on the political, economic and academic agenda. If we do not radically rethink our business models we will continue to recreate the same problems in the future. We want this festival to show that social enterprise can be the solution to the current economic and environmental crisis. That we can generate wealth sustainably, create meaningful and well-paid jobs and tackle some of society’s most intractable problems.”

The recent Covid-19 crisis has shown us that many of the same issues exist and we still need to re-think our economy to ensure we tackle all these issues more effectively. This is what the festival showed us: that that a better way of doing business is not a work of fiction. It is real; right here and now and it is growing. We need to continue that trajectory. We look forward to another decade of social enterprise festivals.

Some more quotes from attendees:

“Lots of interesting discussion and good attendance. Lots of questions and great panel.”

“It was so productive and useful! I’m going to wave my draft impact report at a lot of other organisations!”

“Engaging and great sense of community, well facilitated creating a safe space for sharing.”

“Great to hear about what is happening on the cutting edge from a well connected speaker.”

“The festival renewed enthusiasm after lots of time stuck at home, connected with other social entrepreneurs.”

“I have got a much better understanding of what social enterprise is.”

“Made me feel connected, motivated again and inspired. Thank you :)”

Plymouth Social Enterprise Network