The battle for our high streets: the time is ripe for community businesses

The battle for our high streets: the time is ripe for community businesses

There is a war of ideas coming. Already skirmishes are being seen and battle lines are being drawn. On one side we have ‘business as usual’ and corporate interests asking for tax cuts to boost economic recovery – ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, has urged slashing VAT and national insurance to encourage spending – and the government has advocated for radical reforms to planning to aid recovery. Requests for more ‘deregulation’ are sure to follow.

On the other we have a movement suggesting we should ‘Build Back Better’ and take this opportunity to re-think our economy post Covid-19 with a green new deal, investment in public services and enhanced protections for people’s jobs. This fight will be seen in sharp focus on our high streets. As I write, shops are starting to re-open. Proprietors are anxiously waiting to see if they are viable in this post-lockdown world of socially distanced shopping, floor stickers and plastic till barriers.

Even before lockdown the high street was struggling with many big-name retailers closing or desperately re-negotiating rent and rates to try to stay afloat. What will emerge in our city centres over the next few months is guesswork – will people dash to the shops to frenziedly spend? Or will there be a painfully slow return to some kind of new-normal? Or will the high street recover at all, as people realise they can do even more online than they thought possible? Over the last few weeks we’ve seen mega-shopping centre chain Intu, owner of the likes of Lakeside, Essex, The Trafford Centre in Manchester and The Mall at Cribbs Causeway in Bristol, warn of financial troubles. A staggering 80% of retailers are predicted to have missed rental payments this last quarter. Boarded up shops seem more likely in the near future along with significant job losses.

So, what’s to be done: massive tax cuts and de-regulation or investments and policy innovation to invigorate our high street economies? Well one solution could be to stimulate and encourage ‘community businesses’ to take over our shopping districts and lead a kinder, more human-centred, economic recovery. A community business is defined as a firm that is accountable to its local community and one that reinvests its profits to create positive social impact. Examples include community pubs, farms and shops but there are also community owned ferry boats, call centres, theatres, sweet shops, breweries, energy suppliers, libraries and more. There are over 9,000 across the UK and around 1,800 in the South West. Here in Plymouth a well-known example is Nudge Community Builders who took over an old pub and turned it into a thriving community space. Community businesses have proved to be resilient and resourceful during the Covid-19 crisis with many becoming the nerve centres of local community responses and thus they are much less likely to have closed or be empty. Community businesses are also more likely to pay more fairly and deliver returns for local people. How could we stimulate more community business? First, the government could legislate to help put high-street properties directly into community ownership. Second, councils should develop long-term strategies for their high streets. Third, to build more vibrant high streets, the government should support a new wave of local, community and social entrepreneurship. Finally, we should all recognise that it is the businesses on a high street or in a city centre that give these places liveliness and value.

Ed Whitelaw, Head of Regeneration and Enterprise at Real Ideas Organisation, based in Plymouth, is leading a community business start-up programme, funded by Power to Change, in the city. To help develop more community businesses he said: “We have about twenty potential community businesses in the pipeline. They need investment and more support, but ownership of assets is key. We need to see more assets in the community’s hands rather than owned by distant landlords. Money then generated in these assets will stay in the local community and recirculate to do more good. Communities then have power, control and more influence.”

The things we value the most are often hardest to measure – love, community, health, nature. If nothing else the Covid-19 crisis has shown us these are more important than the economy. Covid-19 has also shown us that, far from there being no such thing as society, community spirit lives on in abundance. We need jobs of course and that’s where community business can help. Amy Cooper, Programme Co-ordinator at Real Ideas Organisation, who works with Ed supporting community businesses said: “People want purpose and meaning in their work and home lives. We want to earn a good living and also to feel we belong. This is the great offer of community business.”

We need an economy that is better for people and better for the planet. Going back to business as usual will only compound inequalities and make any economic recovery more fragile. Community businesses can be at the heart of this revival – they are right where we need them to be on the high street and in city centres. If government listens more to communities and not just to corporate interests, we can: build back better.

By Gareth Hart, Director, Iridescent Ideas CIC and Chair, Plymouth Social Enterprise Network. This content was sponsored by Power to Change via the Empowering Places programme managed by Real Ideas Organisation.

Regenerate Devon: A Bold Summit for Devon’s Future Economy 

Regenerate Devon: A Bold Summit for Devon’s Future Economy 

In February this year I visited the Reconomy Centre in Totnes for the first time. Welcomed warmly into a beautiful space with inspiring quotes on the walls and delicious coffee; I was there representing Plymouth Social Enterprise Network to meet with an inspiring group of economic catalysts: Jay Tompt and Chris Gunson from Local Spark Torbay (Torbay Social Enterprise Network) along with Daphne van Run from ESSENCE of Exeter (Exeter Social Enterprise Network). Our goal: to design the sketch of a Devon-wide event that would provide inspiration, connection and action toward the next economy. With 2019 ‘the year the world woke up to climate change’ looming in our minds, we worked on the design of a day that would bring people together across sectors to work on the economic transition that we know needs to take place. Towards a more socially and ecologically resilient economy.

We outlined the following objectives:
  • Showcase the innovation happening within the social economy to adequately respond to the vulnerability of our society being highlighted in the face of climate emergency
  • Helping individuals and businesses to see the practical pathways that they can take
  • Weave together different threads of work across the county/region
  • Build our capacity as networks of the social economy to provide expertise to other sectors around preparing for the climate emergency

The foundations felt solid and we began to prepare the details. We were ready to meet again in March to start filling out all the blanks. Of course, what we didn’t know was that a public health pandemic, an economic crisis and social uprising was looming around the corner.

Adapting to Covid-19

Among the deep sadness and grief of now over 40,000 deaths in the UK alone related to COVID-19 since that time, the COVID-19 pandemic has – in so many ways – shifted so much of the way that we perceive our societies, our homelives and our work. As we get face to face with the deep inequalities at the core of our social fabric and face the possibility of the largest recession in 300 years, it is also forcing a shift in how we envisage the role of business in our economy.

COVID-19 has highlighted the huge role played by care workers in our societies. That people can find strength from the deepest places. The power of a work-life balance. The importance of being able to rely on our local circles. The importance of connection. That we can rise together in the face of challenge – that we are willing to help each other. That we can live with less. That the environment thrives when we give it the space. That the global economy is fragile. That there is a huge difference between businesses that aim to create value and those that aim to extract it. And so much more.

Among the tragedy there is much hope, including a hope that we can #BuildBackBetter, regenerating our economy in a way that puts the limits of the planet and the needs of people across society at the heart of its design. A socially and ecologically resilient economy.

By the end of April, Daphne, myself, Chris and Jay met back up, this time over a Zoom call that we’d all become familiar with. What of our planned event? We reflected on the original objectives and they felt even more pressing, even more possible and even more necessary. So we agreed: keep the date planned for July, make it even bigger, and throw our energy into making this Devon-wide summit as bold and practical and real as we could.

And Now…

After weekly meetings and many hours, we are delighted to bring to you the REGENERATE DEVON Virtual Summit, 7-9 July. Three days of visionaries, panels, networking and co-creation sessions to build a socially and ecologically resilient economy. 15 session, 25 speakers and 10+ hours of discussion, co-creation and Open Space.

Day 1 is about becoming acquainted and Dreaming Big, where participants open their minds, share visions and ideas and set the scene for what’s possible. Day 2 is all about ‘the practice’. We’ll be hearing from enterprises and entrepreneurs about inspiring and cutting-edge practice that they have been developing and learning from each other about what we have done and what is possible. Day 3 brings the process around to joint action and co-creation and involves everyone in the question ‘So, how do we Regenerate Devon together?’.

We’re very excited to be bringing inspirational people from across Devon and beyond into this conversation. From our opening panel with the visionaries of our region Manda Brookman, Tony Greenham and Amanda Kilroy, to a speech and Q&A by Rob Shorter and Kate Raworth from the Doughnut Economics Action Lab, to case studies from across Devon showcasing inspirational practice, including the Reconomy Centre, Riverford Organic, Plymouth CityBus, Co-Lab, South West Mutual, Plymouth Energy Community, Nudge Community Builders  and many many more.

We invite you to help to join us and help to shape the conversation – network with ‘Regenerators’ across Devon, share your practice, share your ideas, co-create with peers, host or join a session during the Open Space, and take part in our ‘After Hours’ events to socialise and connect.

Because if not now –when it is so obviously necessary – then when will we collectively start to make the bold shifts that are needed to build our economy in Devon in service to the planet and society? We cannot influence everybody’s actions, but we can at least influence our own.

Find out more here

Written by Annette Dhami – PSEN Events Manager and Board member

Facilitating Great Online Meetings – Takeaways

Facilitating Great Online Meetings – Takeaways

On 28th March 2020 Jay Tompt led us through a great zoom workshop on Facilitating Great Online Meetings, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Trying to work out how to face our face-to-face meetings online filled me with anxiety. How do you make sure there isn’t a room of people stuck listening to one person speak? How to enable interaction between participants? Sense the energy in the room? Get a feeling for needs etc when you can’t as easily read faces?

I got loads of questions answered. Here were some of my key takeaways:


  • You can design the flow of an online meeting basically the same as a face to face meeting. Introductions, break-out groups, presentations, feedback, ideas sharing, everything is possible and online does not limit this!
  • Set up: great to have more than 1 person involved. E.g. One to facilitate the conversation and one to do the technical side – set up break-outs rooms, execute polls, configure shared docs etc, timekeeping, keep an eye on energy. Much like you would at a normal event.
  • Do your prep before a zoom meeting to ensure that you have the right settings, e.g.:
    • Enable break-out groups
    • Set participants as mute on entry
    • If you enable waiting rooms you can put a whiteboard or a jamboard there to help people to get involved before starting, much like the pre-event start networking
  • Before hosting a meeting, get your audio/video set up. Lighting in front and not behind you. Set up the laptop so it’s at a good angle for your face (e.g. not pointed up at your chin). Ensure the microphone works well and the lighting is clear.
  • Set up your documents, polls, links to share in chat, and settings in advance so that it’s all ready to go (see tools below!)


  • In the chat people can post to the whole group or to individual people which enables conversation without interrupting the main flow. Super helpful to enable interaction.
  • In the ‘participants’ view there are buttons to raise your hand, thumbs up and thumbs down, clap, click yes and no, show that you are taking a break, and other functions during the meeting that are great ways to facilitate interaction
  • Setting up a shared GDoc and enabling editing to people with the link, and then posting the link in the chat so that everyone can work on this document together (for whatever purpose – e.g. a shared agenda/ meeting minutes / recording notes from breakout sessions)
  • The whiteboard option in zoom is a great way to collaborate on a blank screen as if it were a flipchart or a whiteboard in a meeting. Click on annotate to add notes etc.
  • Google’s Jamboard is also a way to do this, and people can add images, post-its etc to the shared screen, which is great (see an image of our shared jamboard that we used to experiment during the session below!). Just share the link in the chat and off you go.


  • Polls – you can set up polls for the meeting in advance and then launch them at any point (and share the results to the participants) without interrupting the flow of the session, which is great! Really good for capturing feedback at the end of a session without much disruption.
  • Break-Out Rooms. These are awesome. Separates the group into small groups that have breakout conversations and then return to the group together. You can select the number of rooms and length of time for the room. Participants can then be allocated automatically (let’s zoom split up the group evenly across rooms) or manually. The Host can join any room, broadcast messages to the room and can move people around rooms.



Make it as natural and as human as possible. Plan the structure much as you would a normal meeting/event. Which may include:

  • Orientate people on key features before getting going. Basically housekeeping without the fire escapes, e.g. show how to:
    • Mute yourself when not talking
    • Click on participants to see the buttons to raise your hand, thumbs up and thumbs down, clap, click yes and no, show that you are taking a break, and other functions during the meeting
    • Click on chat function – here you can send messages to the group and individuals throughout
    • Gallery vs speaker view allows you to see the group in different ways
    • Set any ground-rules like: please enable your camera if you can, so that this feels human. Please don’t multitask during the meeting so that we all have our shared attention.
    • Let people know when breaks will be (and make them frequent)! This apparently is quite important to minimise agitation during the meeting. Add in some yoga or stretches if it’s that kind of vibe.
  • Check-Ins. You can, e.g. ask people one by one to unmute, introduce themselves and then nominate the next person and mute themselves again.
  • Warm-ups and energisers. Loads of ideas for these online. E.g. This blog seems to have some good links and ideas.
  • Giving host control to others. Throughout the meeting you can hand over the ability to host or co-host the meeting to other participants by going to the participants window, hover over their name, click more and then ‘Make Host’ or ‘Make Co-Host’. They can then share their screen to do a presentation or use the other key functions.
  • Share info at the end of the meeting. If you have recorded the meeting (enable via the zoom settings) then this can be shared. You can also save the chat at the end and circulate, and you can download jamboards and other shared working documents.
  • Polls are great to gather some feedback at the end. For qualitative feedback you could – for example – ask a question like ‘what was the best thing you learned from this?’ Ask everyone to put their feedback in the chat box but not press chat until everyone is ready and then do it the same time. Creates a buzz in the chat and adds a bit of fun.
Coronavirus/Covid-19 Response and Recovery

Coronavirus/Covid-19 Response and Recovery

PSEN Coronavirus Response and Recovery FINAL

PSEN has published this plan to help us both respond to the immediate Coronavirus/Covid-19 crisis but also look forward to the recovery phase.

Our simple vision is that our members, social enterprises and indeed all businesses and community groups in the city emerge in a healthy position.

We know that this will be hard. We have had contact with a number of social enterprises that are struggling and some that have closed for the moment. We hope these re-open and recover in due course. We are also hearing of social enterprises that have moved online with relative ease and those that are providing a range of innovative services like Livewell Southwest, Nudge and Real Ideas Organisation.


Some of our key aims during this response phase are to:

  • Facilitate the exchange of advice and business support for our members. We have our own resources here and we have worked with Plymouth City Council and Plymouth Octopus Project to create a dedicated page of information on the Council’s website.
  • Gather information about the impact of Coronavirus/Covid-19 on our members and advocate for their needs to relevant organizations such as national and local government
  • Work with and support SEUK and other social enterprise places on the national response. More information on that here.

More specifically, we have been proactively phoning our members to check in with them. We’ve not called everyone yet so if we’ve not spoken to you let us know. We’ve put our events schedule online. We’ve already held events on using Zoom and on HR advice for social enterprises. Another event lined up is on PR and digital marketing. Other events will be published soon.

We’ve also created a pool of business experts who can provide free business advice on topics such as: tech, Crowdfunding, PR, governance, investment, social impact, finance, team management. communications and more.

We are regularly updating our social media and news feeds with up to date sector news and information too.


We want a more pro-social, more inclusive and regenerative economy to emerge post-crisis. Social enterprises need to be at the heart of the recovery and embedded in economic and heath policy making. Without social enterprises a future economy that goes back to ‘business as usual’ will only compound inequalities and make recovery harder. We need a healthy workforce with decent, productive jobs that enhances, not damages, the environment. Social enterprises are delivering this as our recently published research proves.

We are in the early stages of developing the ‘recovery’ phase but our early ideas are to:

  • Bring members together to collaboratively inform how we work together as a sector
  • Advocate for a more pro-social, inclusive and regenerative economy through online events, blogs and content
  • Work in solidarity with other social enterprise networks across the region and the country
  • Advocate for social enterprises to be supported and firmly embedded in the recovery with economic policy makers such as Local Enterprise Partnership, City Council, Plymouth Growth Board, University of Plymouth and relevant others.

Please get in touch with us about your immediate needs and ideas for the future recovery.

The State of Social Enterprise in Plymouth

The State of Social Enterprise in Plymouth

Plymouth Social Enterprise Network has published research on the state of social enterprise in our great city. You can read a summary here and the full version here.

We know the power of research. Understanding the state of social enterprise in Plymouth in 2013 led to us becoming the UK’s first Social Enterprise City. That, in turn, led to millions of pounds worth of investment and business advice for our social enterprises.

Now, six years later, this report shows how that city badge and that investment has helped develop social enterprises in Plymouth. There are more of them. They employ more people. They work in the most disadvantaged areas and bring in more, much needed, income to the city’s communities.

This research shows that, as we rebuild our economy post Coronavirus/Covid-19, social enterprises need to be at the heart of the recovery and embedded in economic and heath policy making. Without social enterprises a future economy that goes back to ‘business as usual’ will only compound inequalities and make recovery harder. We need a healthy workforce with decent, productive jobs that enhances, not damages, the environment. Social enterprises are delivering this as the research proves.

There are some eye-opening findings, clues to the future economy we want and also some business needs for social enterprises that we need to address. For example, did you know that:

  • Two of the five largest employers in Plymouth are social enterprises
  • The social enterprise community has grown by 33% from 150 to around 200 businesses over the last six years
  • Social enterprises employ over 9,000 people and spend nearly £600 million a year in our city’s economy
  • Over half of leaders in social enterprises are women
  • Nearly two thirds of our social enterprises pay the Real Living Wage to staff compared to a third of FTSE100 companies
  • Nearly all our social enterprises offer support around employee well-being in the work-place

But more than just the statistics: this research shows us that a better way of doing business is not a work of fiction. It is real; right here and now in our great city. And it is growing.

We face serious social, economic and environmental problems in Plymouth and the wider world. Post Coronavirus/Covid-19 these problems will be in even more sharp focus. People and planet are not distinct from the economy, they are the economy. This report illustrates that social enterprises in all their forms, be they co-operatives, community businesses, community interest companies, trading charities and more, are creating a more compassionate, fairer, more diverse and more environmentally sustainable society through their work.

Thank you to all who contributed to this report: the researchers and writers, Transform Research Consulting. The funders, Power to Change. And to the social enterprises, members of Plymouth Social Enterprise Network, and others who took part and who demonstrate that you are making the city a better place though your fabulous work.

Let us press for ever more business with good cause in Plymouth in the coming years.

Reflecting on a decade of PSEN

Reflecting on a decade of PSEN

Happy New Year. I hope you had a great festive break. We are looking forward to an action packed 2020.We have lots of events, activities and announcements to make. All in good time. I wanted to briefly reflect on the last ten years at PSEN and, WOW, what a decade!

Social enterprise in Plymouth – in all its forms of co-operatives, community businesses, trading charities, community interest companies, etc – has advanced so much, in large part due to the dedication of people like you, our members and our partners like Plymouth City Council, POP+, Dartington SSE, Social Enterprise UK, Social Enterprise Mark, The Chamber of Commerce and the LEP to name but a few. What a collective of brilliant people and organizations. I think its fair to say Plymouth Social Enterprise Network has played a key role too.

I’m proud of what we’ve collectively achieved as a city since PSEN started in 2010:

1. First UK Social Enterprise City (first in world maybe!)
2. The UK’s best week-long social enterprise festival
3. A leading social enterprise place which people across the world look to (folk from Sweden, Italy, South Africa, The Netherlands, Germany, Lithuania, Spain, Greece, Jamaica, Finland, Poland have all been here to find out more)
4. A seat on the Plymouth Growth Board – helping to keep social enterprise at the heart of economic policy making
5. The City Council’s pioneering Social Enterprise Investment Fund and Co-operative Development Fund.
6. Power to Change and Rank Foundation investment and support
7. School for Social Entrepreneurs running multiple programmes here
8. Specialist expert social enterprise business advice programmes secured
9. Climate emergency declared
10. Developing the inclusive economy work
11. Influencing policies for social value in procurement
12. Three universities inspired to embrace social enterprise as a model
13. One of the largest health and social care providers (Livewell) in the UK started here

These are just some of the highlights, I’ve probably missed many more. Thanks to all who have served on the PSEN board over the years to help achieve this.

Where will the next decade take us? We want social enterprise to be central to the way we do business in Plymouth; a leading place for social enterprise start-up and development; a place where social enterprise is thought of as a model of choice for new entrepreneurs. We are building on good foundations but there is much more to do. Our pressing issue is to develop a new social enterprise strategy for the city. Work on this is well underway and will build on the research into social enterprise in Plymouth conducted last year. We can only achieve all this with the support of our fabulous members. A network is nothing otherwise. Please join us if you haven’t already. I look forward to hearing from you.

World beaters

World beaters

Sensational, dramatic, beautiful. Three words to describe England’s fantastic cricket World Cup win yesterday. Congratulations to England and fair play/commiserations to New Zealand. Sport can bring people together and what a performance under incredible pressure from such a diverse group of players.

Also, these three words could define Plymouth’s social enterprise scene: Sensational in its scale; dramatic in its impact and beautiful in its ability to inspire.

I spoke at a conference in Santander, Spain last week on these themes: about how social enterprise has developed in Plymouth, how we became the UKs first Social Enterprise City and what this has meant for the city.

I showcased the work of many of PSEN’s members and talked about our contribution to the local economic, social and environmental priorities. I explained how the city is developing a cooperative strategy and our work around building a fairer, more inclusive economy through business in the city.

There was time for a trip to a fantastic local social enterprise called the Amica Association which runs a recycling and a laundry social enterprise. Why can’t these things be done in Plymouth? Amica works with people with learning disabilities and the work they do to value everyone’s differences and skills really shone through.

Some of the themes emerging from the conference I think we should look at in Plymouth were:

  1. The need to continually engage consumers around the fundamental idea of what social enterprise – in all its forms – is and why it is important
  2. The need to ‘change mindsets through story telling’ – a quote from Chris Blues of the Skoll Foundation
  3. To embed the UN Sustainable Development Goals more strategically and solidly in all our work
  4. Gathering good data on the social enterprise and cooperative economy to inform and influence policy making at local, regional, national and international levels.

I came away from the conference with a strong feeling of camaraderie and hope: work to promote social enterprise, coops and community business goes on all over the world and sometimes knowing that makes it feel less like we are working in a tiny bubble in south west of the UK but that we are part of wider, global movement.

Other speakers included Rachel Brown from Social Enterprise Mark, Professor Jonathan Levie of Galway University, Karel Vanderpoorten from the EU Commission on the social economy, Chris Blues of the Skoll Foundation, Elgar Bleumer the European Director of Enactus from The Netherlands, Inge Hill of Enterprise Educators UK, Holke Brammer from Yunus Social Business, Jairo Ruiz Nava of Monterrey University Mexico and Millian Diaz from Zaragoza University. All spoke on themes about social enterprise, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and work to promote social entrepreneurship across the world.

The conference was organized by the Universidad Internacional Menendez Pelayo (UIMP) and held at the stunning Palacio de la Magadalena overlooking the Bay of Santander.

Gareth Hart – Chair of PSEN



PR – More than just a press release

PR – More than just a press release

The recent PSEN AGM highlighted how many brilliant projects are going on in the city, and how much good news there is to share.

One way to get people to pay attention to the things you’re doing is through Public Relations. Despite having worked in PR for the best part of a decade, it’s still tricky to define exactly what I and my colleagues do.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations use this definition:

Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.

From this description, it’s easy to see why PR is so key to social enterprises – there are so many people (or publics) you need to keep happy: customers, employees, beneficiaries, charities, funders, Councillors, media…. The list goes on.

Relationships Matter

There is a common thread though – building a relationship. While advertising can be seen as essentially shouting at people to buy your product, use your service or otherwise act in the way you want them to, PR is about building a relationship with the people you want to engage with.

Why is this more effective? Think back to a time when you’ve asked people for their opinion. It could be posting on social media, looking at online reviews, or when you were picking out that lovely new pair of shoes in the shop. What did you pay the most attention to? The advert you saw about the product? Or was it a more personal experience – the opinions of people in your peer group, the trusted review or the expert staff in the shop? I suspect it was the latter.

Who do you trust?

PR helps your organisation build that kind of relationship with the people you engage with. Whether it’s through face to face conversations, blog posts, or a piece in the paper, you become trusted as the expert in your field who can be relied on for accurate information and advice, not just a product. This leads to longer-term relationships with people, who then become your organisation’s advocates – so when their friends and family ask for their opinion, you’re at the front of their mind.

In an age where people are increasingly distrustful, if you are the organisation they can rely on, it’ll pay dividends all around.


If you’re looking for a PR practitioner on a permanent or freelance basis, look for someone on the CIPR’s Public Relations Register (where you’ll find me!). The CIPR have also put together a series of guides to help you recruit or invite pitches from your perfect PR match.

Louise Manico MCIPR
Founder and Consultant


Representing in the wider social enterprise sector

Representing in the wider social enterprise sector

Social Value Summit

On Monday we went to the Social Value Leaders’ Summit. Thanks to Livewell SW for supporting us to attend on your behalf.

This event saw the launch of a government consultation on Social Value in procurement. Oliver Dowden, Minister for Implementation, described how government spending could create diverse and safer supply chains, improve inclusion and wellbeing, reduce environmental impact and encourage development of employees. There was a timely BBC news story about it too.

These are warm words but the devil is in the detail and this is just a consultation. We urge you to put in your own response and PSEN will lead a collective reply to this as it seems crucially important and, potentially, a great opportunity for members that have business with government. It also sets the tone for a wider range of public sector organizations to follow. Here in Plymouth our local council has done some ground-breaking work on social value and we hope this can be extended across the public sector in the city. Other themes from the event were:

  1. Universities increasingly seeing themselves as ‘in service of society’ and well-placed as large anchor organizations to champion social value and procure with purpose
  2. How the local industrial strategies need to support re-structuring the economy to make it fairer. This is another consultation we urge you to get behind. There is an event on the local industrial strategy on 25th March you should attend if you can. Book here.

There is a report on the event from Pioneers Post here

Social Enterprise Places

On Friday we represented Plymouth – as the UK’s first Social Enterprise City – at the national Social Enterprise Places conference. This brought together some of the 30 counties, cities, villages, towns and zones that are demonstrating social enterprise at its best. The event was sponsored by NatWest and facilitated by SEUK. Key learning from the event:

  • Need for the places to come together more strategically with SEUK in response to local economic policy making and sharing intelligence
  • Need to raise public awareness of the social enterprise places movement
  • Increasing market opportunities for social enterprise in the places through Corporate Buy Social and other campaigns
  • Opportunities through NatWest on investment and local business support which we will share separately
  • SEUK are launching some new videos with celebrity patrons in partnership with the Co-op. Watch out for these soon.

To stay up to date with where we are on your behalf please do sign up to the newsletter and follow us on Twitter.

Social enterprises for a strong economy and a fairer society

Social enterprises for a strong economy and a fairer society

There are two problems at the heart of Britain’s economy: that of driving fair, sustainable growth and that of boosting productivity. The focus has been, for too long, on the latter. We need a shift to investing in, buying from and supporting social enterprises.

We need an economy where businesses create decent work and the where the dividends of growth and prosperity are more equally shared. Check out your history books at the pages on Russia and France: if the rich get richer and the poor get poorer we can head, ultimately, into violent revolution.

The proceeds of growth are, too often, not shared fairly and this leaves many workers dispirited. Too many businesses are focused on minimising their tax bill, rather than contributing a fair share to fund public services. The largest social enterprises and co-operatives in the UK pay more in tax than Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Ebay and Starbucks combined.
Our local economic policy is fixated on productivity. It is a thorny problem: it takes us five days to produce something that Germans do in four. The reasons for this are vexed and no-one seems to be able to put their finger on what might be the problem and how to solve it.

We need a radical shift in the way we think about business and a move to a more socially enterprising economy. This is golden opportunity for the region to create productive, inclusive prosperity. Social enterprises not only create jobs and wealth, they do so more fairly and more innovatively than standard businesses and they also tackle social and environmental problems at the same time.

So, what are social enterprises? Simply put a social enterprise is a business with a good cause at its heart that dedicates its work and its profits towards achieving this good cause. My nine-year-old daughter described them as ‘businesses that help people’ which I thought pretty much nailed it. Nationally famous social enterprises include The Big Issue and Divine Chocolate. But did you know that there are social enterprise banks, book shops and bakeries? There are sport shops, florists, pharmaceutical companies and toilet paper makers. There are also gin, wine, whisky and beer producing social enterprises! Pretty much all sectors of the economy have a social enterprise in them somewhere. Although maybe not in the arms and tobacco industries.

Social enterprises can take many forms. They can be co-operatives, community businesses, trading charities, community interest companies or a myriad of other hybrid ethical structures. This can cause problems of definition but all are united by a common feature: that of using business to tackle social or environmental problems.

Here in the South West we are blessed with some world leading social enterprises. We have The Eden Project and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Restaurant in Cornwall. The University of Plymouth was the world’s first accredited social enterprise university and Plymouth was the UK’s first ‘Social Enterprise City’ – a virtual brand that has led to over £6 million of investment into the city in the last three years. Livewell Southwest operates across large parts of Devon and is one of the largest health and social care social enterprises in the UK. Plymouth Energy Community, which raised over £3 million to put solar panels on schools and Plymouth’s Life Centre, has revolutionised the way we look at local energy generation, investment and community ownership.

Across Devon and Somerset there are well over a thousand social enterprises. Their combined turnover is £1.5 billion per year and they employ close to 33,000 people. That’s big – and small – business but, despite being a significant part of the economy that is better for all of us, it is still marginal in government policy making.

So back to why investing in social enterprise is an answer to solving the knotty problem of a fairer economy. Here are some killer facts. Social enterprises are more likely to innovate and are more profitable than standard businesses. Social enterprises are more likely to be led by women. They are starting up at a faster rate and are operating in the most disadvantaged parts of the region: where we most need businesses to work to create productive growth. Critically, social enterprises are also much more likely to pay more fairly: over three quarters of social enterprises report paying the living wage to their employees.

Social enterprise shows us that we can create a vision of a better world driven by business. And this is a pro-business and an unashamedly ‘for profit’ agenda. The more profit we make the more good things we can do with it.

It is social enterprises that are building the inclusive, prosperous, productive economy we need to rejuvenate our high streets, treat workers and pay women fairly and tackle deep rooted social and environmental issues.

Business can make us noble or be a tool for oppression and control. Increasing unfairness can lead to deep societal problems. We need to enhance and protect our environment whilst creating decent jobs. I think social enterprises can create solutions and offer an alternative, compelling vision. One based on business.

The Story of PSEN

The Story of PSEN

PSEN Director Annette Dhami attended the POP+ Conference earlier in the year and talked about how PSEN founders came together to launch the network, and what this action has gone on to create.

It went back 8 years.

Michelle Virgo from Dartington School for Social Entrepreneurs, Dave Kilroy from Social Enterprise Outcomes, Ed Whitelaw from Real Ideas Organisation and Gareth Hart from Iridescent Ideas CIC sat around a kitchen table on a windy autumn afternoon over coffee. One year before, a research study had been done to see whether Plymouth’s growing social enterprise sector would benefit from a network that could support it. The study found that it could. In 2010 an event was run to discuss getting one started, but representation from the social enterprise community itself was low, and the ball didn’t start rolling. Without Plymouth social enterprises taking the lead, another organization from Exeter was awarded a pot of funding to try to get it going, but – not being based in Plymouth – traction didn’t take, and when their contract ended so did the activities.

Over coffee, Michelle, Gareth, Dave and Ed had a question to discuss: did they, representing their various social enterprises, feel that they could get a Social Enterprise Network for Plymouth going? And where on earth would they start?

They knew that there were things on their side: they were all passionate about social enterprise and the type of inclusive and sustainable economy that it could help to build in Plymouth. They were all committed and willing to chip in. They represented social enterprises in Plymouth, so who better to do it? They decided to try.

Plymouth Social Enterprise Network was formally constituted in May 2011 and began its work by arranging regular meetings of 10-20 people. Learning quickly, a Board of Directors was soon set up to change the focus of these meeting from ‘how do we run a network’ (now done by the smaller voluntary board) to ‘these are the great things are happening in Plymouth and let’s celebrate them’ (with growing participants to do so). Before long, they secured funding to run a large conference – now run as the annual Social Enterprise Festival – and launched the first directory of social enterprises in Plymouth. They conducted research into the state of social enterprise in Plymouth, and started to reveal information about how important the sector was becoming. As this was being published, Plymouth University announced itself as a social enterprise, adding even more weight to the sector. £500 million income and 6,000 jobs were identified from the sector in Plymouth, securing coverage from national press.

They ran an event asking: ‘Social Enterprise City: What, Why and How?’, wondering what it would mean to be a city that champions social enterprise approaches. National speakers became to attend events, recognising the buzz in Plymouth. They began to organise bigger conferences, including the next social enterprise festival, this time a week long.

In 2013 Social Enterprise UK launched their Social Enterprise Places badge, looking for hotspots of activity in the country where social enterprise was thriving. With all the work done in previous years, PSEN was able to quickly evidence the case for Plymouth and over a few days worked to pull together a bid. It was successful, and in September 2013 Plymouth was announced – along with Bristol – as the first Social Enterprise City in the UK. Plymouth was put on the national map as a go-to place for social enterprise, and international universities, major funders and large organisations started to travel to Plymouth to find out more.

In the last five years PSEN has leveraged this opportunity to develop the support for Plymouth’s social enterprises further. It launched a paid membership model, to ensure that trading income was at the heart of its work and that the network would be financially accountable to social enterprises in the city. PSEN Board members began to be invited to influence governmental policy, sitting on the Plymouth Growth Board and the Plymouth Inclusive Growth Flagship; at the Local Enterprise Partnership level; and working with Social Enterprise UK, national government and other powerful players to champion social enterprise as a way to create a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

Between 2013-2015 PSEN ran even bigger social enterprise festivals, with – for example – over 2,000 people attending over the course of two weeks.

By lobbying for support and raising awareness increasing funding was secured to support social enterprises in Plymouth. Power to Change, the Seedbed Incubator Programme, Esmee Fairbairn, The Rank Foundation and Plymouth City Council are among the supporters that have funnelled over £6 million of finance and support into social enterprise support as a result.

With support for social enterprise growing, social enterprise is increasing its contribution and influence in the Plymouth economy. Progress has been notable, but there is more work to do. We want to see an economy with social businesses not at its periphery but at its core. Whilst we continue to be run by passionate and committed people representing a range of social enterprises in Plymouth, we will continue to try.

Come join us for the 2018 Social Enterprise Festival to learn more about the exciting things happening in social enterprise in Plymouth and ways to be involve.

We need to talk about compassion in business

We need to talk about compassion in business

Plymouth is the national flagship city for compassion but what does this mean for our social enterprises. Tam Fowles, Director of Hope in the Heart CIC explains about how compassion can help your business thrive and more…

We need to talk about compassion. This is a conversation that needs to take place in many contexts. We also need to talk about why people in business don’t talk more about compassion. Too often I have heard “there’s no place for compassion in business”, and this belief is reflected in the practices and policies of many corporations. But social enterprises are often born of compassion and there is much to be learned from this source of inspiration that could positively affect all businesses, and significantly increase their productivity.

What is compassion? Neuroscientist Dr James Doty, of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), describes it as “the recognition of the suffering of another with a motivational desire to alleviate that suffering”. Global character education programme, the Virtues Project, says “Compassion is deep empathy for another who is suffering or living with misfortune…and a strong desire to ease their distress.” Many social enterprises are founded with the express purpose of alleviating suffering and easing distress. An article from the Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Marketing states that “a commitment to helping others … encourages individual entrepreneurs to devote more time and energy to creative and flexible thinking than if they were making decisions to benefit only themselves” and that “compassion…acts as a prosocial motivator of cognitive and emotional processes that are preconditions for undertaking social entrepreneurship”

There is a link between the business world and the research world, suggests Emma Sappala, Associate Director at CCARE, as “research on compassion is setting a new tone for the workplace and management culture.”

Having worked with numerous groups on the subject of compassion, I have seen first-hand the change that can take place when individuals are encouraged to focus on compassion. Noticing incidents of compassionate action taking place in their various environments, and looking for opportunities to make the compassionate choice in every situation can change a person’s perspective on the world, replacing the cynicism born of negative media bombardment and general daily stress with a sense of hope, potential and achievement. When this happens throughout an organisation, the positive change is magnified and the culture can be transformed.

When compassion is a conscious aim, with appropriate boundaries and policies in place, leaders, employees and service-users find a shared focus which can provide a sense of unity, purpose and belonging. Respect and mutual consideration are high, and a general feeling of wellbeing is likely to permeate the business. Modelling compassion within the local community can create a ripple-effect, as others are attracted by the positive feelings and outcomes generated by the compassionate business. Employee health is increased and staff are likely to stay in their role longer. Customer service is improved with a corresponding positive effect on production.

Since its inception in 2008, Charter for Compassion International has engaged hundreds of businesses on many continents, in its business sector and across 11 other sectors.

There are opportunities for businesses in Plymouth to join the global compassion movement, increasing their focus on compassionate action and reaping the considerable benefits while helping to build a critical mass of compassionate businesses intent on changing the culture of business in their communities. Plymouth was registered as a Compassionate City with Charter for Compassion International in January 2017, and has become the flagship city for compassion in the UK, with several projects being piloted that will contribute towards a “Plymouth Compassionate City Model” for other UK communities to follow. Hope in the Heart CIC is currently leading the Compassionate Plymouth City Initiative, whose steering group includes representatives from The Zebra Collective, Lifeplay Learning and St Luke’s Hospice (the latter has also introduced a separate end-of-life focused Compassionate City Charter to Plymouth).

Any business, organisation, school, group or institution can become a partner of CCI and Compassionate Plymouth, at no cost and with many benefits. These include visibility on the CCI website and the opportunity to network and share resources with other compassionate businesses in many locations, as well as a chance to play an active role in the development of Compassionate Plymouth as a model community for the UK. Several local social enterprises and others have already registered. Hope in the Heart has funding from the Esme Fairbairn Foundation, via POP+, to deliver a number of half-day workshops introducing CCI and CP to representatives of organisations interested in knowing more or becoming partners, with free or subsidised consultation also available if required. Please contact if you would like to know more, or attend or host a workshop

We need to talk about how compassion in Plymouth businesses can contribute to radical social change and model a more proactive way of working for the benefit of all. If you would like to be part of that conversation, please get in touch!

Tam Martin Fowles
Founding Director Hope in the Heart CIC
UK Ambassador Charter for Compassion International


Plymouth in a world of social enterprise

Plymouth in a world of social enterprise

PSEN attended the Social Enterprise World Forum in Edinburgh last week. What an event! We’ll provide a fuller report of our experience and how the conference applies to Plymouth’s social enterprises at our network meeting on 25th September. A quick summary:

It was a fantastic, energising and stimulating week. Attended by over 1,400 people from nearly 50 different countries the event was a huge celebration of social enterprise alongside lots of politics, debate and discussion on many themes. It was chance to re-connect with old friends and make new ones. There was even some dancing at a Scottish ceilidh (less said about the attempts at this the better!)

We were able to share the work of many of our social enterprises in various events. We went to the launch of Callander as Scotland’s first social enterprise place. We also attended events on building strong networks; tech for good; marketing social enterprises; procurement and supply chain; the UN Sustainable Development Goals and more. Some salient points were:

1. There was an expressed need for more digital social enterprise businesses.
2. We need to create a compelling vision of a better future – one where social enterprise is the ‘norm’.
3. We need to engage with wider audiences (creatives, corporates, small businesses, public sector, schools, general population, etc) – we can’t just talk to ourselves.
4. The importance of political support – Scotland’s ministers seemed to really ‘get’ social enterprise and see it as integral to their economic strategies. This has led to investment and the development of a good ecosystem of support.
5. Getting large businesses to spend more with social enterprises – this will increase impact rather than putting money into CSR initiatives.
6. That social enterprise ‘structure’ and the ability to be held to account were seen as marginally more important than ‘impact’.

The most powerful moment was a brilliant talk by Bruktawit Tigabu of Whiz Kids in Ethiopia. The country struggles with low literacy and Bruktawit said that two thirds of young girls in the country think that domestic violence can be justified. A shocking statistic that illustrates why her work is so desperately needed. Ethiopia will host the 2019 Social Enterprise World Forum.

There was also a great talk by Lord Victor Adebowale, Chair of SEUK. He reminded us that as a sector we need to be more joined up. We need to make alliances in the social economy and with the private sector.

The SEWF reminded us that if we want to create a better future we need to lead or the future will be created for us. Social enterprises employ more women, people from Black and Minority Ethnic communities, young people. Social enterprises work in areas that need economic development. Social enterprises pay more fairly. We should be unashamed of this and we need to BE business. Not charity but business.

The Hidden Cost of Money Lending

The Hidden Cost of Money Lending

We note with interest the demise of payday lender, Wonga which has gone into administration. It would seem that the fines imposed by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for unfair debt collection practices, orders to repay over £35M to customers as a result of “unfair practices”, introduction of caps on administration charges and criticism over sky-high interest rates in excess of 4,000 per cent have finally taken their toll. They even suffered a data breach in 2017 and warned that personal data of up to 245,000 customers could have been compromised, incurring the wrath of the information Commissioners Office (ICO).

So what are the alternatives? Certainly people looking for loans should look carefully at the terms of the loan to make sure that the administration charges and interest rates are not exorbitant as is the case with many payday lenders. They should also consider whether these short-term loans are the answer to their financial problems. Taking out a loan for, say, £500 for a sudden unexpected expense like a car repair to be repaid when the next salary or benefit payment at the end of the month comes in means that there is £500 less to spend next month. And the temptation is to take out another loan for £500 plus the administration charges and interest that were incurred with the previous loan. This leads to an ever increasing debt spiral which is very difficult to get out of.

So what is our advice? Take out a longer term loan. Spread the repayments over several months, that way you don’t have to pay back all the money borrowed with your next salary or benefit payment. Look at ethical borrowers like Credit Unions – they are restricted by law to an absolute maximum interest rate on loans of 3% per month, just over 42% APR – the chances are that the interest rate charges will be even lower. There are no administration charges and loans can be paid back earlier with no penalty. For the full picture, why not visit our web site at

Steve Lademann
City of Plymouth Credit Union

Towards a Better Plymouth

Towards a Better Plymouth

Plymouth Social Enterprise Network believes that social enterprise is a fundamental way to help Plymouth become a better city to live and work in. This means a Plymouth where:

  • Wealth is generated sustainably and stays here to improve the quality of life for all
  • Everyone has access to meaningful work – work that they can see makes a difference to their community, the environment and the world
  • Good ideas are generated and entrepreneurialism encouraged

We want to see our economy grow in a way that creates these conditions, not hinders them. Developing business that has ethics at its core and exists to improve our social and natural environment (social enterprise) – rather than personal profit – is needed to make this happen.

If you also share these ambitions for Plymouth, please join us. We can only achieve this by working together.

Not sure? Let us tell you more.

  • Sustainable wealth

Plymouth’s historic dependency on the defence, manufacturing and construction industries has created challenges for the city. Plymouth was heavily impacted by the recession – losing, for example, 6,400 jobs between 2008 and 2010  (The Plymouth Fairness Commission Final Report March 2014) – and despite many positive developments, Plymouth has been struggling to sustainably generate wealth; GVA has been around 84% of the UK average for many years. (The Plymouth Fairness Commission Final Report March 2014) Where wealth is created, it is distributed unevenly across people and areas. For example, in Peverell, Widewell or Compton only 5 – 10% of families are on low incomes; in Devonport, St Peters and the Waterfront or Ham this is 43%. (The Plymouth Fairness Commission Final Report March 2014)

Unlike traditional businesses – social enterprises by nature generate wealth that is used to improve conditions in the city. Moments Cafe, for example, uses its profits to support people living with dementia. Bikespace uses income from bike repairs and other services to train young people struggling with mainstream education as bicycle mechanics. Plymouth Credit Union offers financial services including savings, affordable loans and budget accounts including for people who have been excluded from traditional services.

Social enterprises in Plymouth are growing in size and their contribution to wealth generation:  they currently bring in an income of £500 – £600 million.(Plymouth Social Enterprise Network Survey) We want to see this continue to rise so that wealth can stay in Plymouth and benefit all.

  • Meaningful work

A strong and content society goes far beyond income. We see wellbeing as critical to a better city, and meaningful work can contribute significantly to our wellbeing. When the work is perceived as meaningful, people have a sense of fulfilment and purpose that provides a psychological sense of well-being. The experience of meaningful work and well-being then spills over into the other life arenas and contributes to the overall sense of an individual’s life purpose.”(Meaningful Work and Wellbeing by J. Lee Whittington) We want to see work for Plymouth citizens that is meaningful for them and wider society.

Social enterprises are businesses that exist to make a positive impact on others; they provide work that has meaning and purpose to employees. Social enterprises are also more likely to offer fair pay, involve their staff in decision-making and employ people from specific vulnerable groups. (The Future of Business: State of Social Enterprise Survey 2017 by Social Enterprise UK)

According to their employees, PSEN member social enterprise Real Ideas Organisation provides a “strong sense of ownership and democracy” to its team because “everybody gets a say”; team members say that working for RIO is “incredibly purposeful”. (Real Ideas Organisation website)

Social enterprises currently employ over 7,000 people in Plymouth and we want to see this grow.

  •     Entrepreneurialism

“Due to the domination of Plymouth’s historically large employers, both the culture and infrastructure for entrepreneurs lags behind many other cities”. Plymouth has historically had a low business start-up rate (e.g. 60% of the England average in 2011), but entrepreneurialism is on the rise. (The Plymouth Fairness Commission Final Report March 2014)

When it comes to community and social enterprise, visitors to Plymouth note the buzz in the city. Social Enterprise UK’s State of Social Enterprise Survey 2017 states that “Plymouth is now garnering global acclaim…as a leading place for social enterprise”.(The Future of Business: State of Social Enterprise Survey 2017 by Social Enterprise UK)  PSEN’s successful bid to make Plymouth

the UK’s first Social Enterprise City in 2013 had a key role in this, attracting investment (such as Plymouth Council’s £2.5 million Plymouth Social Enterprise Investment Fund) and interest into Plymouth, where good ideas are abundant and social entrepreneurialism continues to grow.

For example, in early 2018 PSEN member Street Factory CIC crowdfunded nearly £50K to bring the UK’s first Hip Hop Theatre to Plymouth. The Entrepreneur Inside programme supported its first cohort of prisoners to build their own entrepreneurial business plans for their release. Nudge Community Builders has bought a disused pub in Stonehouse and is renovating the building to create two homes to meet local need and a mini market area on the ground floor.

We believe that if every business in Plymouth were a social enterprise it would transform the health and happiness of residents and workers in the city.

If you’d like to start a social enterprise, find out about support available here.

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