30 Days of Social Enterprise

30 Days of Social Enterprise
Alex Sobell

A Tale of Two Trusts

 On Sunday we decided to have a family day out and as members of the National Trust, which is one of the country’s largest trading charities, we went to Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire.  Fountains Abbey was the largest Cistercian Abbey in the country on its dissolution by Henry VIII; next to the Abbey there is an Eighteenth Century Water Garden set in an Italian style. Fountains Abbey was the first World Heritage Site in Yorkshire, not bad for the Social Enterprise sector.

On Monday I went to the Chapeltown Development Trust Open Forum and purchased an investment share for £100 from the Development Trust;  investing in: a community broadband service; world market; and room booking service which will bring much needed infrastructure and economic activity to my local community; a very worthwhile investment. (Better than investing in Tesco!)

Gemma Hampson from Social Enterprise Magazine read my last blog about how I was struggling to find anywhere to buy CDs and suggested I buy Unlocked the debut album from Camden Calling who are a Social Enterprise promoter and record company in London helping organise gigs and undertake recording of homeless and vulnerable people with all profits reinvested or going on the development of its members.

I now feel that I am on the final straight with the challenge ending on Monday, so any last minute purchases before Monday please comment or email me.

We are currently organising a post 30 days/festive drinks and networking session at the Riverside on the afternoon of the  15th December, keep your diary free-more details soon.

Missing you already

 I have found the challenge surprisingly easy and fairly personally rewarding as well as revealing in terms of the reach of the social enterprise sector. There are however areas that social enterprise doesn’t quite seem to be reaching. I have blogged about transport and I can safely add taxis to the list as there have been a couple of occasions where a taxi would have been useful. There are 1 or 2 other things I am missing in terms of my personal consumption that definitely fall into the category of wants rather than needs. I really want a bag of chips from a chip shop but alas I have not found a single social enterprise chip shop in Yorkshire! I can fully understand why it doesn’t exist although it is not beyond the realm of possibility. I tend to buy a couple of CDs a month; there are a couple of new(ish) releases I want to get my hands on but again I can’t find any social enterprises selling CDs, apart from Housing Works in New York, which clearly isn’t a viable option for me buying the new Bombay Bicycle Club album.

In terms of my recent purchases, I have started my Christmas shopping and bought my son some football boots from one of our SEYH award winning social enterprises kick4change who sell sporting goods and reinvest the profits in grassroots sports in the UK and South Africa.

I also visited Re-Work Furniture to buy a storage unit for the house. Re-work is run by the incredibly hard-working and irrepressible Caroline Wherritt who I met about 2 and a half years ago when Re-Work was just an idea and I have been helping Caroline in numerous little ways ever since. Re-Work Furniture is the culmination of Caroline’s dream of being able to provide affordable, quality re-used office furniture to the third sector, deliver environmental gains through reducing waste to landfill and helping people into work who have had trouble finding employment.

Today our kettle broke so I had the challenge of buying a new kettle from a Social Enterprise. Luckily about 18 months ago I visited ethical superstore in Newcastle and met one of the founders Vic Morgan who was a mine of information about ethical online retailing and its potential. Ethical superstore is probably the leading ethical retailer in the UK and has a wide range of useful goods including an eco-kettle, nappies and socks all of which I purchased, undermining my earlier argument that I wasn’t impulse shopping during 30 days as the socks were definitely an impulse buy.
That’s Entertainment
 The range of leisure activities offered by Social Enterprises is much wider than I first anticipated and our regional creative industries are fairly well dominated by the Social Enterprise Sector in terms of theatre, museums, arts centres and even an occasional cinema.

Over the weekend I enjoyed the offerings of two of these institutions. On Friday I went to Seven Arts Centre  in Chapel Allerton where I enjoyed some great tapas. I can’t claim much credit for the development of the centre which was completed in 2006, but literally a couple of weeks after moving into our house in 2005 we received an invitation to a barbecue celebrating the ground-breaking of the site to build the centre. We rsvped , naively  thinking everybody in the area had got one,  only to arrive realising everybody there had a historical link to the arts festival or were local pillars of the community, the invite was in fact for the previous owners of the house but I think we made adequate stand-ins and many of the people we met there are now our friends and the centre is a great community meeting place.

My wife, Susan who coincidentally also works for a Social Enterprise St.Vincents Support Centre, was away in Paris for the weekend and I had sole charge of our 20 month old son Jakob. To comply with the strictures of the challenge I took him to Eureka in Halifax. Eureka is a children’s museum with lots of hands-on exhibits which kept Jakob occupied for over 2 hours which is an aeon for a child that young.

Next week I am going to Hyde Park Picture House to see the Men who stare at Goats, the cinema is over 100 years old and one of Leeds few remaining independent cinemas and its only social enterprise cinema.

Tomorrow I am going to muse on what I am missing and whether Social Enterprise should enter the markets of my missing products.

Not Much to Declare
 The last few days have been a bit quiet on the consuming front. This puts a slightly different slant on the 30 day challenge and made me think about the perpetual drive over the last 40 years or so towards a consumerist society. The fact that I have had a large amount of choice where to consumetaken away from me, has meant no impulse buying and a large amount of forethought before purchasing anything means I have had time to reflect on issues wider than just buying from Social Enterprise.

There is a significant environmental argument against our current level of consumption which is driving climate change both in terms of manufacturing and personal consumption of energy and goods. The fact that I have consumed less than I normally would over the last few days and it hasn’t affected my quality of life at all makes me reflect on why we need to buy the things we often do for no good reason. Marketing, branding and linking our personal happiness to our consumption has appreciably benefitted private corporations and changed the game in terms of how people measure their self worth. Social Enterprises should in many ways promote consumption based on need and link that consumption to social value, but we need to be able to break the hold of the private sector on the public perception of personal utility to level the playing field. That sounds difficult and is going up against the £19.4 billion spent on advertising in the UK last year, but there are good examples of marketing in the trading for good movement especially fair-trade and the fair-trade mark.

Saying all of that I have been to the shops, a bit of grocery shopping at our local Somerfield and a visit to the Co-operative Petrol Station in Elland after a visit to Suma . I asked about buying a few products at SUMA but I was told I had to setup an account and the minimum purchase is £100, this was a bit too much for me in 1 go but SUMA suggested that I could setup a small buying group amongst friends and make the order collectively. I am keen to pursue this so if you’re interested and live in North Leeds let me know.
At lunch today I went for lunch at Hillside with SEYHs chair Dave Thornett (Dave paid so strictly speaking I wasn’t purchasing – thanks Dave) . Hillside is run by Tiger 11 Development Trust, which is a Social Enterprise I have been following since it was just an idea being discussed by Tiger 11s inspirational chief executive Jeremy Morton when he worked at Leeds Federated Housing. Tiger 11 offers workspace, meeting space as well as an excellent cafe where we had a lovely curry.
Transition North

 I went to the Transitions North Conference today in Slaithwaite today sponsored by the Co-operative. When I arrived I met some young people from a new project called Young Ethical Enterprise from Huddersfield selling Oromo Coffee, Oromo is a social enterprise which undertakes direct community to community trading with small holder Kenyan coffee farmers. The business model reminds me of the initiative setup by Stan Thekaekara who hosted our group when I visited India with UnLtd in 2007 and setup a direct trading social enterprise called Just Change , direct trading is something just taking off and something I recommend retail social enterprises to look into.

The conference itself was excellent and truly thought provoking, transition is about the transition to a post fossil fuel based economy and the challenge of reaching peak oil. Highlights for me included Rob Hopkins, the co-founder of the Transition Town network, talking about the need to build resilience rather than sustainability in communities. By this he meant that if an event like the blockade of oil refineries happened and we couldn’t buy petrol that communities would be resilient to carry on using their own resources and ingenuity.  There are lessons here about resilience for Social Enterprises both internally and how they underpin communities. Christine Tacon, Managing Director of Co-operative Farms, told us that the farms business was the UKs largest farms business farming 50,000 acres and growing. We were also told that co-operatives internationally employ 10% more people than all the multi-national companies put together, which I found totally mind-blowing.

Yesterday Paul Bridges from the DTA told me about the Green Valley Grocer and Handmade Bakery who have been supported by the DTAs Cultivating Enterprise program for community owned social enterprises. I got some great bread baked fresh at the bakery and some English grown shallots, the work of both organizations underpins and supports the works of the local transition network.