Senscot’s Story

Late in 1998, the Big Issue in Scotland hosted a gathering of community activists – which identified the potential benefit of some mechanism to keep them in touch with each other. This remains the core purpose of Senscot today – a national network to connect and support community activists and their social enterprises.

Along with informing, connecting and facilitating the development of social enterprise networks (SENs) – ever since 1999 – Senscot has also been working to put in place a support infrastructure for a strong and sustainable social enterprise community in Scotland.

But in pursuing this mission there has been a conscious determination not to create a large centralised ‘intermediary’ organisation – and certain key principles have been applied: to let the ‘network’ determine what’s required next; to only take and develop initiatives in areas with no existing players; coalitions and partnerships wherever possible; relinquish ownership and control of new initiatives ASAP; unrestricted access to our materials on Open Source principles.

Senscot has consistently sought to resist growth beyond a maximum of ten persons; this reputation greatly assists our role in co-ordination of new developments.

Senscot’s activities are summarised under three headings:

2001    Established – with six other partners across the UK – UnLtd (The Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs) and Scotland UnLtd to provide seed capital in the form of grants to emerging social entrepreneurs and social enterprises. Scotland was the only part of the UK that had a ring-fenced awards budget and delegated staff and decision-making processes.

2002    Beginning the process of converting our small Edinburgh office base into a social enterprise incubator with a range of rooms for rent – on easy in/easy out licenses – along with common services such as kitchens, meeting rooms and Wi-Fi. Today we manage two separate spaces in Edinburgh and Glasgow – providing accommodation to eight separate organisations.

2003    Set up the Development Trust Association Scotland (DTAS) to support local communities in taking greater control and ownership of local assets via the creation of robust local ‘anchor organisations’. Over 300 communities across Scotland are now either full or associate members of DTA Scotland – with many owning and managing significant community assets.

2004   Created with others the Social Enterprise Academy  to provide training and professional development to boards and staff in the social enterprise and wider third sector with action learning as a central feature of its modus operandi. In the same year, we set up the Senscot Exchange as an in-house business advice and support service to social enterprises on a peer-to-peer basis. The Social Enterprise Academy has a series of learning programmes reaching over 1200 learners each year across Scotland. It operates that highly successful Schools Programme – engaging with hundreds of schools across the country – as well as establishing international ‘hubs’ in 10 different countries.

2005    The first Senscot Ceilidh takes place at New Lanark – bringing together, for the first time, over 100 frontline social enterprises. The Ceilidh goes on to run up until 2019 – and becomes one of the main events in Scotland’s social enterprise calendar.

Senscot acts as a founding member of the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition (SSEC) which later evolved into Social Enterprise Scotland (SES). Its original objective was to act as an umbrella body for the social enterprise community in Scotland. SES remains a membership organisation with between 300-400 members – of which the majority are social enterprises.

2007    Formed Firstport  –  through merging of services delivered by the Senscot Exchange and Scotland UnLtd to create an integrated one-stop shop for funding and advice for start-up social entrepreneurs and their enterprise. Firstport has gone on to establish itself as Scotland’s leading development agency for start-up social entrepreneurs and their enterprises – and has developed a wide-range of programmes tailored to suit early stage social  entrepreneurs and their enterprises.

2009    Partnering with others in the sector to establish Ready for Business LLP  – a web portal and advisory service – to deliver the Scottish Govt contract, – “Developing Markets for Third Sector Providers”.

2010    Taking a lead in creating standards for the social enterprise sector by trying to establish a Scottish version of the Social Enterprise Mark. Senscot withdrew its support for the Social Enterprise Mark towards the end of 2010 when the Mark agreed to approve 50% dividends to shareholders. Established additional premises at 43 Bath St in Glasgow.

2011    Established Senscot Legal – to provide accessible and affordable quality legal support to the social enterprise and third sector in Scotland. Since it began trading in March 2011, Senscot Legal has provided services to almost 800 social enterprises and third sector organisations. 2011 also the emergence of the SE Voluntary Code of Practice  Steering Group.

2012    The SE Voluntary Code of Practice was launched in March 2012. Later that same year, Senscot began exploratory talk into the establishment of a community banking facility for and by the sector – initially in partnership with Airdrie Savings Bank.

2013    The Steering Group for the  Scottish Community Re:Investment Trust (SCRT) was set up – with the objective of recycling third sector financial resources for reinvestment within projects and communities in Scotland.

2014    Formally established SCRT and secured initial 12-month funding. Also, later in the year, Senscot convened the initial Steering Group for the SE Vision 2025 – the cornerstone of what became the Scottish SE Strategy (2016-26) – co-produced with Scottish Govt.

2015    Continued to convene Steering Group for SE Vision and also sector-led approach to SE Strategy. After 15 years in Manor Place, Senscot moved its Edinburgh operation (and registered office) to new premises at 21 Walker St.

2016    Launch of 10 year Scottish SE Strategy and supporting SE Action Plan. After running a two-year pilot, Senscot also received funding to establish a new service – Partnership for Procurement (P4P) – in partnership with Social Firms Scotland, the Scottish Community Alliance and Co-operative Development Scotland.

2017    In partnership with Social Firms Scotland and Scottish Community Alliance (SCA), Senscot hosted a series of SE Action Plan Reference Sub-Groups. These Sub-Groups were to allow frontline social enterprises and membership-led organisations to discuss and reflect on the progress of the SE Action Plan – and to feedback their views to Govt. Senscot also vacated its premises in Bath Street (Glasgow) – to new premises at 24 George Square in the city – sub-letting from Crossroads Scotland.

2018    Continued to the SE Reference Sub-Groups – as well as delivering, on behalf of SCA, the Pockets and Prospects Programme in partnership with Glasgow SEN. We also began as series of Policy Briefings. Senscot also

2019    Further Briefings take place as well another Pockets and Prospect Programme. In May, the Senscot AGM approves plans to re-structure the governance of the organisation to make the SENs central to this. Senscot also enters into discussion with Social Firms Scotland and SFS as part of the Govt’s Review of SE Intermediaries. Again, with Social Firms Scotland and Scottish Community Alliance, Senscot co-ordinates series of local gatherings involving circa 500 social enterprises in helping to shape the new SE Action Plan (2020-23).

2020    Senscot actively engages in merger with Social Firms Scotland to take effect from 1st July 2020. The new entity will take the name – Social Enterprise Network Scotland. Here is an overview of its core functions and aims and objectives.

Since 2004, we have been directly involved in supporting and facilitating social enterprise networks (SENs) across Scotland. (See The SENs is the name we give to our work with SENs- both thematic and geographical.  SENs provide members with peer support, a vehicle for collective action and market development. The vision is of a growing community of frontline social enterprises across Scotland – connected and energised through a network of Networks.


Today, there are 19 locally based SENs and 7 Thematic SENs. The local SENs have over 900 SEs as members or actively engaged. Over and above these 900, the thematic SENs have another 500 SEs actively engaged – totaling around 1400 social enterprises. None of the thematic SENs are constituted. 8 local SENs are constituted.


2004: Fife SEN; Argyll & Bute SEN; Aberdeen SEN

2005: Edinburgh SEN

2006: East Lothian SEN*; Dumfries and Galloway SEN*;

2007: Dundee SEN; Health SEN

2008: Glasgow SEN; Clacks SEN*; Borders SEN

2009: Cultural SEN; Coalfields SEN*; Moray SEN

2010: Sport SEN; Youth SEN*; Inverclyde SEN

2011: Stirlingshire SEN*; West Lothian SEN; Community Food SEN; Aberdeenshire SEN*

2012: Start-up SEN*; South Ayrshire SEN

2013: South Lanarkshire SEN*; Midlothian SEN (SEAM)

2014: South Ayrshire SEN; Falkirk and District SEN; Renfrewshire SEN

2015: Perth and Kinross SEN; Employability SEN

2016: North Ayrshire SEN

2017: Tourism SEN

2018: Angus SEN; Forth Valley SEN

2019: Highland (emerging); North Lanarkshire (emerging); Rural


NB:  * indicates a SEN is either no longer active or is currently dormant

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Senscot has created a ‘virtual’ network via a weekly e-mail bulletin that now goes out to over 4,000 individuals across Scotland and the rest of the UK (48% – social enterprises; 25% – wider third sector; 27% – public/private sector and others).  Our website attracts around 8,000 hits per week – with an average of 2,000 individual visitors each week. Over the years, 1034 weekly bulletin have been produced. See