Funding boost keeps projects on right course

Funding boost keeps projects on right course
Stephen Naysmith, The Herald

A social business which offers community groups the chance to build flat-pack canoes and hire a barge on the Union Canal in Edinburgh has been granted nearly a quarter of a million pounds from the new Scottish Investment Fund.

Re-union Canal Boats Limited is one of three social enterprises to benefit from the new £30m Scottish Investment Fund (SIF).

Over £600,000 in loans, strategic investment and risk capital support is to be shared by a community group in Perthshire, a healthy eating enterprise in West Lothian and Re-union, to develop the enterprises and help them expand their business operations.

Re-union was founded by Jay Lamb and Sam Baumber in 2003. Both lived on a boat on the Union Canal and had seen its rapid regeneration as part of the Millennium Link project, but were dismayed at the extent to which cruising on the canal appeared to be an exclusive pursuit for the better-off.

This is despite the fact that the waterway runs alongside some of Edinburgh’s most deprived communities, including Wester Hailes, East and West Calder, Sighthill and Broomhouse.

The company was set up to create interest in the canal and enable people from those communities to get involved.

By providing volunteering opportunities for the long-term unemployed, as well as patients at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, Re-union helps individuals back towards employment.

The company’s activities are financed by hiring out a barge – launched last autumn – with significantly reduced rates available for community bookings.

Workshops also offer groups from deprived communities the chance to build Canadian canoes supplied by a Fife company.

Nine have been built so far, enabling a canoe club to be set up in Wester Hailes.

The SIF award to Re-Union comprised of a £100,000 strategic investment grant, a £56,150 loan and £80,000 risk capital funding towards the acquisition of a canal cruise company based near the Falkirk Wheel.

Profits from this business will enable Re-union to become self-supporting.

The Scottish Investment Fund was created by the Scottish government to support established third sector organisations which have the potential to increase their turnover or become financially sustainable.

It aims to support more than profit’ social businesses and offer finance for third sector businesses.

The other organisations to benefit from this round of funding are the Comrie Development Trust (CDT) which will support sustainable development in the Perthshire village. CDT received £200,000 from the SIF, half of which will be in the form of a strategic investment grant.

Of the remainder, £50,000 is assigned as risk capital funding with the £50,000 given as a loan.

The investment will be used to develop a 90-acre ex-army site at Cultybraggan, purchased in 2007 for the benefit of the community.

This will include development of 30 allotments, infrastructure works and the refurbishment of nine Nissan huts. In the longer term, CDT aims to create income-generating sports, leisure and recreation facilities, food production businesses and work spaces for local tradesmen.

The third grant was made to West Lothian Food and Health Development (WELFHED) which supports the collective buying and distribution of affordable fruit and vegetables to local community-based food outlets.

Its package is made up of a £200,000 strategic investment grant to help fund the purchase of a £950,000 premises to give it long-term stability and open up new sources of income.

Enterprise Minister Jim Mather said: ‘These new awards demonstrate the Scottish Government’s commitment to supporting Scotland’s third sector, something which is especially important in the current climate.

‘The third sector has a key role to play in helping to increase sustainable economic growth, as it can reach individuals where the public and private sectors often don’t operate, whilst creating employment opportunities.

‘With the support of the Scottish Investment Fund, I look forward to seeing these three projects progress, impacting on their communities in a positive way.’

Craig Campbell, the chief executive of Social Enterprise Scotland, which administers the SIF, said: ‘The Scottish Investment Fund has been created to help thriving social businesses like these to develop their operations for the benefit of the communities they serve.

‘The development of social enterprises is more important to Scotland than ever and, through a range of initiatives including the SIF, we are keen to help them become sustainable businesses and make an economic as well as social contribution.’