12 Stories of Social Enterprises in Bristol – Taurus Crafts, Elm Tree Farm, 2nd Chance Group, Co-exist (Hamilton House), People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, Campus Pool Bristol, The Park Knowle, Severn Project, Triodos Bank, Babbassa, Together Group/Bristol Together and Karl Belizaire – this is how many we got to know in a short 3 days time Social Entrepreneurship study visit towards collaborative practices, organized by British Council, Erasmus+ UK National Agency, Salto Youth Platform and TCP Platform.
Taurus Crafts – is a thriving centre of creativity. Home to 14 artisan businesses, a Gift Shop full of original & local craft products, & a Café that serves delicious food & hosts regular art exhibitions. It operates by a mixed ability team, providing work placements & supported employment to people with learning disabilities.
For 18 years social mission driven organisation were expanding once unknown building, inviting different artists to sell their products in the site. Now it is fully occupied. Organisation is a bit struggling to extend the lease with the building/land owner on good terms, but the Lord supports and is artist himself, thus so far it continues to prosper.
The concept of Taurus craft is successful, because it nicely integrates individual independent artisans and also people with learning disabilities, providing a mix of opportunities and a mix, which allow for all groups to thrive. Some persons with learning disabilities worked long to reach the level, where they can already be fully functional to produce artistic objects and operate the shops themselves.
Organisation has cafe and many gift shops and for many years it was focused on grabbing attention of the visitors. Now with the new director the question WHY we are doing it was brought back and more focus was placed on social mission.
There are 40 people in total and 8 full-time staff.
The turnover is £300k a year, of which 50% comes from the cafe. Organisation also intensively runs events. This year sold thousand Christmas trees.
What is important to remember that volunteers are not free staff, you can not rely on them.
Elm Tree Farm
Elm Tree Farm (part of Brandon Trust) – a young social enterprise, vibrant, colourful place, a piece of the countryside in the middle of Bristol, producing a wide variety of nutritious produce grown using organic farming methods and breeding a range of livestock. Over 50 people with learning disabilities work at the Farm gaining vocational skills and employment training thereby contributing to the social, environmental, and economic development of Bristol.
During the 12 years of operations organisation understood that it is very difficult to be independent of external funding, since it takes lots of resources to train people with severe learning disabilities to work in the farm. And it is not the purpose itself. Organisation has a very strong and solid social mission and it feels the value added in every single sense.
Organisation seeks to make simple things for sale, because it takes a long time to create a sellable product. Company is now trying to expand its range of products, but dont want to do it via intermediaries, because that reduces their profit margin and they simply can not operate in massive production terms.
Organisation is doing upcycling, recycling old wood to make sellable products – candlesticks, wine holders, kindle for fire, etc.
Company also seeks to open a cafe, which will serve as a space for the highway passers to stop and stay a bit longer. Being near the highway has advantages and disadvantages. One of the largest disadvantages is the noise of traffic. It really felt when visiting the site, despite probably that community workers already adjusted and didn’t feel that way.
Buyers are taxi drivers, local community, passengers. Everyone is particularly interested in the fresh eggs Farm has to offer.
The director of organisation emphasize of the important to be realistic and not to put pressure on the people to produce more at any cost, at massive production terms. There are 12 dedicated stuff and most of the revenue comes from grants to support the training of people with learning difficulties. Most of the people with learning difficulties are not paid.
Volunteers in the organisation are very valuable and important.
Company wants to apply for a big grant to change the site, but for that it needs minimum 12 years lease of the land and buildings.
Farms is part of the Brandon trust and that is good from the perspective that when bad times comes, trust is always there to help and support, but the negative side is the bureaucracy.
2nd Chance Group
2nd Chance – social enterprise that use the power of sport to repair broken lives and build a stronger future for young people.
Organisation was established in 2008 and in 9 years it grew to a level, where they have to decide, whether to become global company!
The founder is a very charismatic ex-rugby player, who himself didnt behave well on the court and had few injuries thus had to end his sportsman career. He went immediately to work for a prison to engage people with sports. Then he received a sudden chance for funding for 5 years, but for that he had to establish his own organisation and leave the well paid and promising career in prison. He took the chance and now it is one of the biggest social enterprises in the field.
Founder emphasize that is very important to address well different stakeholders. If you can not approach and convince a person directly, there is always an indirect way. He communicated with lords, municipalities and in many ways tries to understand key influencers in the area. Drinking coffee with indirect people allows to understand the network and motives of who does what.
Organisation measured that during a year it reached almost 100k people and that is crucial to measure the impact.
Organisation emphasized how important is to play with many different models of business to refine the one that suits the best.
Director does not humbly calls himself as innovator, he is just a person “who does the shit done” 🙂 However, it is clear that the organisation is very innovative, and responsible for creating many brands and initiatives.
DIrector talked about important to have stakeholder feedback and clear purpose/branding.
Organisation had few boards of directors, but they did not serve the purpose well, thus had to dismantle them till current board of 8 people are really present and helping for the organisation to move forward. The biggest lesson for the board – assemble based on the skill set, find the people based on the skills.
Another important insight is to sometimes step out the company and take a helicopter view. Basically, every manager needs to be aware of being IN or ON. Are you stepping inside and boiling in the organisation, or are you taking a step back and checking the over all performance, strategically.
“Change is difficult, not changing is fatal”
“Teamwork make it a dream team”
Co-Exist (Hamilton House)
Co-Exist (Hamilton House) – was a vacant and neglected office block for many years. In 2008 the owners, Connolly and Callaghan invited a group of friends to create a centre for the community. Ever since, Coexist has been working hard to create a space in which the community can grow, share, collaborate, and learn what it is to live in coexistence with each other.
The Hammilton house tries to solve out the dilemma what to do, because the owner of the house, from whom they rent the building, refuses to continue the lease. The House offered initially £3.5m for the building, but the building owner refused. It was a simple and bold offer, written in four A4 pages. In the second offer they pulled all the efforts and created a 100 page document proposal with detailed analysis, visualizations, calculations and funding from many sources. The second offer of £5.5m was again refused. It is now unclear what to do and the lease ends in the two months. Owners of the building thinks the space is worth £8.0m, since real estate prices went up and they could now build premium residential spaces instead.
The problem in this and many other organisations is that they do not own the space initially and as in time they start to create significant value and the whole space becomes successful and fully occupied, the land/building owner takes the advantage to profit. Also, in time the space around Co-Exit became a very popular/hype/artists place, while initially it was full of crime. So what to do?
Co-exist hosts many organisations and creative individuals. They have huge space and that creates possibilities for individuals to start as one-man business and to migrate just within the same building to a bigger office space and finally assemble a team and still migrate to a bigger space within the same building. Managers shared stories of successful individuals who now rents a significant space.
It costs £10/day or £150/month for hot-desking, in other words renting a desk in the office with many other people on a short-term basis.
It is very interesting to look at the document they drafted in the beginning of establishment. They draw vision/creative document and a lot of it now came true.
It is a lot about evolution, the space and organisation was constantly in change. 9 years of operations tought many lessons and one of them is be more focused on business side, because otherwise it is very difficult to survive. They are giving £100k worth of free spaces to socially sensitive and important projects, they also subsidize space for good projects, but now it is time to focus to revenue generating.
Company seeks to focus on business, to find a language that would translate that money word is ok, that it is not about profit-making.
At the moment it costs £6 per square foot to rent the space + £5 service charge = £11/sq foot/month.
They have 65 desks/spaces for individuals on the top floor with outstanding view, with 30 being hot desk of £10/day and 35 places more permanent £150/month.
There are many part-time workers and many volunteers. Organisational is not hierarchical, which gives lots of creativity and responsibility to work. There are departments of Events, Space, Wellbeing, Marketing and Finance.
Over the year organisation has £650k turnover, mostly from rentals, also gallery, shop and bar. They significantly expanded gift and bar spaces.
Hammilton house is full of amazing initiatives, such as
The Bristol Bike Project, Coexist Community Kitchen, dance studios, etc.
How important and valuable is this space we can tell from the fact that on one of the walls we can even find famous graffity made by Banksy.
People’s Republic of Stokes Croft
People’s Republic of Stokes Croft – a social enterprise that provides benefit to The Community by promoting the interests of the area, and by seeking to work with the skills of the whole Community to influence the direction in which this area develops.
Sometimes you need to fight your way in to achieve the results and People;s Republic of Stoke Croft does just that. They are doing graffity and street art without permission of police or municipality, but because it is for right reasons and good intentions, it is justified and in time became and becomes accepted.
In one instance they demanded fossil free university, this created awareness and lots of debate and now university is in fact fossil free!
They say if nearby Tesco managed to open a store without community consent, why can we not paint the streets in a similar manner?
“By the time youth are 18, they will see 1 million advertisement” – that is surprisingly a lot and we have to be aware of that.
Campus Skateparks – a social enterprise founded in 2011 that uses the positive energy and influence of skateboarding to engage with children and young people. With two indoor venues and skate shops in both North and South Bristol each with their own identity and unique design to cater for all ages and abilities.
2 persons, enthusiasts of skateboarding, started the Community Interest Company and since then it is rapidly expanding. However, one of the company’s lessons learned is not to over staff. They had a hard lesson when expanding from one site to two, they highly increased the number of employees and that was unsustainable. They had to make a hard decision to reduce the employees, taking over the functions themselves, and now it seems to be again more financially sustainable.
Another lesson learned is that it takes a lot of time to acquire the building from municipality, even though it was previously unused and seems to make a lot of logic to be transfered for community use. It took them 2 years. The building was taken over with 70% loan.
Social enterprise is actively thinking of various operation models and one of them to extend the space by using the hot-desking model, where a space for office is built and the desks are offered on individual basis to individual people.
It is very very important to build a cool place! A lot of people would never join the youth club, because it is not cool. Thus it is dangerous to emphasize your are social organisation. People aspire to cool things, and especially youth, that are skateboarding. Therefore, despite that fact they are doing lots of social programmes, mentoring, training, youth work, they do not emphasize it.
They have now 3000 members, which pay £5 per month + £2.5 per usage, meaning that revenue per month is at least £7500 from monthly fee + varies on the visits.
The Park Centre – a social enterprise that occupies a 15 acre site on the main bus route through Knowle. It opened in 2000 as a hub of community activity including learning, business, support services and leisure.
The Park offers opportunities to all the Community from 0-100+. Local people are at the heart of everything that goes on. The buildings are set in a pleasant environment and offer good facilities to accommodate a wide range of ages and interests.
Social enterprise is fully independent from grants, but it has to keep lean business model to sustain. The surround community of 12000 people historically had one big company that employed most of the community members, thus when they left, the whole community was devastated. Few generations were unemployed, thus current initiatives are very important and making significant impact.
In 2000 council decided to shut down the secondary school, which originally opened in 1972. Community members offered to take over the site and despite scepticism, over the years all space was rented out and now it is fully booked. Furthermore, The Park seeks soon to attract £20m funding to completely rebuild the site.
For that community interest company needs to extend the contract for another 35 years, which is a minimum in order to seek a funding from investors.
At the moment company has 29 team members, but only 10 are fully employed. Thus director says “we wear many hats”.
Company really experimented over time with different models, and especially “it took grey hair to crack the model of cafe”, which is now the hub of the place, attracting and keeping visitors, providing a cosy place. They wanted the cafe to fit a wide range of people and at the same time to offer affordable prices, thus now it is run by a local community chef.
Another interesting moment that at The Park they “are not just making assumption” of what community wants, but they really explore the needs in depth. They have 4000 people a week using the spaces in one or another way.
The Park knows that poor people can be ashamed of their poorness and thus can avoid to show their face. As a result, it is important to acknowledge that and to work with that to create a positive vibe, and here the cafe takes a very central piece.
The Severn Project
The Severn Project, Bristol – a social enterprise that produces high quality salad leaves and herbs at urban farm in Bristol. But they do more than just grow food. They strongly believe that all business should have a positive social impact. This is why they support people who face significant barriers to the workplace to help run the project.
Started in 2010 with just £2500 capital now turns that amount over half a week. Social enterprise processes 40 tones of food per year is rapidly expanding to process more.
It is interesting that UK was fully growing their own food in 1970, and now 70% of food is imported. The Severn Project seeks to return tradition of self-growing, self sustainable producing practices.
Organisation has 12 persons working now. Company deals with 70 individual clients and 2 wholesale clients. Director says they would never be able to supply Asda, because this chain would require much higher capacity and would fit into National Procurement Scheme.
In order to be able to supply customer with food also in winter, company expanded to Spain, which now provides food during winter time.
Triodos Bank UK – a global pioneer of sustainable banking. Their mission is to make money work for positive social, environmental and cultural change.
The bank was originally started in Netherlands and expanded to UK. It works on a very individualized basis, project by project, and seeks to lend to businesses with social/environmental mission behind. However, since Triodos lends with significant mortgage/deposit, it does not suit to small social enterprises.
Babbasa – a Bristol-based social enterprise that sets out to support the professional aspirations of young people, irrespective of their background. The team believes that every young person has unique skills or talent, which, if explored and nurtured, can contribute to society in a significant way.
During Social Entrepreneurship study visit towards collaborative practices Director Poku Osei told how they grew up in team from himself alone to 2 persons and to 6 persons at the present moment.
They are a true social enterprise since only 15% of revenue comes from grants, the rest being contracts (60%) and services (25%)
Group Together / Bristol Together
Group Together / Bristol Together – social enterprise that creates full-time jobs for ex-offenders, by bringing empty properties back into use, and developing larger-scale social housing projects. They are rapidly expanding and now operate 3 locations in Bristol, the Midlands and Glasgow. Their aim is to create full-time sustainable jobs for ex-offenders, and to bring about a significant reduction in re-offending rates as a result.
Investors in Bristol Together demand a lower 3-4% return, because social enterprise demonstrates incredible impact – their re-offending rate is <5% comparing to standard 40%! It saves a lot of tax-payers money to keep a person out of prison.
Sometimes investors come just because they want to tick a box that they do ethical investments.
It goes without saying that, it takes more effort and passion to work with ex-offenders and Bristol Together says it takes probably 4 years for the person to fully return to normal path.
During Social Entrepreneurship study visit towards collaborative practices, Karl Belizaire, social enterprise advocate, presented how Social Enterprises work in UK and shared an insight how to measure the impact by social enterprise.
According to Karl, social enterprises should measure not only output, but also outcome and impact. Impact could be measured from the unit cost database: http://www.neweconomymanchester.com/media/1446/3316-150327-unit-cost-database-v1-4.xlsx
Output – social enterprise had 30 persons in the training
Outcomes – it lasted 5 days of intensive training, during which participants gained certain qualifications.
Impact – it turned out that 5 persons out of 30 got the job afterwards. According to unit cost database, each specific job created value of £7k, thus in total £7k x 5 = £35k. It cost lets say to organize the trainings £5k, thus the overall value created is £35k – £5k = £30k.
Must say, it is pretty satisfying to see the outcome in numbers and according to Karl, it really works well, when you seek for funding or to show the investors the actual impact.