Firstly apologies as this post is out of time sequence as Social Enterprise Day was last Thursday – but social enterprise is such an important component of the power shift that will come about in the next few years that I wanted to note it here.
Nick Hurd – Minister for Civil Society – who is leading on Social Enterprise and the Voluntary Sector’s transformation into the Big Society asked ministers to go out on Thursday to visit a local Social Enterprise.
So – naturally – I visited the Selby Centre. This is an amazing model of how this new Big Society might work. Sona Mahtani – who is the amazing woman who runs the whole thing (and injects her energy and enthusiasm tirelessly) – had gathered various of the enterprises who operate from the Selby Centre so that they could all tell me what they do and what their vision was for the future of their social enterprise.
What an impressive group. There was Gareth – who had started a school for young ones because he wanted young black children to achieve. They all go on to other schools ultimately where there results have been staggering – and he is now thinking about perhaps going the Free School route. There was a recycling wood enterprise and coming in I saw one of their products – a bench and table – of such beauty and skill you can’t imagine. They skill young people – several of whom are ex-offenders – and then they are able to seek work. There was a group who support people with disabilities into work. There was another that helped with language and basic IT skills – training to work – and much more. Selby is host to around 1500 people each day who come there to the various activities that go on there.
I was so impressed with what was going on I actually spoke to Nick Hurd the very next day about coming to visit the Selby Centre if possible (I’m sure everyone will want him to come to their operation) but I hear so often the refrain that the Big Society will be alright in middle-class areas where the chattering classes will know how to do it – but poorer areas will be left out. The Selby Centre absolutely contradicts this. In fact – it’s the direct opposite – where people have come together to make things happen for themselves in this area of high diversity and relative disadvantage. I was blown away by the commitment and determination in that room.
Thanks to everyone who gave up their time to meet me and demonstrate so clearly – that the Big Society already exists – it just needs more encouragement and support. Funding is the key issue – and in the two years between now and the Big Society Bank taking off – there is a transition fund of £100million (but that is for sums of £50,000 and upwards). Elizabeth Henry (the CEO of Race on the Agenda) who is on the Board of Selby raised the fact that there is a community fund being created for smaller sums. There is also a £1.4billion regional fund and the govenrment has commissioned work to reduce the amount of bureaucracy involved for these small social enterprises to cut down on red tape.
This is just the beginning.