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Building resilient communities in Wales through anchor institutions

December 1st 2020

Helen Cunningham and Jane Ryall discuss how champions, joining the dots and scaling what works can support more successful collaborations between social enterprises and anchor institutions

Last week, UnLtd and the Bevan Foundation hosted a roundtable discussion to explore the relationships between anchor institutions – particularly local councils – and social entrepreneurs. This work is part of a longer term programme of support for social entrepreneurs building resilient communities in their local place, and forms one of the key outcomes of the new Vision and Action Plan for Social Enterprise in Wales.

Local institutions will be critical in how places are able to respond to the challenges ahead and reset local economies dealing with and coming out of the pandemic. We wanted to explore the role of social entrepreneurs within that. As locally rooted businesses that are often responding to social issues through their social purpose, social enterprises can be economic and social anchors in their local economy.

What we found was a varied picture across Wales. Engagement between the two varies from start-up support to commissioning. Some local authorities told us they used to do more with social enterprises but due to resource pressures hadn’t been able to in recent years. Others, such as Flintshire, were actively working with social enterprises through their micro-care project, supported by the Foundational Economy Challenge Fund. Meanwhile Rhondda Cynon Taf Council has been successful with community asset transfers to social enterprises. Amongst all participants though there was a desire to increase and deepen these collaborations and join up good practice that can sometimes take place in isolation.

Procurement matters

Procurement was a recurring theme. Ellen Petts of Greenstream Flooring CIC – a social enterprise based in Porth – outlined how their work supplying to local authorities had been critical for them during the pandemic. As a firm providing local employment and working in the circular economy to prevent perfectly good flooring going into landfill, it symbolizes the triple bottom line that social enterprises deliver.

Yet participants also commented that procurement can be difficult to navigate and some “myth-busting” is likely to be required to cut through some prevalent misconceptions – some that were even busted in the discussion!

Opportunities exist within procurement to grow the work and impact of social entrepreneurs and social enterprises. These include providing a programme of training for social enterprises and social entrepreneurs on tendering and commissioning. Developing proportionate contracts for smaller organisations including emerging social enterprises to apply to. And perhaps most important of all, ensuring clarity of pipeline and opportunities to the sector.

Relationships and disruptors

Relationships – collaborative and disruptive – are fundamental for social enterprises and local authorities that are trying to respond to social challenges. Jake Henry of Vibe Youth CIC, which support young people’s resilience and emotional wellbeing, shared his experience of building up relationships with schools. By cultivating relationships this had had a snowball effect, through word of mouth and other schools then making enquiries. This has helped build a whole network of relationships.

Some participants reflected that it takes a “disruptor” of the norm to drive change. Often this has been a staff member from the public body who has been willing to challenge things that aren’t working well – while working within the rules. This has led to real gains for local authorities but time and resourcing to do this are also key considerations.

Social value

There was a strong message that community and social benefits from positive collaborations cannot be underestimated. Social enterprises need to be financially viable to deliver their services well but the social value they also bring is important. Some authorities use tools such as Value Insight to capture social value in the localities they are working. The roll out of the the National Social Value Measurement Framework for Wales amongst local authorities in Wales is also a real opportunity to measure and embed social value across projects and procurement in Welsh local government.

Where next

There’s lots of good practice taking place, but there is far more scope to join up and scale. The champions of change have made a difference in some places that are supporting systems change and even a cultural shift. Hearing what’s possible from people who have been there and are doing it are powerful tools and ones perhaps we should make more of. By doing this it shows just how much there is to be learnt from elsewhere and that there really is some positive practice taking place. Most importantly, the notion of place and local connections are vital in developing meaningful supply chains between local authorities and the social enterprise sector if we are to provide real social value to our communities.

Jane Ryall is Social Entrepreneur Support Manager at UnLtd, the charity for social entrepreneurs.

Helen Cunningham is Project Officer at the Bevan Foundation

This work was kindly supported by the Postcode Innovation Trust, UnLtd and the Friends Provident Foundation.

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