How Social Enterprises are helping to rejuvenate coastal communities

Jacqui Starling, Business in the Community

Over the last few years’ awareness of some of the social economic challenges facing coastal communities across the UK have been significantly highlighted. Each week it seems one or more of our seaside towns are identified as having the highest levels of youth unemployment, poverty or vacant retail outlets. The list is extensive and whilst it is important to remember these issues are prevalent equal discussion needs to take place around the new jobs, industries and work based learning opportunities that are being offered. 

As a Project Manager at Business in the Community operating in Great Yarmouth I have witnessed first-hand how the town has adapted to change and is working with partners across the public, private and voluntary sectors to tackle some of the core social and economic issues. 34% of working age residents in one Great Yarmouth neighbourhood have no recognised qualifications, with only 9% of residents qualified to higher levels. These skills deficits are reflected in lower than average earnings, which are £43 per week lower for working residents compared to people who commute into the town.

Against this backdrop we've been working with a coalition of partners to help revive the towns’ fortunes. One of the key growth sectors of the UK economy over the last few years has been social enterprises. There are 280,000 social enterprises in the UK, contributing £55 billion to the UK economy and employing approximately 975,000 people. Well established social enterprises like the Big Issue and Jamie Olivers Fifteen restaurant are established in towns and cities across the UK. The establishment of these enterprises and people’s desire to make a positive difference, create employment and up-skill local residents has resulted in this growth.

Since the launch of the Great Yarmouth Borough Council’s Skills, Enterprise and Assets (SEA) project 12 social enterprises have been supported in Great Yarmouth. These have been established by residents who not only have the passion to establish their own business but also to see the local economy thrive. One such example is The Wind Energy Museum. It is the only one of its kind in the UK and the vision was to turn the site in to a delivery centre to benefit vulnerable groups and increase recognition of local heritage. Debra has secured a place on this year’s Lloyds Social Entrepreneur Programme to help her develop a residential training venue, full heritage wind energy museum facilities and vocational outreach for schools.

Debra Nicholson, the founder of the organisation, has not only grown and developed the enterprise but also grown their confidence and skills. The knock on effect of this can be huge with learnings shared and local residents inspiring one another to think creatively about how they can tackle some of the issues facing their local community.  

One thing to remember, which has massively impacted on this projects success, has been the involvement of local employers in helping to grow and develop the social entrepreneurs.  Employers already established in Great Yarmouth saw from an early stage the benefits of working with local residents and partners to get involved in the project. One of the most popular forms of support has been through the provision of mentoring to the social entrepreneurs. Not only has this helped up skill the individuals involved it’s also broadened the employers understanding of the local community and  issues that the social entrepreneur are working to address. 

Simon Gray (Credo Asset Finance) was one such mentor who took part in the programme and, as a successful entrepreneur himself, was able to understand the challenges of running a business. His organisation also provides start up loans and he is now working in partnership with two social enterprises to develop a start-up school for young entrepreneurs – particularly those from disadvantaged groups who are passionate about overcoming barriers to employment.

Examples like those raised above where showcased at our Future of Responsible Business event on the 17th September at Great Yarmouth Town Hall. The event not only celebrated the impacts achieved through collaborative working but also looked to the future as to how organisations can benefit from this diverse group of social enterprises in the town.

If you’re not already working with a social enterprise I would encourage you to take some time to think about the various options available. Our event report provides an overview of the opportunities available. If you’re already working with a social enterprise then we’d love to hear your experience by commenting below or by contacting our local team.  

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