The Social Enterprise Support Fund

“This funding allowed us to keep delivering our community provision for 100 Black, Asian and minority ethnic residents in Brent. It also gave our organisation 'breathing space', to focus and create new opportunities; without this funding, unquestionably, our social enterprise would have gone under.” - Edward Baker, Managing Director of Career Camp CIC

In August 2021, Big Issue Invest successfully completed the delivery of a Covid-19 emergency grants programme, the Social Enterprise Support Fund (SESF). The programme was delivered by a consortium of five organisations: Big Issue Invest, Key Fund, Resonance, School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) and UnLtd and was financed by The National Lottery Community Fund.

SESF offered grants ranging from £10,000 to £300,000 to enable social enterprises continue the provision of essential services to those most impacted by the pandemic, and to survive a financially devastating period of repeated national and local lockdowns.

The consortium received over 1,300 grant applications and was able to provide emergency support to 618 social purpose organisations. Nearly two thirds of social entrepreneurs supported through SESF have a lived experience of the social issues they are addressing through their work. A similar proportion of awardees are diverse-led, with over 50% of their board members being from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, living with a disability or identifying as LGBTQ+.

Over 10 months – from September 2020 to August 2021 – we worked closely with 118 grant recipients in our portfolio, as they worked to make their premises Covid-19 compliant, pivoted their services to online delivery, and fought to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on their local communities though new projects.

Throughout this period, most organisations continued serving their beneficiaries while innovating rapidly to adapt to continuously changing circumstances. And these innovations made a difference: more than two thirds of awardees that completed our optional final survey (we had 42 respondents) said they were able to serve more beneficiaries than pre-Pandemic as a result. What is more, the value of these adaptations seems to extend beyond the pandemic – more than half believe they will enable their organisations to grow financially going forward. These are hopeful news – with four in five organisations in our portfolio expecting demand for their services to grow, it is essential that this demand is met with increased trading income to expand provision and social impact.

It is evident that many entrepreneurs started off adapting to the Pandemic and ended up developing effective innovations for the longer-term – all the while continuing to serve beneficiaries that are among the most vulnerable in the country. Funding from the National Lottery Community Fund was a key catalyst without which this would not have been possible – and the outcomes are a testimony to the remarkable vitality and resilience of the social enterprise sector in England.