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How Big Issue Invest deals in finance, with added impact

For the past 27 years The Big Issue has been working to dismantle poverty in Britain, and since 2005 when Big Issue Invest was launched that ambition has only become bigger and bolder

Our sister organisation provides loans to innovative groups that do great work but might struggle to access cash through mainstream channels. Here’s some of what it’s been up to.

Making period poverty history with Hey Girls

Hey Girls was founded just 10 months ago but has already changed the national conversation on period poverty. The brainchild of Celia Hodson with the help of her daughters Kate and Becky, Hey Girls sells sanitary towels on a ‘buy one give one’ model – meaning for every pack purchased another is donated to a woman in need.

The team took a giant leap forward in their fight this summer as their products hit the shelves of supermarket giants Asda and Waitrose, and a £50,000 investment and mentorship from Big Issue Invest’s Power Up Scotland programme helped bolster the social enterprise’s growth and allowed it to purchase the stock needed to supply the stores.

“We wouldn’t have been able to scale up Hey Girls without the support,” Hodson says.“Not even just the money but the mentoring, the training and the connections we’ve been able to make. With contracting advice and mentoring from top firms across the country, we’ve been able to become a more solid-feeling organisation.”

As Hey Girls helped to bring the issue into the mainstream, the Scottish Government promised £5.2m to provide free sanitary products in schools, colleges and universities.

High-rise creativity

An abandoned multi-storey car park in Peckham, east London, was given a vibrant new future at the heart of its community by social enterprise Bold Tendencies, which transformed it into a new home for creative pursuits.

Founder Hannah Barry started the project in 2007. When she was just 23, Barry forged a deal with Southwark Council to make use of the car park.

Living in Peckham and constantly passing the empty site, Barry and fellow artist Sven Mündner envisaged an exciting new future for it.

It’s now home to a sculpture park and display spaces for up-and-coming visual artists, as well as workshops where kids create art, a project for budding filmmakers and even an orchestra working with young musicians and children’s choirs. Big Issue Invest helped Bold Tendencies boost projects like Bold Everywhere, an educational initiative that sees professional artists going into London schools to inspire pupils.

Bridging a gap

Public sector commissioning of contracts has provided a range of opportunities for charities and social enterprises to win work delivering a range of local services. This can range from the delivery of health and social care to building maintenance and stair cleaning. However setting up these contracts when won can be both risky and costly, with payments only being provided to them once they have delivered certain outcomes or results, delivered over a period of time.

A loan of £400,000 from the Big Issue Invest Outcomes Investment Fund supported Changing Lives in helping 150 homeless people in Newcastle and Gateshead.

One group, Changing Lives, work with people in the UK affected by social exclusion by offering specialist support services for women and families, dedicated recovery centres, temporary and long-term accommodation solutions, and employment and volunteering opportunities. A loan of £400,000 from the Big Issue Invest Outcomes Investment Fund supported Changing Lives in helping 150 homeless people in Newcastle and Gateshead.

A social solution to social care

The slashing of council budgets in the last eight years has taken a vicious toll on social care grants, which have almost halved in that period. Creeping privatisation of essential council services has ensued and profit-focused private companies moved in.

Patients are the ultimate losers when quality suffers, but pouring more cash into the system may just end up in shareholders’ pockets. That’s where social enterprises are best placed to step in: they reinvest profits to keep quality of care at a high standard.

We operate in one of the most deprived areas in England. Over half of our residents are living with dementia.

Spiral Health, based in Blackpool, is one example, supporting older people through local care and rehabilitation. A £150,000 investment from Big Issue Invest allowed the social enterprise to take on a long-term lease and operate a new care home with 43 beds.

CEO Tracey Bush explains: “We operate in one of the most deprived areas in England. Over half of our residents are living with dementia.

“Without the funding from Big Issue Invest, we wouldn’t have been able to provide vital services and support to some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

Tackling high-cost credit with ethical loans

The clampdown on high-interest short-term lenders and loan sharks has had some impact, but people on low incomes or with poor credit ratings still need to access finance. Fair For You is one of a growing number of ethical lenders tackling the poverty premium by offering fair, affordable credit. Big Issue Invest provided £1m of finance to help it in its work offering flexible, responsive payment plans.

The Centre for Responsible Credit estimates that the lender has so far reduced the poverty premium by more than £6m. And Fair For You is just one of several ethical lenders working with BII, including Five Lamps, Street UK and Moneyline. It all adds up.

Read the full article in this week's Big Issue.
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Image: Hey Girls