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How The Big Issue supported more than 180 other social enterprises during the pandemic

Big Issue Invest has supported 184 social enterprises and charities with almost £40 million in investment, grants and other help.

Wolverton Community Energy Stony. Stratford Library

Wolverton Community Energy Project, one of the investees, fits renewable energy solutions to local buildings. Image: Wolverton Community Energy.

Many people think of The Big Issue as just a magazine. But a new report from The Big Issue Group’s social investment arm, Big Issue Invest, shows just how far the organisation goes to dismantle poverty and tackle inequality in the UK.

Big Issue Invest (BII) supported more than 180 organisations across the UK during the pandemic, its 2020/2021 impact report shows, with almost £40 million in investment, grants, and additional help and advice for social enterprises and charities across the country.

“Driving everything we do, we will champion impact-first investing; we will push for social equality and we will provide a broader range of support that is ‘more than money’,” said Danyal Sattar, BII chief executive.

As well as much needed cash injections, the organisation has provided technical assistance in areas such as financial sustainability, developing the social investment sector with new tools and approaches, and sharing lessons with investees and other investors.

Nearly two-thirds of the firms which received funding are in areas of high deprivation, according to BII’s impact report for the 2020-2021 financial year, released today, and they collectively support more than 1.1 million people across the UK.

Of the total number of investments, 16 per cent support people living in poverty and/or financial exclusion, 11 per cent support people living in precarious housing or who are homeless, 12 per cent support vulnerable young people, 11 per cent support people experiencing unemployment and 9 per cent support people with mental health needs and conditions.

The organisation was founded in 2005 to finance the growth of sustainable social enterprises, and has an ambitious new target to increase the “assets under BII management and advisory” to more than £500 million by 2030.

“In the past year, we have been inspired by the way that social enterprises and charities across the UK have responded to the unprecedented challenges faced by their communities whilst also overcoming challenges within their organisations,” Sattar continued. “I am proud of the Big Issue Invest team who have worked tirelessly in supporting our investees to keep the lights on, adapt to new operating environments and to continue to deliver impact to their customers.”

One such organisation is Wolverton Community Energy, near Milton Keynes. From council offices to farms, Wolverton Community Energy has installed solar panels on roofs across the community which generate clean, stable energy for local people and businesses. 

“Huge spikes in gas prices are going to put up the cost of everyone’s electricity, but because we have no relationship with a normal grid, we’re not affected by that,” director and co-founder Jane Grindey told The Big Issue.

The social enterprise also recently installed £20,000 worth of LED lighting at a local school, slashing its electricity bills by around 50 per cent.

Over 62 per cent of the 184 investees of the past year are based in areas of high deprivation, where capital can have the greatest social and economic benefits, including London, the North East and North West. Some 20 per cent of BII’s total portfolio is invested into organisations directly tackling inequality in the UK in order to improve health, education and job outcomes in deprived areas.

Sattar said: “In the past year, we have been inspired by the way that social enterprises and charities across the UK have responded to the unprecedented challenges faced by their communities whilst also overcoming challenges within their organisations.

“I am proud of the Big Issue Invest team who have worked tirelessly in supporting our investees to keep the lights on, adapt to new operating environments and to continue to deliver impact to their customers.”

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