Capitalism gets a lot of stick these days. Zero-hour contracts. Rampant inequality. Privatisation of public services. But social enterprises are showing that it is possible to provide a service or product that people are willing to pay for, and to use the profits for positive social change.
Social Enterprise Day is an opportunity to celebrate all that. The Big Issue is a social enterprise, existing to help homeless and vulnerably housed people help themselves. Thousands of social enterprises exist all across the UK — and hundreds of thousands around the world — and each one is committed to ensuring the money they make also makes a difference.
Here are 40 social enterprises in Britain which are worth shouting about. Because, despite the pandemic, there’s still a lot of good in the world.
In 2013 Anisa Morridadi realised there was a growing divide between Birmingham’s young people and those in charge. She set up Beatfreeks to try and provide opportunities for 16 to 30-year-olds through the arts. The company now has a strong network of young creatives and supports them through workshops, training, programmes, and campaigns. Beatfreeks also work with businesses and government to offer youth insight, helping them engage with young people.
Founded in 1986 as five units in London’s Cockpit Yard, Cockpit Arts now houses and provides support for 140 creative businesses at sites in Deptford and Holborn. Cockpit Arts are the UK’s only business incubator for makers and designers, providing dedicated support and studio space for creatives at the start of their careers and beyond.
They have housed some of the biggest names in crafts and design and, according to Chief Executive Annie Warbuton, creatives come from all over the world to find out what their “special sauce” is. The company also runs programmes for individuals facing barriers while starting out, it’s Make It! scheme has supported 26 young creatives kick off their careers.
The Arts Development Company
Based in Dorset, The Arts Development Company uses arts to make a social impact. They work to improve people’s wellbeing through workshops and courses, use creativity to develop villages and towns and reduce inequality by making sure everybody can access culture.
Any profit made is reinvested back into Dorset communities to strengthen the local arts and culture sector and provide paid opportunities for freelancers. This year the Company has employed over 100 freelancers to help deliver projects and programmes.
Creative United offers business support to the arts and creative sectors, allowing them to grow and increase their social impact. The company has worked with artists, musicians and fashion brands to equip them with the skills to progress. They also try to make the arts more accessible by delivering programmes allowing people to engage with the arts by reducing the financial barriers to owning instruments and original art and craft.
“The arts have provided a lifeline to many throughout these unusual times, which only serves to highlight their integral role in our communities and society at large. We are committed to making the arts accessible to all, regardless of socio-economic background,” says chief executive Mary-Alice Stack.
DaDafest was one of the first disabled-led arts organisations in the UK and has campaigned for greater equality and access for disabled people. Based in Liverpool, Dadafest now works to push boundaries in the disability arts scene by challenging social attitudes and putting on accessible events and projects.
Since 2001, Dadafest has hosted a critically-acclaimed biennial international disability arts festival. DaDafest say they have had to adapt to the challenges of 2020 like many organisations, but are still finding new ways to present new work over the festival period.
Children and young people
The London Early Years Foundation, or LEYF, has 39 nurseries or child care centres across London dedicated to delivering their own brand of teaching which focuses on social and cultural awareness and making it affordable.
The social enterprise raised over £40,000 over lockdown to help keep nurseries open and support the children and parents who need them. This includes a wide range of home-learning resources, videos and ideas perfect for babies up to pre-schoolers, just the thing to help parents juggling work and child care while we ride out the pandemic.
21k Digital Media
There’s no escaping the forward march of technical progress and 21k Digital Media are determined to make sure the young people they work with have the training and experience to make the most of the opportunity.
Operating out of Edmonton, the poorest ward in the north London borough of Enfield, the social enterprise helps disadvantaged young people at risk of turning to crime with the skills they need for the future.
Crucially, Settle focuses on getting young people into their own homes, whether that’s care leavers, unaccompanied minors or former offenders.
The media has a reputation for being elitist in some quarters or competitive in others, depending on who you ask. PressPad aims to level the playing field.
The award-winning social enterprise combines networking, mentoring and accommodation for aspiring journalists from under-represented demographics by setting them up with experienced journalists who can offer a room and some advice.
The Black Curriculum
Despite only getting going in 2019, The Black Curriculum has already made a big impact. The social enterprise set up by a handful of young people seeks to raise awareness about the lack of Black history taught in most UK schools through theatre and poetry.
In the short time they’ve been running have trained teachers, spoken to students and even visited large companies like publisher Condé Nast to make sure they are up to speed on the elements of UK history which aren’t widely discussed.
The amazing @tinie speaking on his experience learning black history growing up & the launch of his new limited TBC x What We Wear hoodie!
Sorry to interrupt. But Big Issue vendors need your help now more than ever. More than 1,000 vendors are out of work because of the second lockdown in England. They can’t sell the magazine and they can’t rely on the income they need.
The Big Issue is helping our vendors with supermarket vouchers and gift payments but we need your help to do that.
Established in Newcastle in 2013 to help clean up local waterways, The Skill Mill supports young people out of the criminal justice system and provides employment opportunities in water and land-based management.
Their work is driven by UN Sustainability Development Goals, helping to reduce flood risk and benefit the local environment. In six years, The Skill Mill has employed 158 young people in the UK, with 75 per cent moving onto further employment, education, or training, helping to prevent re-offending while having a positive environmental impact.
Community Wood Recycling
The Community Wood Recycling takes old timber and finds new uses for them, saving them from landfill and hoping to reduce the need for fresh wood in new products. What makes them different is their commitment to giving jobs to people who might otherwise find it hard to get back into employment, such as former offenders or people with substance misuse issues.
From humble beginnings in Brighton there are almost 30 branches for the project across the UK now. And with the amount of usable wood believed to end up in landfill sites, the founders hope there is still space for more branches around the country.
Millions around the world still don’t have access to clean water. Belu works with the hotel, restaurant and catering sectors, helping them to use water sustainably and keep their carbon footprint low.
They provide filtration systems, water coolers and bottles which are fully recyclable, and 100 per cent of the companies net profits go to WaterAid. “Every business has a choice, profit from society with no give-back, or invest profits in putting the environment first and transforming lives. For Belu it is not a choice, it is simply who we are,” says chief executive Natalie Campbell.
Hubbub is all about creative campaigns. They think up practical solutions for environmental change and attempt to shake up the status quo. So far, they have redistributed 52,000 items of outgrown baby clothing, collected and recycled 5 million coffee cups and set up 90 community fridges across the country to redirect food which would otherwise go to waste.
They’re best known for the Ballot Bin: a “voting ashtray” which can reduce cigarette litter by around 50 per cent. There are bins in 38 countries around the world which collect a total of 10 million cigarette butts a year.
Bristol Bike Project
Ditching the car for short journeys and taking up walking and cycling is one way we can all make an environmental difference. Bristol Bike Project work to repair and re-home unwanted bicycles and make getting out on two wheels an inclusive and empowering experience.
Not only does this empower communities by providing access to affordable transportation, it promotes sustainability by saving bicycles from landfill, encouraging reuse, and offering an alternative to buying new.
Launched out of women’s support organisation MsMissMrs, FemFoods is a pioneering communal kitchen project designed to financially empower women as well as help them and their families eat well. Disadvantaged mums in Glasgow can book a four-hour slot at the kitchen where they and a group of peers will work with a chef to cook a week’s worth of nutritious meals for their households to take home and freeze.
FemFoods asks them for just £20 to cover everything they need for that week’s shopping and, if they can afford it, supports them to save half their usual shopping bill in a credit union account. This means if something unexpected happens, like a fridge or washing machine breaking, they have the means to fix it instead of going without. The social enterprise also runs on-site childcare so no mums are locked out of using the service.
The Trussell Trust is the UK’s biggest food bank network, but its social enterprise community shops are going further to fight food poverty across the country. As well as selling second-hand goods, they offer volunteering opportunities to disadvantaged locals and help connect them with other projects in the community.
The shops also act as a collection point for emergency food parcels and as information hubs for locals in crisis. Through the 12 shops and a warehouse, volunteers are supported to rebuild their confidence and move back into employment, while donations that cannot be sold are recycled – bric-a-brac, metal and textiles which are made into masks.
2020 has been a big year for supermarket giants like Tesco and Sainsbury’s with frequent lockdowns pushing people to stock up and spend more. But the country’s first “social supermarket” is focused on preventing low-income families having to turn to food banks.
Community Shop recently opened its sixth store, in Liverpool, and sells groceries for up to 70 per cent less than retail price. Large supermarkets donate good-quality, in-date food that they haven’t sold, meaning Community Shop is fighting both food poverty and food waste. Each store features a community hub offering cooking tips plus business and job interview training.
Bounceback Food is a cookery school for people living in food poverty in Greater Manchester, Cheshire and North Wales. More than 2,500 people have learned how to cook healthy meals on a budget through the project since 2014 while Bounceback’s buy-one-give-one model at market stalls mean it has made 10,000 donations to food banks.
For every ticket sold for one of its public cookery courses, another is given to someone for free. And through sales of its vegan recipe books – Secret Dishes from Around the World 1 and 2 – profits are invested back into lifting locals out of food poverty.
Fans of baked goods will be pleased to know London’s DayOld is fighting food poverty as well as stopping luxury pastries from going to waste. Collecting surplus baked brownies, cinnamon rolls and loaves of bread from artisan bakeries, the social enterprise sells them the following day through treat boxes, office pop-ups and by catering events. All profits are given as cash donations to charities tackling child hunger. While England is in lockdown, DayOld is providing care packages to vulnerable people in isolation all across the city.
Period products are a necessity, but they are expensive. That is the fundamental truth underlying the work of Hey Girls, the award-winning social enterprise aiming to make period poverty a thing of the past.
This Grimsby-based social enterprise provides mental health services which they say are guided by three pillars of public health: a safe place to live, a job and someone to love.
As well as emergency health services, counselling, therapy and other support facilities, NAViGO owns businesses to help people with their own training and employment opportunities, winning them the health and social care award at the 2019 Social Enterprise UK awards.
In his book “An Anthropologist On Mars”, neurologist Oliver Sacks meets a man who can’t form new memories. The pair meet regularly but, because of a brain tumour, still the new memories don’t form. Yet this individual can remember all the words to his favourite Grateful Dead songs even decades later.
There’s something about music that can tap in to memories like almost nothing else, a phenomenon which Memory Tracks uses to help people with dementia. The social enterprise’s app aims to help people link daily routines with particular songs and help people living with dementia gain more independence as a result.
You’ve probably heard of GLL and you may have even visited one of their many leisure centres, but few people know that it is a social enterprise. Now with more than 58 million visitors a year (when there is not a pandemic happening) GLL is one of the biggest and most successful social enterprises operating in the UK.
Proper care is vital on the road to recovery, but some injuries or illnesses make it hard to even leave the house. That’s where Giraffe Healthcare comes in, with their online platform delivering physiotherapy and podiatry sessions for those that need them most.
The Glasgow based social enterprise is even providing services for free to UK NHS sites, charities, hospices and third sector organisations throughout the pandemic.
Beam harnesses the power of crowdfunding to help people move from homelessness to full-time employment. Working with people referred by homelessness charities and local councils, the social enterprise creates a tailored career plan tapping into each person’s strengths and interests then asks strangers to crowdfund a path into their career of choice. The donated money is used to boost skills and provide the training required to give the person a golden opportunity to step into the world of work.
Developed with the help of The Big Issue, Change Please has brewed up a social enterprise success story in recent years. The innovative model of training up homeless people to become baristas has grown from one London cart in 2015 to seeing Change Please coffee stocked in supermarkets, in a tube station coffee kiosk and on Virgin Atlantic flights. Each barista is paid a Living Wage and supported with housing, finances and mental health support to lift them after homelessness.
Social Bite has cooked up solutions to homelessness not only in their native Scotland but also all over the world. Starting off with cafes that employ homeless people, Social Bite has opened its own village and organised Live Aid-style concerts and mass sleep outs to bring the issue of homelessness to mainstream attention. The events have raised millions of pounds too, funding Housing First projects in Scotland and other like-minded charities elsewhere in a bid to end homelessness.
Rise Bakery produces mouth-watering brownies and even more delicious solutions to homelessness. The online bakery is part of homelessness part of homelessness charity Providence Row, which has been tackling the root causes of homelessness in London’s East End for almost 160 years.
Rise Bakery’s training scheme programme gives people affected by homelessness the chance to learn baking skills to further their employment opportunities with all profits invested back into the programme. The social enterprise’s work leaves a great taste in the mouth.
Unseen Tours/Invisible Cities
Who better to show you the city sights than someone who has lived on the streets? Both Unseen Tours and Invisible Cities provide sightseeing walking tours with a difference – the tour guide has been affected by homelessness.
Whether touring London with Unseen Tours or other cities across the UK with Invisible Cities, you’ll get an eye-opening view of the city while the tour guide gets the chance to work on their public speaking and customer service skills. They pocket the majority of ticket revenue too with the rest of the profits put back into the business.
Street and Arrow
Glasgow’s Street and Arrow has been serving up second chances for ex-offenders since 2016. Employment is one of the most effective ways to cut reoffending, but landing a job straight out of prison can be tough.
That’s why the Street and Arrow team, launched by the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, employs people with convictions for twelve-month blocks in their dental hospital-based cafe, pairing them with mentors and support to manage debt and address housing problems. When the pandemic has temporarily closed the cafe, staff have been helping out at local food banks.
InHouse Records is a by-prisoners-for-prisoners record label supporting people serving time through writing, playing and producing music both while inside and after they’re released.
It was founded by Big Issue Changemaker Judah Armani, and the pandemic presented a challenge: how do you keep your network of creatives in prison connected in the time of social distancing? They launched Aux, a weekly magazine designed to keep prisoners inspired despite many being kept in their cells for nearly 24 hours a day. It covers song-writing tips, rhythm explainers and cultural analysis, and is largely written by the prisoners themselves.
B the Change
Falling foul of the law can be particularly frightening and challenging for first-time offenders. B the Change steps in with immediate support around choosing a legal team, managing media interest and looking after emotional wellbeing.
Their pre-exit programme helps prisoners start reintegrating into their community before release, support that has been needed more than ever for those being released to a society under lockdown, while the social enterprise also works with teenagers to prevent anti-social crime.
Perth-based Starting Step believes people should be allowed to make mistakes. Working with disadvantaged people to improve their life chances, they work to help people who have been convicted or are being released from prison find three crucial things: a safe place to stay, support with mental health and addiction, and a job. Covid-19 restrictions allowing, Starting Step will soon open The Yew Tree, a cafe-bistro based at HMP Perth which will employ prisoners and ex-offenders while giving a boost to the local economy.
Bounce Back began in 2011 as a London painting and decorating social enterprise, employing and training people when they left prison. Nine years on they have five training centres in prisons plus two outside and a variety of construction courses, all of which have supported nearly 2,000 people into employment or further training.
The painting and decorating project is a continued success with a team of 30 qualified workers. Fortunately the pandemic hasn’t stopped the social enterprise’s No Going Back project, preparing prisoners for jobs in building as well as providing housing for those that need it upon release.
When former refugee Peter Paduh came to the UK as a refugee in the nineties he was given a free computer that changed his life. That paved the way for a career in IT before he set up SocialBox.biz to ensure other people get the same access to technology as he did.
His Laptops for the Homeless and Elderly Initiative has already given out 1,000 free refurbished laptops and tablets and he is stepping up operations to support charities like Age UK London, The Passage and Centrepoint during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Remade Network brings together a network of social enterprises with the shared goal of creating jobs, tackling climate change and reducing inequality through fixing things.
As we move back into #tier4 we will redouble our efforts to tackle digital isolation in Glasgow. If u have unwanted computers, phones or other devices that could go to folk who really need them, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our website for how to donate. pic.twitter.com/uuKrrGlFNF
The group is the brainchild of social entrepreneur Sophie Unwin who has made it her mission to teach us how to make the most of our old tech. She’s focused on getting it into the hands of those who do without too – her Repair Stop shop in Glasgow has distributed refurbished tech to refugees and others in need throughout Covid-19 lockdowns.
Code Like a Girl
Code Like a Girl wants to write a different future for women in the tech industry. The social enterprise puts on workshops, internships and camps to give women the confidence, tools, knowledge and support needed to enter and flourish in the world of coding.
With more representation in the industry, Code Like a Girl believes that sexism can be addressed, the workforce can be future-proofed and tech giants can achieve more long-term profitability. More diversity of perspectives and stories in the tech we use every day is vital to a more equal future.
Imagine how hard it is to find a house, apply for a job or pay a bill in a language you don’t understand. Clear Voice scooped the UK Social Enterprise Awards’ Tech for Good prize in 2019 for their vital translation service to help asylum seekers, refugees and victims of human trafficking.
The social enterprise, part of parent charity Migrant Help, offers telephone interpreting, face-to-face appointments and written translations in over 200 languages to help people set up their new life in the UK.
The Restart Project
The Restart Project wants us to break out of the planet-polluting throwaway, consumerist model of electronics every year. Started in 2013 as a response to the counteract new-iPhone-every-year culture, the London-based social enterprise runs regular Restart Parties to teach people to repair broken or slow devices and make electronics last for longer. The Restart Project also brings that outlook to schools and organisations including The Big Issue where staff have written ‘Fix it’ pages in the magazine.
Are there other social enterprises, organisations or individuals making a difference in your community during the pandemic? We want to hear about them! Let us know by emailing email@example.com.
If you can't visit your local vendor on a regular basis, then the next best way to support them is with a subscription to the Big Issue. As a social enterprise, we invest every penny we make back into the organisation. That means that with every subscription, we are supporting people in poverty to get back on their own two feet.