How to champion social enterprise across your organisation

The term ‘social enterprise’ can describe a wide range of organisations which look different in pretty much every way. When who they help and how they do it vary so wildly, it can be tricky to see the common thread.

Most of the time, it doesn’t really matter. But for HCT Group, where I am working for six months as part of the On Purpose Associate programme, getting staff excited about the world of social enterprise is important.

As the largest social enterprise in the transport sector, HCT Group runs commercial, profitable bus services, and invests its profits in community transport services — affordable, accessible transport for people who wouldn’t be able to get out otherwise. Community transport isn’t only about access to local facilities, it’s also a lifeline for people who might otherwise have no chance to go out, or no one to talk to.

For a bus driver on a commercial route, this can all sound a bit fuzzy — ‘what does me driving my red London bus have to do with social isolation and loneliness?’ HCT Group wants all its employees, in every depot, to have a good understanding of what the organisation does, the impact the services have on people’s lives, and how each member of staff has impact regardless of their day to day role. Ensuring this sense of purpose runs throughout the organisation helps ensure a ‘one team’ feeling in an organisation that’s grown exponentially in recent years, at sites across the country.

To help get staff up to speed and excited about the concept of social enterprise, HCT Group has developed the Social Enterprise Champions programme. Coordinated and facilitated by Karl Belizaire at Social Enterprise UK, the programme takes place over three and a half days, with 10 to 12 front line staff (aka Champions) visiting a number of social enterprises to learn about the services they offer and the impact they make.

Champions! L-R Sid, Thomas, Diane, Bridie, Karl, me, Vince, Erika, Teslim, Rui, Angelito and Olivia

As part of my On Purpose placement at HCT Group, I was lucky enough to join the most recent programme, visiting 11 social enterprises in Greater Manchester and Leeds. It was eye opening! Although I could give you a dictionary definition of a social enterprise, the term only came to life when I met the passionate people running them.

Taking a tour of SMaRT garage services

We visited 11 inspiring organisations, but my personal highlights were:

SMaRT garage services, which offers car servicing and repairs and provides training and employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of the community, to support them back into the workplace. Getting an MOT while doing good — an inspiring business!

Seagulls in Leeds, a decorator’s paradise where tins of paint, destined for landfill, are sold at discounted prices. Last year the team saved close to 400 tonnes of paint from landfill, and alongside the paint business, Seagulls offers a range of creative projects to get people into the arts. We had a go at mosaics, and possibly found a new hobby for some of the Champions!

Getting stuck in at Seagulls

Shine, an incredible conference venue in the deprived Harehills area in Leeds. The team behind Shine decided to restore a beautiful but neglected Victorian school, a project which required £4.5m of investment. 10 years on, the venue is outstanding, bringing investment and opportunities to the local community as well as training and employment opportunities to women prisoners.

Though every stop on our tour was unique, we were consistently blown away by the passion and ingenuity of the people we met, and the impact they made on the lives of others. Whether by providing high-impact services, or offering training or work opportunities to people who might otherwise face barriers to getting a job, every organisation we visited was inspiring for the difference it makes.

As part of the programme, the Champions are asked how much they know about social enterprises and HCT Group’s impact before and after taking part. HCT Group measures the progress made through the programme, and uses the results to refine the programme year on year.

The Champions are asked to take reflections back to our depots and offices — spreading the ‘buy social’ message and getting our colleagues thinking about the impact of our work, individually and as an organisation. It’s a step towards ensuring all of us at HCT Group remember our ‘Why’, and are able to bring that sense of purpose into our work every single day.

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A big thank you and shout out to all the incredible social enterprises we visited, check them out:

  • The Angel Centre community hub, providing health and wellbeing services to the people of Salford
  • Sharp Futures, which offers high quality apprenticeships in the creative and digital industries
  • The Clink Cafe, which serves delicious food and offers training and employment opportunities to prisoners and clients of the homeless charity Centrepoint
  • Start Creative, which helps release the creative potential of people with mental health issues
  • Pure Innovations, Stockport, which supports people with learning disabilities to live independently
  • Real Food Wythenshawe, which promotes urban agriculture and healthy living
  • Artists’ collective Fabrication, which provides workshop and retail space to Leeds’ artists and makers