Holy Devoted to Networking; Adele Blakebrough Earned Her Reputation as a Social Entrepreneur by Turning Can, Formerly the Community Action Network, into the Uk's Foremost Networking Organisation for Social Enterprises. Robert Llewellyn Jones Spoke to Her
Byline: ROBERT LLEWELLYN JONES
Adele Blakebrough's commitment to the voluntary sector is infectious. She was, she explains, born into it. Her father, a Baptist minister, started national drugs project Kaleidoscope in 1968 and this was to prove the inspiration for her future work.
"I saw two things that were unusual," she recalls.
"One was the church, which was socially active and the vibrant community that attended it. So I thought the voluntary sector and church were both radical and interesting."
Brought up in such an atmosphere, it came as no surprise that she chose to read theology at university with the intention of becoming a Baptist minister.
At the time of her ordination, the country was in the throes of a recession similar to the one we are currently enduring.
"The economy was depressed, there was high unemployment and few opportunities within the ministry for someone like myself who was looking for a church," she said.
But help was at hand.
"My father had always had assistants and he asked me to join him for a year.
"Fifteen years later, I left and took over the Kaleidoscope project which is now run by my brother."
While at Kaleidoscope, Ms Blakebrough became aware of how unusual it was for the voluntary sector to be engaged in a pioneering work like drug treatment.
In her charge were 350 heroin addicts with methadone dependance, supported by a team of doctors and nurses.
But there was no love lost at the outset between the centre and social services.
"We had to fight for every contract and justify our existence," she said.
Then elaborating on this, she added: "It isn't easy for the sector to sit alongside either the public or business sector.
"I noticed that there were lots of good quality social entrepreneurs, but they seemed to be isolated."
This raised in her mind a series of questions. How many social entrepreneurs were there in the UK? What did they do and what was unique about them? This was to be the start of Community Action Network (CAN) the UK's leading organisation for the development and promotion of social entrepreneurs, established in 1998 With seed corn funding from some leading businesses, she set out to find the answers.
She said: "CAN taught social entrepreneurs how to use the web, become computer literate and share good practice ideas.
"Over the years, we gained 850 members, everyone a social entrepreneur, so we couldn't help being enterprising ourselves."
The spin off from all this activity helped to create and develop the Mezzanine initiative which created a serviced office environment for charities and sustainable social enterprises.
It was at this time that Ms Blakebrough met Cardiff MP Alun Michael, the former deputy Home Secretary and Welsh Secretary, who awarded her a grant and drew her attention to social enterprises in Wales.
The Welsh connection was to be developed further when her husband was appointed to be the Chair of Journalism at the Centre for Journalism Studies at Cardiff University and Penarth became her home.
So how does she think the Welsh Assembly Government can play a more influential role in promoting social enterprise? After a moment's thought, she said: "Having only been here a short time I'm really not an expert, but I have recently joined the Social Enterprise Ministerial Advisory Group and I'm thrilled to do this as one who believes in public service and want to contribute to Wales and not just live here."
Then, warming to the subject, she added: "There is here an undoubted interest and a positive view of social enterprise.
"I think Wales is saying all the right things which is endorsed by the staging of a national social enterprise conference in 2010 which will raise the profile considerably."
Her underlying message is that in Wales there is a strategy emerging and confidence growing which is, she says, "music to my ears". …