Giving the Recession-Hit Britain a Helping Hand; ENTERPRISE Conference Faces Up to Our Social Needs Challenge as Job Losses and Recession Gloom Spread throughout the Country, Attention in Birmingham Is Shifting to Social Enterprises to Help the Regional Economy Withstand the Downturn

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Byline: Honor Baldry reports

The city will host Volce09 this week, a national conference discussing what opportunities and challenges He ahead for social enterprises - profit-making businesses set up to tackle environmental or social need - In the current economic climate.

The event, organised by the Social Enterprise Coalition and Advantage West Midlands, will be held at the Birmingham "International Convention Cen-tre tomorrow and Wednesday, bringing together hundreds of businesses, senior politicians and government officials. Key note speakers Include Cabinet Office minister Llam Byrne and Conservative leader David Cameron.

It will be complemented by the Social Enterprise Trade Fair, a showcase of over 50 regional social enterprises to be held tomorrow In Centenary Square.

The two events' presence In Birmingham has highlighted the region's wealth of social enterprises and their ability to withstand, and even help ease, some of the problems created by the recession. According to Social Enterprise West Midlands (SEWM), ten per cent of the country's estimated 55,000 social enterprises are operating In the West Midlands, employing around 56,000 people. In total the sector contributes pounds 8.4bil-llon a year to the UK economy.

As most social enterprises are engaged with helping people, It Is predicted that the sector will only continue to grow as the recession takes hold.

Jean Jarvls, chief executive of the South Shropshire Furniture Scheme, which restores and then sells furniture that would otherwise end up In landfill, said the economic climate had led to an Increase In the services It provides.

She said: "We've been extremely busy over Christmas with a lot more people wanting and needing furniture. We deal with seven or eight families a week who can't afford to buy basic household Items In mainstream shops."

John Ling, chief executive of BXL, a Birmingham-based company which equips people with skills to succeed in the world of work, offered another reason for the sector's recent growth. "I think social enterprises are thriving because people are becoming Increasingly sensitive about how their money and the taxpayers' money gets spent - they don't want It going to Impersonal shareholders," he said.

Social enterprises are also well equipped to help those who have been made redundant get back Into work - an Imperative need, especially with figures released last month showing the West Midlands' unemployment rate as above the national average and unemployment among 18-to-24-year-olds up by 55,000. …