Going Down the Social Route; There's a Brand New and Growing Generation of Entrepreneurs Who Are Not in Business Looking for High Profits, Discovers ALASDAIR NORTHROP

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), May 25, 2006 | Go to article overview

Going Down the Social Route; There's a Brand New and Growing Generation of Entrepreneurs Who Are Not in Business Looking for High Profits, Discovers ALASDAIR NORTHROP


Byline: ALASDAIR NORTHROP

WHEN Kate Atkinson was working for a furniture recycling organisation she noticed a lot of clients were asking where they could buy affordable carpets.

At that time Kate was living in Govanhill, Glasgow, and had spotted that carpets dumped on street corners were often in a reasonable state and quite big.

So she started picking them up in her car and cleaning them at home ... and found that they looked okay.

Realising that she was on to something, Kate put together a business plan and eventually raised pounds 60,000 to start up a community retail business that would supply cheap carpets to people who could not afford brand new ones.

Today Spruce Carpets is an established business and Kate is looking at spreading her idea throughout Scotland and the UK.

Marissa Lippiatt, who has more business experience than Kate, is now running the Glasgow shop and aims to take it from being 80 per cent grant funded to being self-sustainable.

She said: "My motivation for working for a social enterprise company like Spruce Carpets is being able to balance my personal values and business values. It is great to be able to do that."

Kate is the perfect example of a new and growing generation of Scots called social entrepreneurs.

They are just as inventive as their counterparts in the commercial world, but they create and run non-profit-making enterprises.

Kate said: "I did have a request from a private entrepreneur wanting to franchise the model, but for a couple of reasons I think it works much better as a social enterprise. Firstly the donations come from members of the public and secondly there's the whole volunteering side. We have volunteers as well as full-time staff.

"People can do it privately, but I just don't think it would work."

Essentially social enterprises are businesses that trade with a social purpose. They employ people from all backgrounds - from professional managers to people with disabilities.

Their activities are wide-ranging: from a shop in Edinburgh selling soap made by people with mental health problems to a group of disabled people who make objects like bookcases and vases from unwanted pieces of wood.

UK-wide the highest-profile examples are The Big Issue magazine, the Eden Project in Cornwall and Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant.

According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), there are more than 1000 social enterprises in Scotland employing some 20,000 staff plus 18,500 volunteers and generating an annual income of pounds 1billion.

Senscot, an organisation which supports and links up social enterprise organisations, estimates the number is likely to be as much as 3000 because the DTI only covered larger initiatives.

Of one thing there is no doubt: it is a fast-growing sector and its importance is increasingly being recognised by the Scottish Executive, which is due to publish a social enterprise strategy at the end of this month.

The Executive already supports social enterprises and has pumped pounds 18million into the sector through its Futurebuild programme.

Roddie MacDonald, who is head of the Social Economy Unit at Communities Scotland which is drawing up the draft strategy, says it is keen to grow and develop the scale of the sector.

He said: "We see the sector as making strong contributions to the Community Minister Malcolm Chisholm's priorities around closing the opportunity gap and community regeneration.

"One of the unique selling points of the social enterprise world is that it can go to places the private sector can't go to.

"It can help ex-offenders and people with addiction problems by re-introducing confidence."

One of the best-known social enterprise organisations in that sphere is Paisley-based Kibble, which provides training and employment opportunities for jobless young people - often with social, emotional, behavioural and educational difficulties. …

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