Social enterprise. It’s the buzz term in Britain – and Blackpool. And right now One Blackpool is offering to unite the lot locally.
It’s a co-operative with a social conscience run by former clothing retail chief Tony Carr. The aim of the group is to encourage, develop and grow a strong vibrant and sustainable voluntary, community , faith and social enterprise sector in Blackpool.
Some might argue we’ve got one already but it’s been fighting a funding battle of late – and losing members as smaller charities fall by the wayside and some of the bigger businesses admit defeat.
One Blackpool is limited by guarantee and created through the Transforming Local Infrastructure Programme funded through the Cabinet Office of the Civil Society.
All of which will mean little if you don’t speak the argot of social enterprise.
But it means that couple of young women who have just set up their own cleaning business locally, charging anything from £9 an hour, considerably less than local authority funded help, can get a bit of assistance with marketing and boosting awareness of their new brand.
Cheryl Roberts and Suzanne Kirkman-Beaumont are bright, bubbly and have both worked as cleaners for other companies. Now they’re hoping to clean up in their own right. They have set up A-Okay Cleaners at Staining ... “we take the stain out of Staining, we say,” says Suzannne.
The pair are mighty impressed by the social enterprise business support Start Up Lancashire seminar they have just attended at Blackpool Enterprise Centre, still known to many of us as the former Lido building, on Lytham Road.
It’s got two great plus points – it’s free to attend and it’s hosted by one of our local kings of spin, public relations man Alistair Clarke, who is also a trained business advisor, journalist and broadcaster.
Alistair is there to give the whole group of brand new start-up businesses tips on how to succeed in their chosen fields.
Members have come from across Lancashire but there’s a good turn out from the Fylde coast, too, such as A-Okay Cleaners, and two ladies, Chris Philipps and Jackie Kemp who have run a food bank in central Blackpool for several years, under increasing demand in recent months.
Now, under the auspices of their church Fylde Coast Church Alive, the pair have decided to do more to help members of the group they regularly see and set up a self funding social enterprise His Provision to do just that.
Chris and Jackie face some major obstacles ahead in setting up a training, skills, support resource centre on Grange Park for service users from across Blackpool.
Having identified an empty and available former council-funded building, with transferable planning permission, they now have to persuade the local authority that it would be a good fit for the sort of people they hope to help without adding to deprivation problems on the estate.
Twelve months on from starting the quest their work is still well and truly cut out.
Alistair is there at the invitation of Mr Carr, managing director of One Blackpool’s Social Enterprise Solutions, who knows the town inside out having worked in retail here.
He ran Boston Man on Church Street in the long ago, initially his father’s business.
“Those were the days. I’d have been in my early 20s. Our first customer there was Dicky Henderson who bought a pair of white moccasins.”
Boston Man lasted until 2001 - the family had also taken over the premier Diana Warren brand and resurrected it in the 90s on Birley Street under the Birley House banner.
“It was a great run but like any business it has its time and there needs to be a complete rethink and remoulding.
“Back then Blackpool was feted for its shopping and they came from the north, particularly Scotland and the Lakes, a loyal customer base.
“It became like a club, people coming to see us and socialise and buy, a great atmosphere.
“There’s been nothing quite like that since or will be with internet shopping so clinical and impersonal. It’s become socially isolating.
“That’s where the link is with my work today.
“I still have a hankering to do a Mary Portas, work with the landlord to get them more interested in the business working, rather than remote landlords, impossible to talk to directly, private landlords or pension funds, who you can’t reach locally.
“It’s up to councils to be more proactive with landowners, more assertive, so the pressure is on them to do more with the property, your window for tourism, so if it looks bad it’s not a good advert for tourism.
“There has never been a radical rethink of retail and its link with tourism.
“I’ve got a passion for change. I’d also get people off and out. You can’t buy a coffee online. But you need to be innovative on the high street, and perhaps offer a far more local experience.
“If you want to buy on price go to Lidl or Aldi but if you want to know something about where the product has come from, what it really means, go to a specialist.”
One Blackpool, already supported by several local charities and community interest concerns, is open to all who share Mr Carr’s vision of making a “positive impact on the lives of local people and their communities.”
He adds: “It’s all about ethical business, the fact you can be in business and still have a social conscience.
“A key element of our work is also to broker partnership arrangements with the public sector for organisations that have the necessary skills and quality marks and track record.
“We also help members with bid writing, training, marketing or legal/financial work.
“I don’t know why I changed the way I think away from the materialistic retailer. When I closed the business I volunteered to join the Citizen’s Advice Bureau for a few years and that was the eye opener for me. There’s an altruistic element in everybody but it’s whether it surfaces at an appropriate time.
“I’d always worked and was worried when the business closed down what would I do - I was early 50s, I’m now 64.
“ It’s a difficult age, I’d done nothing else but worked, had a family worked hard, and have a creative mind. My sister retired from teaching and joined the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and
“I joined the one in St Annes. It was the catalyst, all my life events, the training, the things I saw as a general advisor took me into the third sector and we had a massive client base.
“There was lots of social isolation there, massive debt, about £2.5m owed by young people mostly - money thrown at them in loans.
“This is where ethics crept in. It should be frowned upon to get money that easily, and it’s still going on with pay day loan style companies although the credit crunch has made people more aware of the risks and consequences.”
Today the One Blackpool chief is out win more financial clout for frontline organisations in Blackpool.
He said: “We’re in a shrinking public sector market, local government shrinking, there isn’t the expertise to put bids in although we need them more, it’s all in flux currently, and the Lancashire Enterprise Council will be the conduit for European money, and Blackpool could get a lot more.
“The project which has just helped the start up businesses here today is funded by European cash.
“People ask what social enterprise is... It is whatever you want it to be providing communities benefit by it and there is a business element to it.
“Forget the glib explanations. Profit isn’t a dirty word, it depends on how you quantify it. In our world profit only means surplus, but in social enterprise anything over and above the organisation’s needs can go back in and benefit your aims.
“The other strand of what we’re doing involves Business in the Community, one of Prince Charles enterprises.
“And what’s exciting about the future of social enterprise is it sits with private enterprise’s responsible business approach – which is why we’ve got the likes of Warburtons on board, because they’re so interested in community development.
“If you’re in the supermarket and have two loaves of bread and you know one is a supporter of community development and you don’t know what the other does and they’re both the same price or the supporter of community development is more – which would you buy?
“This is under the umbrella of Social Enterprise Solutions which we set up in 2006 as an infrastructure organisation to build social businesses.
“It’s not easy to fund which is very disappointing so we deliver projects now rather than expect any regeneration project to have an element of social enterprise.
“It would be better for any economic investment to always be contained within the community for jobs and economic growth. And for all ages, statistically there are a lot of over 50s out there who could build their own businesses as well as young people who need a break.
“My view here is that you can do good in business – rather than just do good business.
“There are already Social Enterprise Cities - one city has social enterprises employing 7000 people with £500m turnover.
“We need to learn from such cities, what do they do that Liverpool or Manchester don’t do, and try to replicate what is replicable, so our community can grow with the aid of other people’s initiatives, because seaside towns such as our’s have taken an economic hammering.
“The Big Society does exist and can be proven to exist elsewhere.
“Ultimately we want Blackpool to be a model for other people to follow.”