"Steady as she grows": the mantra of small social enterprise

The growth story of a Vision of Britain, which is among the smaller social enterprises found on the UK's SE100 index, isn't a quest for social enterprise superstardom, or a tireless pursuit of scale. Instead, it's an inspiring story of a small team of committed individuals who have learned to ride the peaks and troughs of an uncertain funding landscape. 

A Vision of Britain is a small social enterprise, run by a handful of creative people who come up with all sorts of ideas to keep people fit and active, and celebrate the natural environment of the district of Epping Forest. 

They produce and sell fitness DVDs, they are creating an incredibly detailed archive of the district’s most important trees, they lead walks through the area – and they’ve got dozens more ideas just waiting for the money and the people to take them forward.

 

More often than not, stories of growth focus on organisations that have a serious expansion strategy in place, they’ve analysed where their funding streams are coming from for the next few years and they have big ambitions for the future. A Vision of Britain has reported a massive 2,100% rise in its year on year turnover, but its three founders don’t really spend their time working on growth strategies and business planning. 

Instead, A Vision of Britain is probably typical of a good proportion of the smaller SE100 index members in that they might see massive growth during one year, and then a fairly significant drop in income in the next. Nevertheless, they keep going through these peaks and troughs, kept afloat by the enthusiasm of volunteers and some small, but significant income streams.

‘There’s no end to the number of projects we could do,’ says John Price, one of the founders and its creative director. Price is a retired industrial photographer and puts much of his spare time into A Vision of Britain, like his colleague Tricia Moxey who is a naturalist and environmentalist. Together they have produced Favourite Trees, a book sponsored by the district council and GreenArc, and they are now creating a database of trees within the area, again with council funding.

 

The third member of the team is fitness trainer David Hogg who runs his own business, but also works with A Vision of Britain. He produced a Lottery-funded fitness DVD which is distributed via GPs, and another lottery grant enables Hogg to head up a programme of fitness classes for elderly people.

The organisation’s massive recent growth is explained by the rises and falls in grant income, explains Price. ‘Our income is up and down because grants are coming and going at different points.’

The organisation isn’t completely reliant on grants though. Some of the products it creates, such as books and DVDs, are sold and these bring in a small income. This is why the community interest company structure met the organisation’s needs.

‘We looked at being a charity,’ says Price, ‘but it didn’t seem to suit what we wanted to do. Some of our work is commercial and we wouldn’t ask people to donate money to us like a conventional charity.’

In spite of volatility in its income, A Vision of Britain seems to have a relatively secure near future. It has three committed founders who have spare time to volunteer, they are fizzing with ideas (including a documentary featuring people’s memories of the area, art therapy, more tree archives) and, as long as they manage to find the funding, they will continue to serve their community. 

The 2,100% recent growth certainly doesn’t indicate a giant in the making, but perhaps a fairly typical small social enterprise backed by hard-working people who look for money to realise their ambitions wherever they can.

Vital statistics: A Vision of Britain

CIC limited by shares 
Turnover 2011/12 £460
Turnover 2012/13 £10,000
Year on year growth 2,100%
 85/204 on the growth index for leisure, sport, arts and culture social enterprises
SE100 social impact rating 4/10