£5m boost for health social enterprises in south west England

A new £5m fund opens today, 21 July, for applications from "small social enterprises with big ideas" for improving health and wellbeing in the south west of England.

The Access Foundation has launched the Health and Wellbeing Challenge Fund South West with an investment of £4.44m. The South West Academic Health Science Network has also invested £400,000.

The fund is the first investment from The Access Foundation, which was set up a year ago, and it is delivered by social investment company Resonance.

A mixture of funding is available, including unsecured loans of up to £150,000 plus grants and risk finance.

Daniel Brewer, the managing director of Resonance, which has its headquarters in Cornwall, said: "There is a significant opportunity for local organisations to play a key role in evolving the regional health and wellbeing system here in the south west. This fund will help to increase the social impact and financial sustainability of those helping to make a difference in this sector."

The fund's aims are described as being to "support small social enterprises with big ideas to make even more of an impact in the region".

These "big ideas", said Resonance, could be using "social" prescribing instead of medication to help reduce depression, helping a beach school or care farm to expand to help more vulnerable young people, or supporting people with long-term health issues to manage their pain in new and innovative ways.

Tarn Lamb, chief executive of Cornwall Neighbourhoods for Change, said: “We are excited to have a fund dedicated to our region and in a sector that is increasingly demonstrating an ability to innovate for the benefit of society.

"To date, it has been particularly difficult to get access to affordable loans without assets to secure them against with many investors not interested in this end of the investment market – this fund will help address the demand from organisations such as mine.”

Increasing access to early stage investment

The Access Foundation was established to address the problem of early stage investment, a gap in the market that few social investors are addressing. Last year, Social Enterprise UK’s State of Social Enterprise Report identified that 39% of social enterprises considered lack of available finance a problem.

The foundation runs two programmes: ‘Capacity Building’, which is the grant side of the organisation, and the ‘Growth Fund’, which is the loan side. The Growth Fund totals £45m and is designed to increase the availability of small, affordable, unsecured loans. 

Seb Elsworth, Access’s chief executive, said: “The Growth Fund is there to bridge the gap between what charities and social enterprises say they need and what social investors have typically been able to offer.”

Access operates in the same way as Big Society Capital in that it disperses money to third parties, who then manage the due diligence process to get the money to social enterprises and charities. 

Big Society Capital loaned the foundation £22.5m at the outset. That figure was matched by a grant from the Big Lottery Fund.

Call for proposals

Access is now calling for applications for potential new partners for the Growth Fund from other types of organisations who might want to run regional funds but have not considered their role in being a social investor before.

Elsworth commented that this idea, “was partly to broaden the number of people that are offering social investment products and to increase the range of the supply. Quite a few of the applications we are receiving have a geographical focus, so something like a community foundation might be well placed to do that."

He added that Access hopes to build around a dozen more funds across England. 

Asked why the first announcement of funding had come nearly a year after the foundation’s inception, Elsworth explained that a lot of learning had been involved in trying something new. “The design ideas had been developed when we launched, but the details of those legal documents, how we get the flow of funds working, how we get all of those different actors all lined up has taken some time," he said.

“We’ve learnt an enormous amount getting this one ready and the ones that come next will benefit from the work that we have done to get to this point.”

Access is set to make further announcements in the coming months that will account for the first third (or £15m) of the total programme of funding available.

Photo credit: Alessandra Pezzotta